New Research on Public Attitudes in the Contested Donbas/s Region

In September-October 2021 our research project on geopolitical orientations in Russia’s neighboring states and breakaway regions organized, in collaboration with ZOIS in Berlin, a computer aided telephone survey (CATI) in the contested Donbas/s region of Ukraine.

Conducting research in contested regions is always difficult, most especially in territories that restrict access to independent social science researchers. Suspicion runs deep that researchers have secret agendas or really work as spies (we don’t!). The Donbas/s is a particularly difficult research area as the conflict is still kinetic and sadly claims victims regularly. It is also a divided space. Made up of two Ukrainian oblasts (Luhansk/Lugansh & Donetsk), it features areas controlled by the legitimate Ukrainian government and areas controlled by Russian supported separatists. In English these are often rendered as government and non-government controlled areas (GCA and NGCA). In Ukrainian, the terminology is different. The separatist areas are termed ORDLO, literally separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk region: Окремі райони Донецької та Луганської областей. They are also designated as “temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine” by a ministry of that name within the Ukrainian state. There is a lot of emotion surrounding this conflict and researchers have to understand yet contend with that to do serious independent social science research.

Computer assisted phone survey research presents challenges anywhere. Most people do not answer their phone. A lot refuse to take a survey if they do. And then some quit before the survey is completed. The maximum time one can talk is generally considered 20 minutes. Ideally it should be less than that.

To get at opinion on both sides of the dividing line in the Donbas/s, we organized for two separate survey firms — KIIS and Levada Marketing — to conduct the CATI survey at the same time. Both used the same script of questions (it was available in Ukrainian and Russian but nearly everyone chose the Russian). We are working on academic papers based on this research. Since it is of public interest, we released the headline results in a series of publications since February of this year (it took some time to check and double check the data). Below are links to publications and presentations on the data:

From the Washington Post: A new survey of the Ukraine-Russia conflict finds deeply divided views in the contested Donbas region

The Russian translation is here.

From Global Voices: Capturing the mood on both sides of the Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donbas. Links from this piece take you to translations of it in Russian, Ukrainian, French, Esperanto, Spanish and Greek.

We’ve participated in two video presentations of this work so far (recorded on Zoom and posted to Youtube).

As the academic year ends, we hope to make progress publishing this work in regular academic journals. This research has no political agenda beyond presentation of best practice social science research results for public debate and informed policy making.

About Dr Gerard Toal

Irish born academic living in Washington DC researching geopolitical competition and territorial conflicts in post-Communist Europe. Author of CRITICAL GEOPOLITICS (1996), BOSNIA REMADE (w C Dahlman) and NEAR ABROAD: PUTIN, THE WEST AND THE CONTEST OVER UKRAINE AND THE CAUCASUS (Oxford University Press, 2017).
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