USSR Collapse, De-russification, Maidan: How Ukrainians' Attitude to National Memory Policy Changes against the Backdrop of Russian Aggression

Survey conducted in the macro regions of Ukraine by Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation together with Razumkov Center Sociological Service under support of MATRA Program from December 13 to December 21, 2023

The survey was conducted by face-to-face method in the following regions:

  • Volyn, Zakarpattia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Rivne, Ternopil, Chernivtsi oblasts (Western macro region);
  • Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Kyiv, Kirovograd, Poltava, Sumy, Khmelnytskyi, Cherkassy, Chernigiv oblasts and in Kyiv city (Central macro region);
  • Mykolaiv, Kherson and Odessa oblasts (Southern macro region);
  • Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Kharkiv oblasts (Eastern macro region).

The survey was conducted on a stratified multi -stage sample. The structure of the sample population reproduces the demographic structure of the adult population at the territory where the survey was conducted, as of the beginning of 2022 (by age, article, type of settlement).

2018 respondents starting from the age of 18 have been interviewed. The theoretical sample error does not exceed 2.3%. However, additional systematic deviations of the sample can be caused by the consequences of Russian aggression, in particular, forced evacuation of millions of citizens.

Key conclusions of the research

  • Most Ukrainians in all regions (73%) assess positively the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, about 12% of respondents assess this historic event as negative, and 15% has not defined their attitude. The majority of respondents who evaluate positively USSR destruction is in the Western macro region (92%), at the center and east – 71% and 65% respectively, the least are at South (48%). On the south and east of Ukraine those who negatively assess the destruction of the USSR represents relatively large portion of respondents (23% and 20% respectively), also quite big number of citizens on the south have no unambiguous opinion on this (29%).

Still in 2020 USSR was longed by 32%, but 49% of respondents positively assessed demolition of this historic entity.  In eastern and southern regions the negative attitude towards USSR collapse prevailed.

In the south and east of Ukraine, as of 2020, there were significant age differences. Among the younger respondents in the south and east there were some more positive estimates of the collapse of the USSR, as well as many who had no unambiguous opinion. Among the older generation in the southern and eastern regions, longing for the USSR was unspeakable.  

After the start of a full -scale war, the situation changed. Although the age dynamics remained (in particular at the south and east), Russian missiles weakened the longing for the Soviet Union.

The issue of evaluation of the collapse of the USSR, as well as in almost all future issues, there is a difference between groups of respondents with different language of everyday communication and different financial status. Among those who speak Russian in everyday life, a positive assessment of the collapse of the USSR also dominates, but among them is almost 20% more than those who miss the USSR than among Ukrainian -speaking respondents. The same tendency for people with lower material status compared to more secured respondents.

  • About 73% of Ukrainians support the state decision about condemnation of the USSR as a communist totalitarian regime that pursued the state terror policy. This opinion is dominated with disagreeing no more than 14% of respondents in all regions (about 14% in the south and 12% in eastern Ukraine)..

Even in 2020  there were  such uniformity about this act of state policy of national memory. In April 2020 about one third of citizens supported this decision , another third – did not support and the other third was indifferent about it or did not have any clear sight.

The attitude to this issue has changed significantly: even in  2020  renaming toponyms looked as very contradictory decision. Only in the Western region the support of this decision was dominated (although almost a third was against it), but for the rest of regions the citizens  were mostly against renaming. However, it should be borne in mind that in 2020 it was only about the renaming of place names related to communist figures.

There is also a correlation between the language of everyday communication and the attitude to the renaming of toponyms. Moreover, this correlation is not simply determined by the average opinion of the region of residence of respondents.

Still in 2021 the option to celebrate only the Day of Memory and Reconciliation on May 8 was not popular : this was supported by 9%.Instead, the option to celebrate only the Day of Victory over Nazism was supported by 31%, and in the south and east of Ukraine this option was the most popular. As we can see, Russian aggression stimulates citizens to rethink history and to depart from the imposed by USSR and Russian practices of commemoration.

Likely the correlation is between what people think about the collapse of the USSR and the condemnation of the USSR as a communist totalitarian regime. Those who do not condemn the USSR are much more likely to celebrate only on May 9.

  • Majority of Ukrainians in all regions interprets the events on the Maidan at the end of 2013-early 2014 as a fair uprising of the people against the dictatorship, which was called the Revolution of Dignity. The Russian thesis about the "coup d'état" is still divided by 12% of respondents.

Comparatively the larger number of those are in the southern and eastern regions (about 24% and 22% of respectively), but such beliefs followers does not represent majority there as well.

Back in August 2020, in total, there were about 31% of those who were convinced by Russian propaganda that the events on the Maidan were a "coup", and in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, this opinion dominated:

Again, the interpretation of the events of the Revolution of Dignity correlates with the attitude to the Soviet past: those who do not favor renaming of toponyms related to the Russian Federation/USSR significantly interpret the Maidan events in pro Russian style. This proves once again that historical memory is one of the very significant factors in the formation of human identity, which influences how a person interprets modern socio-political events as well.