Ahead Of Referendum In East, New Poll Shows Ukrainians Aren’t Rushing To Join Moscow

CREDIT: AP Photo / Sergei Poliakov

Ukrainian government supporters with a Ukrainian flag, prepare for a clash with pro-Russians

A newly released poll shows that the vast majority of Ukrainian citizens want to keep their country whole and united in spite of the unrest that has troubled the eastern European state for months now. Despite that, separatists still plan on holding a vote on whether parts of the former Soviet state’s east should break off.

The poll, from Pew Research’s Global Attitudes Project, shows that a vast majority — 77 percent — of those polled want the country to remain united, compared to only 14 percent who want to allow regions of the country to secede. The split between attitudes in the east of the country, where most of the Russian-speaking population resides and has faced unrest from pro-Russian separatists for the last two months, and the Kyiv-backing west are readily apparent in the breakdown of the question: 93 percent of western Ukrainians want to keep the country together, compared to 70 percent in the east. That number dips lower to 58 percent when Russian speakers are split out, but still constitutes a majority.

While the interim government in Kyiv is likely to be breathing a sigh of relief over those figures, the news isn’t all good for them. According those surveyed, more Ukrainians believe that the government in Kyiv is having a bad influence on the direction the country is going than good — 49 percent to 41. That number too shows mirror image results when broken down into east and west — 60 percent of those in the west are positive on Kyiv, while 67 percent in the east are negative. Ukrainians are also wary about the looming presidential election, scheduled to take place on May 25, and whether it will be fairly conducted. Less than half of those polled — 41 percent — think that the vote will likely be fair, a number that dips to 27 percent in the east.

Despite the large amount of support for keeping Ukraine’s borders intact, separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the east still intend to put the question of whether to remain in Ukraine to a vote this Sunday. Donald Pushilin, one of the leaders of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, told the BBC that suggestions to postpone the vote may have come “from a person who indeed cares for the people of the south-east … but we are the bullhorn of the people.” That person in question is none other than Russian president Vladimir Putin, who surprised many on Wednesday in his call for the separatists to hold their referendums at a later date.

The unwillingness of the separatists to heed to Putin’s order is the second such instance in the last month where Moscow has either shown itself unable or unwilling to bring its supporters in Ukraine into line. In April, the Russian Federation, United States, European Union, and Ukraine signed an accord in Geneva intended to lower tensions and bring about an end to the crisis that has roiled the country since December. Rather than heralding the end, the situation has only gotten worse as separatists have doubled down, ignoring Moscow. Putin last week declared the deal dead, but blamed its collapse squarely on the Ukrainian government, as Kyiv has launched full-scale military operations to regain control of the government buildings that the separatists have captured.

The death toll has continued to rise as gun battles between the two sides increase and the shadow of a fire that killed 46 Russian supporters in the city of Odessa looms over the situation. And the United States insists that despite Putin’s claims of moving large numbers of Russian troops away from the border with Ukraine, there’s no evidence that any of the soldiers have actually pulled back.