Oleksiy Borovskiy is a professor and lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv. He has studied, researched and written about Ukrainian society for decades. In a one-on-one for the Kyiv Post, Professor Borovskiy, a frequent guest on television in Ukrainian programs, explains how the war has changed Ukrainian society.
Dr. Borovskiy: What is your background? Your education and where you taught, etc?
I am a sociologist. I studied modern Ukrainian history at Zaporizhzhia University, then got my doctorate at Shevchenko National University in Kyiv. Since then, I have been a professor and lecturer at the National University for 15 years. On top of that, I do surveys and focus groups. I have also worked with political leaders and advised them.
After Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014, you did a lot of research, including surveys and focus groups in Ukraine. How has Ukrainian society changed after the 2014 invasion?
There have been several truly dramatic changes. However, let me list the most important changes I have documented:
1. The aggression of the Russian Federation has reduced support for pro-Russian political movements in the country.
2. We have seen increased social cohesion among Ukrainians.
3. For the first time, European orientation and NATO support became the main and most important ideology of the country.
4. Energy independence from the Russian Federation has increased for Ukraine.
5. Russia has lost its powerful ally, Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, on whom it depended in Ukraine.
6. There was the creation of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
7. The role of elections has increased and the attitude towards politicians has changed. It has become difficult for politicians to manipulate the public, and civil society has become stronger and better able to keep tabs on political leaders.
8. There was the introduction of visa-free travel to Europe for Ukrainians.
9. The creation of a new modern Ukrainian army has begun.
Before the 2014 invasion and before the 2022 invasion, how strong was the Ukrainian people’s support for NATO membership? How has this changed?
Support for NATO has grown and there is now a much better understanding of why NATO is important.
Here are two polls you can compare. The one on the left is support for EU membership, the one on the right is support for NATO membership. Blue means ‘support membership’ and orange means ‘against membership’.
Why do you think Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014 and what did that show you?
The Ukrainians understood that Russia was terribly afraid of losing Ukraine. That’s why Russia made all the manipulative show of sending in the military (little green men): Russia didn’t want to publicly admit that it was afraid of losing Ukraine, but it’s now clear . It also showed everyone that Russia is weak and that with regular, open and democratic politics, Russia will never regain its influence in Ukraine again.
I heard that before February 24, 2022, most Ukrainians didn’t think there would be an invasion. What percentage did not believe an assault would occur?
Yes, it’s true. The majority of people – between 80 and 90% – did not believe that there would be open hostilities in Ukraine. Most notably, many did not believe that a Russian military assault on Kyiv was even possible.
This has been hampered by the illusion that the Russian Federation is a strong state and does not need a war with its close neighbor. In fact, here in Ukraine, few people knew what was happening in the Russian Federation. We did not notice that Putin’s regime is now in crisis and becoming ineffective: the Kremlin had hoped that the war would make Putin stronger and get him out of the problems he had domestically. We didn’t understand this before the invasion!
The biggest mistake was the idea that Putin would stop in Crimea. The first stage of the military operation was 2014, which continued in February 2022. The decision to fight Ukraine with war was taken immediately after the annexation of Crimea, already 8 years ago!
Why do you think Putin wants to destroy Ukraine?
Ukraine, for Putin, is his biggest defeat. All his plans were destroyed. Then Putin decided to destroy the state. His idea is that “no country means no problem”.
As a sociologist, what do you think of Russian society in the face of the war in Ukraine? Do they really believe they are fighting the Nazis? Do they now hate Ukrainians?
Yes, they do. The Ukrainians are now enemies there. The propaganda work in Russia was very effective.
How is Ukrainian society different from a year ago?
The society is cohesive and has set itself the goal of restoring Ukraine to its status as a strong country.
As a poll expert: what do you think will happen to Pres? Volodymyr Zelensky after the war?
He will win the next presidential elections.
Do you believe that this war will forever change Ukraine?
The changes are strong. Ukraine will definitely be different. But the influence of the oligarchs will not change too much immediately. It will take time for that to change.
How do you think this war will end?
Putin will soon realize how bad this war is for him. To get out of it, he will seek a version of a political treaty in a format similar to the Minsk agreements.