Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine has been a great social shock. The war affects emotional states, everyday lives and routines, public opinion, interpersonal relationships, socioeconomic situations, employment, civil activity. The scale of these changes is unprecedented for both Ukraine and Europe in the perspective of decades. At the same time, these changes will affect the future of social institutions in postwar Ukraine and its further development in general. Capturing and conceptualizing these changes allows us to obtain data both for future research of Ukrainian society after the war and for planning transformative changes.
As a team of social researchers, we have continued to study and analyze the impact of war on Ukrainian society since the first weeks of the full-scale war. In March, we conducted our first study to capture the thoughts, feelings and actions of people in Ukraine during the first two weeks after February 24. In order to record the dynamics of changes in emotional states, decision making, and adaptation of everyday life to the conditions of war, the second wave of the study was conducted in May, focusing on the first three months of the full-scale war. As we wanted to capture the impact of further developments and the changes caused by them in six months, we conducted the third wave of the study in August 2022; the results of its analysis are presented in this report.
The goal of the study was to capture (in progress, directly while the events were unfolding, rather than in retrospect), describe and generalize the experiences of war in Ukraine as well as trends of changes in these experiences over time.
The subject of the study are experiences of war in Ukrainian society.
For the purposes of this study, we include everyone who identifies with Ukrainian society in the category of Ukrainian society. We do not exclude people who have no Ukrainian citizenship; people who have not lived in Ukraine for a while but who identify with Ukraine and Ukrainian society. We do not limit the subject of our research to civilians but also include combatants; however, we suppose that the latter have limited representation in the sample.
The focus of this study is the stage of the Russian-Ukrainian war known as the “full-scale war,” which began on February 24, 2022, as a result of the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Even though the war began back in 2014, the scale of its impact on Ukrainian society changed and grew significantly as a result of the full-scale invasion, which was what motivated us to start working on this study.
The study is exploratory, meaning that its goal is primarily to describe reality rather than look for connections and explain causes. Since the goal of this study is to identify possible trends in experiences rather than assess them quantitatively, we chose a qualitative approach, just like for the previous waves. This allowed us to conduct a study with a similar methodology and to be able to compare the findings.
In order to collect the data, we used a self-report questionnaire designed in Google Forms. As the previous waves of the study showed, this option is simple and convenient for the respondents because it has no temporal limitations, allows for non-mandatory answers, and allows the respondents to interrupt answering the questionnaire at any moment. Information about the study and the link to the form to be filled out was shared on Cedos social media pages (including via targeted advertising from the Cedos Facebook page), through the Cedos mailing list, on researchers’ personal pages, and in personal communication.
Since this study of the experiences of the full-scale war in Ukrainian society is the third such study, we call it the “third wave.” Despite this, the questionnaire only partially repeated the previous ones, because the situation in Ukraine had changed by August compared to May (the “second wave”) and March (the “first wave”). For example, in the sixth month of the full-scale war, it seemed less relevant to us to repeatedly ask about the experiences of moving, while questions about economic changes and experiences associated with them became more relevant. In view of this, we adapted the questionnaire and focused on questions that had become more important, given the developments and changes of experiences of the war over time. Nevertheless, some questions remained in the same or slightly modified form to maintain continuity.
The questionnaire contained questions that correlated with five dimensions associated with different spheres of human life through which we view the experiences of war within this study:
- bodily dimension: questions about everyday life and routines;
- psychological dimension: questions about emotional experiences and feelings;
- social dimension: questions about interpersonal relations;
- economic dimension: questions about work, key changes and concerns;
- public dimension: questions about values, views, Ukrainian society and civil activities, particularly volunteering and donations.
In addition, the questionnaire contained final questions to determine the sociodemographic characteristics of the respondents.
The questionnaire opened with an explanation about the goal of the study and the confidentiality of the collected information, as well as a warning that it contained questions on sensitive topics. Most of the questions were open-ended, so the respondents were not limited to pre-set options. This way, we tried to encourage the respondents to describe their own experiences, motivations and feelings and to answer at more length.
Before the beginning of the survey, we conducted a pretest of the developed toolkit. The pretest was conducted among acquaintances of the research team members. The main goal of the pretest was to find out whether the question formulations were clear, whether the question formulations and the process of filling out the questionnaire provoked any psychological discomfort, and to check the average time it took to fill out the questionnaire.
The survey was conducted on August 8–28, 2022. 320 respondents participated in the survey during that time.
