People consciously choose freedom, not goodies

The Kremlin's overt aggression fundamentally changed Ukrainian society. Even in the conditions of martial law, society does not slide into authoritarianism, and a "strong leader" is seen not as a dictator, an influential head of state, but as a person who bears political responsibility to society. Despite the fact that the level of trust in the army remains very high, Ukraine is not threatened by a military dictator or the emergence of a home-made "Lukashenka". Andriy Bychenko, the Director of the Razumkov Centre Sociological Service, spoke about the reflections of Ukrainian society in an interview for "Apostrophe".

— To what extent do you think the attitude of our society towards democracy has changed in the conditions of the open Russian invasion, and is there a risk of sliding into authoritarianism, as some observers believe? Especially given that in Ukrainian society there was a demand for a "strong hand" earlier.

— Democracy currently remains the most desirable type of government. Between 2010 and 2021, the share of respondents who shared this opinion made 48-56%, and of those who preferred an authoritarian regime — 18–24%. After the start of the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war, according to our poll in September-October 2022, the share of supporters of a democratic system increased to 68%, and the share of others fell to 11.5%.

According to our survey, last May the share of supporters of a democratic regime has already reached 73%, while the share of supporters of authoritarianism, on the contrary, fell to 9.5%.

The percentage of respondents who believe that the democratic system is "rather good" or "very good" for the country increased from 86.5% in 2017 to 93% in 2023, specifically, of those who consider democracy "very good" — from 36% to 57%.

— To what extent can such data be "adequate" in the current situation of Russia’s invasion and martial law?

— Such indicators are adequate in the sense that society mobilized, it understands that we are waging a just war, protecting our freedom and democratic values. In terms of the perception of freedom as a value, Ukrainian society is ahead of the societies of some Western countries.

The attitude to the army and the military, which currently enjoy the highest public trust indicators, is based on these foundations.

Indeed, the large-scale war led to an increase in the share of respondents in the country who consider the system of a military regime or military rule "rather good" or "very good" (up to 28%), while in 2017 they made 12%. But at the same time, the vast majority (71%) of Ukrainians still considers such a system bad. Meanwhile, the supporters of the military regime do not see it as a "military dictatorship" but primarily as a means of protecting democracy in the conditions of a military confrontation with the aggressor.

— So the demand for a "strong hand" persists?

— One should keep in mind that in our country the demand for a "strong hand" was misinterpreted all the years of independence. In our society, the "strong hand" is not about authoritarianism or the need for people to build an authoritarian state. Ukrainian society believes — because there are reasons for this — that it has learned to influence at least the president and parliament, including during the elections, and in "extreme cases" — in the Maidan. Our fellow citizens understand that if someone wants to usurp power, they simply won't let that person or group of persons do it. This is exactly what happened with Viktor Yanukovych.

When we talk about the demand for a "strong hand", it should be understood as the desire of people to see the state apparatus more manageable and responsible to society. No matter how hard it is, the president and people's deputies bear at least political responsibility for their decisions, but the "army of officials" does not. This also includes the "eternal" topic of corruption.

Support for the system with a "strong leader independent of parliament and elections" was at its highest in recent years in 2017, when 80% considered it "rather good" or "very good" for the country. According to the latest poll, its support has dropped to 62%. Now, it significantly yields to the support for the democratic system.

At the same time, 58% of respondents consider both of these systems to be good, seeing no contradiction between them. These respondents do not see a contradiction here precisely because they consider themselves capable of influencing the central government and the president, no matter how "authoritarian" he is.

— Does that mean that the option that Ukrainians may want their own "Lukashenka" has gone?

— Some people in Ukraine might have liked Lukashenka or even Putin, but that was in the early 2000s, mainly due to the economic situation in the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine that, unfortunately, lagged behind these countries in the economic sense. Now these persons are perceived extremely negatively for completely understandable reasons.

— Let’s get a little distracted: we saw how the "Wagner" PMC leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was happily escorted out of Rostov, which he held for almost a day. Citizens hailed this terrorist as a hero, completely forgetting about the Kremlin rulers. Can you imagine Ukrainians honouring a murderer and a cutthroat like that?

— The Russians have a set of political values that are unacceptable to us, but they do — people follow the winner. At that time, the residents of Rostov thought that "Wagner" was defeating the Russian government, that is why they reacted to Prigozhin like that.

Our society has different values, we cannot imagine such things here. Our last survey has shown that when it is necessary to choose what is more important — freedom or equality, 75% of respondents choose freedom (in 2022, they made 71%, in 2020 — 64%). Such a high share of freedom supporters was somewhat unexpected.

But when choosing between freedom and security, Ukrainians choose security more often (54.5%; 44% choose freedom). Please note that the choice in favour of security is now much less than three years ago, when 66% of Ukrainians preferred security.

The situation is similar when choosing between freedom and prosperity. Here, the share of those who choose freedom is growing. Last May, the share of supporters of freedom reached 51%, while the share of those who chose prosperity decreased to 23%.

— That is, the Ukrainians almost completely sided with democracy, and now, during the open invasion of Russia, they said goodbye to the "Sove" for good?

— Exactly. People consciously choose freedom, not "goodies". Longing for the USSR and orientation towards some Soviet political and social standards have gone. Compared to 2016, the share of those who answered that they do not want restoration of the Soviet Union increased from 65% to 87%. Only 3.5% definitely want this, mostly old people. For the Ukrainian youths, the USSR is a negative brand, while in Russia and Belarus it’s just the opposite. Only 12% of residents of the Eastern regions, 5% of the Central regions, 4% of the Southern regions and 0.7% of the residents of the Western regions expressed a desire to restore the Soviet system.

In general, only 5% of respondents would like the Soviet system to be restored now. Only 10% of representatives of the older generation (60 and more) feel nostalgia for such a system, as well as only 2% of those under 40 years. Based on these data, we can say that our society has finally said goodbye to the "Sove".


Andriy Bychenko

Director, Sociological Service

Born in 1973 in Kyiv

Education: Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, Faculty of Electroacoustics (1995)


1995 – 1999 — worked for the Marketing Research Agency; Media-bureau of the "Consulting Ukraine" Joint-stock Company (Leading Specialist), the "Prime" Advertising and Marketing Company (Director of the Consulting Centre), the Production and Commercial Firm "Industrial Distribution Systems" (analyst)

Took part in joint projects involving the Institute of Youth Problems and the "Social Monitoring" Centre. Conducted surveys for the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs, USAID, TACIS, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Motorola, etc.

Since January 2000 — Director, Razumkov Centre Sociological Service

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