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By John Helmer, Moscow

Ukrainian voters are now united in only one thing – their fear. Countrywide, two out of three say they are afraid of military conflict with outside forces. One in two say they are more afraid of internal conflict and civil war. Almost that many say their biggest anxieties are non-payment of pensions, loss of jobs and wages.

The latest poll of Ukrainian voters has been a cooperative, nationwide effort by four polling organizations, led by the Centre for Social and Marketing Research (SOCIS) and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS). A sample of 6,200 has been gathered in individual face-to-face interviews, covering all regions except Crimea. The statistical error has been reduced from 2% in the smaller telephone polls of January and February to 0.8% in the new results. The polling was undertaken between March 14 and 19, and thus reflects the first reaction of the majority of Ukrainians to the Crimean referendum and its secession. The results were published in Ukrainian on March 26, and can be read here.

The results reveal a paradox of anxiety which Russian, European Union (EU) and US tactics, together the International Monetary Fund (IMF), aren’t likely to resolve — unless they act in unison. If President Vladimir Putin were to announce a unilateral pullback of Russian forces to their bases, with a challenge to the EU and the Obama Administration to prevent the disintegration of Ukrainian law and order and the collapse of the economy, countrywide majorities of Ukrainians would remain fearful of the domestic threats to their survival.


Alexander Chashkovskiy of SOCIS concedes that the regional distribution of these fears has yet to be prepared from the poll data. The survey evidence released so far indicates that fear of Russian forces crossing the border is less in the eastern and southern regions of the country than in the west. But there is correspondingly greater fear in the east and south of civil violence spreading from Kiev and of the anti-Russian provocations from the Svoboda party representatives in the present government, as well as from Pravy Sektor and other radical organizations based in the west.

Countrywide, the pollsters have found Ukrainians express little to no confidence in the Kiev cabinet of ministers, the army, the police, or the Verkhovna Rada. The mass media are regarded with almost the same suspicion of partisanship and score-settling. No Ukrainian oligarch names were tested in the survey – a hint that the polling costs may have been paid by one or more of them.


Responding to the question of which public figure Ukrainians trust most in the current situation, the non-political Olga Bogomolets — doctor, folk singer, Maidan activist — outpoints all of the presidential candidates backed by the Obama Administration.


The new presidential preference poll confirms that the US preference, Vitaly Klitschko, continues to slip out of the running. He was favoured by 19.8% in January; he is down to 8.9% now. Yulia Tymoshenko continues to talk her way out of contention, her public call for violence against Russians and Russian-speakers failing to arrest the decline of her nationwide preference vote to 8.2%. She drew almost 15% just before her release from prison in February. SOCIS confirms these trends are significantly larger than the margin for statistical error.


Petro Poroshenko has improved his standing with 24.9% of the new poll; he was drawing 21.2% a month ago. However, the new results also show Poroshenko’s vote gain is limited to Kiev and the regions to the west. He is rejected in the eastern and southern regions of the country: 15.7% of southerners, 5.3% of easterners, and 10.3% of the Kharkov electorate say they would vote for him.


What this table means is that the political partition of the country reported here has been reinforced by Crimea’s breakaway: there is currently no national unity candidate capable of bridging Ukraine’s east-west divide. The last row in the table reports that between 39% and 41% of voters in the south and east say they are against everyone currently in the race, or won’t vote at all if the current candidate list is the only choice they have. A de facto boycott of this magnitude would leave the May 25 election result without legitimacy among almost half the voters.

An even higher level of distrust and misgiving is reflected in the poll towards elections for the Verkhovna Rada. The constitutional change already attempted by the outgoing parliament has little support, even in the west of the country. The Verkhovna Rada voted on February 21 to restore the 2004 constitution, and with that the power of the legislature over the presidency. The next day 328 deputies voted to remove incumbent president Victor Yanukovich and set May 25 as the date for a replacement election. The vote fell 10 votes short of the super-majority required by the Ukrainian Constitution to be valid.

A month later, most Ukrainian voters are unwilling to cast their votes for the parties which remain after the ouster of Yanukovich and the Party of Regions, which gave him a parliamentary majority until last month. Roughly 40% of voters in the south, east and Kharkov say they won’t vote for any of these parties. Barely half of the electorate across the country say they want to vote in a parliamentary election at all.

That leaves the multi-billion dollar question with which the political disintegration of Ukraine started – what do Ukrainian voters now think of the choice the Yanukovich government took in the Russian direction last November, and his successors reversed when they signed with the EU and the IMF this month?

The conditions of the IMF aid have yet to be discussed across the country. The hike in gas prices was not announced until after the poll; and the extent of job losses and the regional restrictions in the EU trade programme have not been disclosed yet. Last week there was a bare majority in favour of the EU. A near-majority, however, was equally divided between 25% in favour of the Russian programme adopted by the government in Kiev in December; and 25% who aren’t sure where their interest lies, or what will happen next. No regional breakdown of these results has been published; it is certain that support for the Russian programme is in the majority in the south and east.


The new poll omitted to ask Ukrainians to say how they think such a fundamental choice for the country should be decided.

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