While conducting this study, we faced a number of challenges in terms of research methodology and ethics. The chosen ways of responding to these challenges determined the limitations of the research:
- The research sample is not representative of the population of Ukraine. The distribution of sociodemographic characteristics (such as gender, age, financial situation, size of settlement and region of residence, etc.) among the respondents does not reflect the distribution of these characteristics among the entire population of Ukraine. In view of this, the survey findings cannot be extrapolated to the entire population. In our reports on the findings of the survey, we describe experiences which really exist and which we were able to record. At the same time, this description of experiences is not exhaustive. The chosen methodology does not allow us to draw conclusions about how widespread these experiences are. Although we do make certain observations regarding the possible trends in the differences between the answers of people who belong to different social groups, they are not definite evidence of the existence of certain patterns, only hypotheses which require further research.
- The chosen method of data collection and questionnaire distribution could have affected the non-representation in the study sample of people who had no internet access in the period when the survey was conducted, as well as those who have no skills of using the Google Forms platform.
- Due to security risks, lack of free time and potential lack of access to the internet or equipment, people who are currently in the occupied territories, in battle zones and areas of intensive shelling or close to them, as well as combatants can be underrepresented in the study sample. People who belong to these categories are present in the sample, but, given the security risks, the questionnaire does not contain any questions aiming to identify such respondents. In view of this, we cannot estimate their share in the sample or compare their answers to the answers of other respondents.
- Compared to the first wave of the study, in the third wave we managed to collect the experiences of fewer people, the dynamics of filling out the questionnaire were lower (at the same time, the number of respondents who participated in the second and third wave was almost the same: 335 and 320 respondents, respectively). We associate this with the state of general fatigue among the respondents and the fact that compared to the first week of March, calls to participate in various studies of the impact of the war had become more usual and evoked less interest. In order to have the questionnaire filled out more times, we used targeted ads from the Cedos Facebook page aimed for the followers of the page and their friends. This target audience for paid distribution was also intended to make the sample more similar to the one we had during the first wave due to organic distribution (without advertising).
- Based on our experience of the previous waves of the survey, we employed a number of steps to ensure better representation among the respondents of social groups that were underrepresented in the previous waves (men, older people, low-income people). For this purpose, the form included a request for the respondents to ask, if possible, an older friend or relative to participate in the survey. In addition, we used targeted advertising from the Cedos Facebook page with a link to the questionnaire and a call to share one’s experiences which was aimed for the target groups (men and women of different ages, older men and women, men of different ages).
- Even though we shared the form using the same communication channels and sent links to it to the participants of the previous waves of the study who had agreed to participate in the next waves and left their contacts, the samples of the first and second waves were not the same. The forms were not identical either, although they did include a number of similar or the same questions. In view of this, the possibilities for comparing different waves of the study are limited. We compare them wherever it is relevant and appropriate. However, comparisons of this kind are not definite evidence for the existence of certain patterns, but rather hypotheses about possible trends which require further research.
- The self-reported questionnaire with a significant number of open-ended questions presupposed the method of recording one’s own experience and feelings in writing. A limitation or consequence of choosing this method is the fact that recording one’s own experiences in writing inevitably leads to higher narrativization of the story and encourages one to rationalize their experiences, which was taken into account while analyzing the data.
- The engagement of the researchers, that is, the fact that they themselves are, to different extents, experiencing the full-scale war and forced displacement, can be both an advantage and a limitation of the study. On the one hand, it can facilitate more reflection and sensitivity to the obtained data as a result of comparing them to personal experiences. On the other hand, it can produce certain preset analytical frameworks which affect the interpretation of the obtained data. In order to avoid cognitive or experiential distortion, the work with the obtained data was distributed among the researchers both at the stage of analysis and interpretation and at the stage of mutual editing.
This study is not comprehensive. Its findings record the variety of experiences of war and their modification during a certain period of time, but they cannot be extrapolated to the entire population of Ukraine and the entire period of the war, because the diversity of experiences of the war is larger and more multifaceted. They require many further studies, from representative nationwide research to studies focused on specific topics and social groups.
Based on the survey we conducted, we can draw the following key conclusions regarding the experiences and feelings in Ukrainian society in August 2022.
