Ukrainians Love Their Country, Just Not the People Running It

Ukrainian President Turchynov (left) and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk on March 2 in Kiev Photograph by Aleksandr Yalovoy/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images

As Ukraine prepares for presidential elections on May 25, the government in Kiev got a bit of encouraging news this week: a poll showing that an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians want their country to remain united. The poll, released on May 8 by the Pew Research Center, showed that 77 percent of Ukrainians—including 70 percent of those in eastern regions wracked by separatist violence—don’t want the country broken up.

But the poll, along with another recent voter survey, also contained bad news for President Oleksandr Turchynov, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and other members of the 10-week-old government: Their countrymen appear to have little confidence in them and doubt that the presidential elections will be fair.

In the Pew survey, 49 percent of voters nationwide said the government was having a “bad” influence on what’s happening in the country, while only 41 percent said its influence was “good.“ Just 41 percent said it was “likely” that the elections would be fair, while 50 percent said it was “unlikely.” And 53 percent of voters said the government did not “respect personal freedom.”

Not surprisingly, disapproval ran highest in eastern Ukraine, where protesters have denounced the 10-week-old government as an illegitimate junta. But even in western Ukraine, only 60 percent described the government’s influence as “good,” and just 59 percent said the elections would likely be fair.

In a separate poll, released on April 30 by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), 45 percent of voters nationwide said the government was “not much in control” of the country, and only 46 percent thought the presidential elections would be “free and fair.”

Svitlana Kobzar, a researcher specializing in Ukraine at RAND Europe in Brussels, says Kiev’s decision to tread cautiously to avoid a military showdown with Russia has probably cost it support with voters across the country. Many in western Ukraine are disappointed that the government hasn’t cracked down harder on separatists, she says. At the same time, many in the east blame the government for failing to curb violence. “They feel the government hasn’t done enough to protect them,” Kobzar says.

Underlying voters’ unhappiness is a long history of disillusionment with corruption and mismanagement. In the IFES poll, which was financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, 56 percent said corruption was considered “a fact of life” in Ukraine. An earlier IFES survey—conducted last fall, before the start of protests that led to former President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster—found that voters had “low confidence” in all the country’s major political parties and political institutions. Some 69 percent of voters in that survey said they had “little or no confidence” in Yanukovych. But Yatsenyuk, who at the time headed the main opposition party, didn’t do much better: Sixty-six percent said they had “little or no confidence” in him.

Members of the current government “are the same thieves as [in] the last government,” says Boris Tupikin, a pensioner in the eastern region of Donetsk. As for the May 25 elections, he says: “I don’t believe anybody. There is nobody whom I can support.”

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