The experience of the war was all-encompassing, permeating all spheres of life, so different experiences could coexist for people at the same time. Based on the findings of the previous wave of the survey, conducted in May, we identified a trend showing that only a certain share of people had fully or partially gotten used to their changed everyday lives in war conditions. Meanwhile, in this wave of the study we noticed that the same respondents spoke about combinations of different experiences. A number of survey participants felt both settlement of their everyday lives and return to their usual routines and emotional instability and uncertainty of life at the same time. The stabilization of the everyday lives of a certain share of respondents could be characterized as “stability in changeability” due to the feeling of anxious reality, preparedness for unpredictable events, and impossibility of planning long-term. Respondents shared their emotions and concerns which were both positive and negative. The impact of the war differs, so we could speak about intersectionality which manifests in the intersection of general factors, such as the security or economic situation, and individual experiences, particularly associated with everyday life, feelings, relationships.
The majority of the answers suggest that there is a trend towards unity and solidarity in Ukrainian society, both short- and long-term. Despite this, some answers indicate the existence of certain differences in opinions and views. They could be affected by differences in experiences, the intensity of emotions, and the long-term feeling of uncertainty. Survey participants mentioned conflicts caused by social media activity and discussions around the news as factors that could lead to polarization in society. This is also associated with the tendency towards oversaturation with information and attempts to limit the time one spends monitoring the news.
The answers of survey participants indicate that people have started to live with the conscious thought that the war would last a long time. This thought caused different emotions. Some people tried to manage them but were only successful to some extent, so not everyone could deal with their internal feelings. As a result, some respondents experienced intensive emotional states and emotional instability. This overlapped with uncertainties in other dimensions of life, and managing one’s own emotions affected other spheres of activity. At the same time, some respondents looked for ways to get support and opportunities to distract themselves from the feelings related to the war, particularly by talking to others and volunteering.
The war-related uncertainty, fear and instability belonged to the main concerns of survey respondents. The lives of many of them were directly affected by the war. Some were forced to escape from bombing or had lost their houses, others joined the Armed Forces, still others continued to volunteer. Some people remained under occupation. For some, the biggest shock in the past three months was the death of a loved one at the front, and they were trying to find ways to cope with this loss. A number of the surveyed mentioned being able to survive a bombing or fighting near their home as the most important event. Thus, the safety of family and loved ones, as well as one’s own safety were among the key concerns. In addition, respondents noted that they were worried about the lack of money, about losing their jobs, about the beginning of the school year and organization of classes, about physical and mental health, international support for Ukraine, and the hypothetical risk of a change in the country’s political direction.
Despite everything, in the three months from May to August some respondents also experienced many pleasant and long-awaited events. The ability to find comfort and joy in the conditions of constant anxiety and worries was important for maintaining both physical and mental health. The participants mentioned that traveling, both within Ukraine and abroad, brought them joy. For others, the most important event was their children getting accepted to a university. For others it was having children or grandchildren. Other important events mentioned in the survey were weddings, proposals, pregnancy planning. However, pleasant events and achievements often went alongside concerns about the war, health and wellbeing, uncertainty of the future, loneliness and separation. This shows that even in the conditions of a supposedly “normal” life with partial restoration of usual routines people still experienced the war painfully as a tragic event.
The full-scale war became a uniting experience for many people. It increased people’s need for communication, allowed them to establish and reevaluate their relationships with family and friends or even restore long-lost contacts. In these conditions, every conversation became more valuable and important; respondents noted that they had become more attentive and sensitive in communication.
The war has become a shared challenge for Ukrainian society, it helped increase cohesion, so the feeling of unity manifested in relationships not only with family or friends but also with people you barely know or even strangers. Respondents noted that it was now easier for them to ask for help without the need for a long “preface” or explanation. The amount of remote communication increased, which was a comfort and a challenge at once. Some managed to keep in touch remotely while others noted that calls or texting could not replace in-person meetings and conversations. For this reason, people often felt lonely and isolated, especially in the case of elderly respondents.
Geographic proximity started playing a key role in communication. In the conditions when many people moved to different cities or countries, many established social ties had been broken or damaged. On the one hand, this could lead to less communication. On the other hand, it could be a reason to form new contacts and meet new people. Respondents mentioned resuming communication with old friends or becoming closer to people with whom they used to have a colder relationship. In addition, the war has encouraged some people to meet and establish contact with their neighbors. At the same time, the high anxiety and stress levels caused by the war could negatively affect communication. For some, the war had become an experience that increased their distrust of other people.
A kind of “integration” of tension and anxiety into everyday life is one of the most prominent trends we observed in the answers of the respondents of the August survey. The two key sources that caused the feelings of permanent, background anxiety and stress were fear for the physical safety, both one’s own and one’s family’s, as well as problems associated with economic welfare and its stability, especially in view of the approaching winter. While describing their emotional state, even those respondents who spoke about its normalization often noted its fragility; and many of those who directly mentioned the instability of their state were no longer able to control their emotions like they did in the first months of the war.
Among things that supported them and helped them cope with emotional distress, respondents were the most likely to mention time spent together with their loved ones, their work, nature walks, or tending the garden near their house or summer house, as well as food. In addition, a significant share of the respondents also spoke about therapy, films, books, music, hobbies, and alcohol. Speaking of sources of support, respondents described their attempts to accept the situation as it is and allow themselves to experience their own emotions; they also shared how supporting it was for them to have hope that the war would end and to have faith in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Everyday life and routines are closely related to other spheres of human life, so whether respondents defined their everyday lives as settled was affected by whether they had a job, long-term housing, and ability to plan the future. One of the trends that manifested in this wave of the survey more clearly was that everyday life in wartime, with constant air raid alarms and curfews, was gradually becoming “the new normal.” Due to this, some people did not respond to air raid sirens as actively as during the first months. At the same time, study participants mentioned that they took curfew and air raid alarms into account while moving around the city and using public transit. In addition, the tendency to pay more attention to basic needs—sleep, food—continued.
The most widespread consequences of the war’s impact on work as an aspect of life, which we can distinguish in the answers of survey respondents (except for those who had not experienced a significant impact of the war on the conditions or compensation for their work), include losing paid employment or income from it; reduced income, either accompanied by decreased workload or in spite of an increased workload. A number of answers, especially among internally displaced people and people from less well-off households, show a tendency for such families to exhaust their financial resources. Having lost their job or a significant share of their income, these respondents were ready to accept practically any job or gig offers.
Involvement in volunteering and helping others changed differently for different respondents over the six months of the full-scale invasion. Some started spending more time engaged in these activities or changed the area they volunteered in. Others, in contrast, became less engaged or stopped participating altogether. Various factors were mentioned as reasons, including lack of time or resources, particularly financial ones; burnout; reduced need in certain areas of activity; stabilization of volunteering. For a certain share of the respondents, their participation had not changed at all.
Volunteering and helping others affected different respondents differently. They often noted that volunteering was an opportunity for them to distract themselves from the events around them, overcome stress while helping others. It was also important for the surveyed to feel like they contributed to the struggle for Ukraine’s victory through volunteering. Some respondents also said that they generally realized the importance of volunteering and the need to help others. For a number of the survey participants, helping other people was accompanied by strong emotions. Some reported becoming more empathetic towards people, others said the opposite. Moreover, volunteering gave some participants a feeling of unity and cohesion as well as an understanding of the importance of social contacts. According to a certain share of the respondents, particularly those who were involved since 2014, the experience of volunteering since the beginning of the full-scale war had not had any new influence on them.
The key changes in their own principles and views since the beginning of the full-scale war that were noted by the respondents included changed attitudes to life priorities and the place of material things among them; changed approaches to planning; changed attitudes to human relationships; changed views on choosing the language of communication and content consumption; changed attitude towards Russia and Russians; changed ideas about defending one’s views.
While noting the practical lessons they learned during the full-scale war, respondents focused on different things. Preparedness for unpredictable events was one of the most frequent answers to this question. Many people’s attitude towards material stuff had also changed: they realized that they needed much fewer things than before, and for some material things lost value whatsoever. There is a tendency to prioritize one’s own life and the life of one’s loved ones in contrast to material values. Among other things, respondents also learned a lesson about the need to learn certain skills: driving, first aid, civil defense, foreign languages. In addition, understanding the importance of caring for their health, both mental and physical, became a lesson for a number of respondents.
While describing the changes that had happened to Ukrainian society since the beginning of the full-scale war, respondents often pointed out a trend towards unity, “growing up,” giving up colonial narratives. According to some respondents, the experience of mutual support and self-organization involved a higher number of people than during the Revolution of Dignity in 2013–14 and created conditions for increased civic participation by the people. Ukraine and Ukrainian society, as the respondents noted, was fighting to “finally completely break away” from Russia. One of the most prominent signs of this, according to survey participants, was the development of national identity: people switching to Ukrainian, showing a higher interest in Ukrainian culture and history.
A certain share of the respondents believed that Ukrainian society could become more polarized as a result of the war or had already become more polarized. They defined the main fault lines as the division between the “affected” and “unaffected” due to the uneven impact of the war on people, or between the mostly “active” and “passive” citizens, because the latter can be prepared to make concessions to Russia. Respondents expressed wariness of further radicalization of society, which could manifest in growing aggression and intolerance, and more internal conflicts, particularly on social media.
While describing how they saw the foreign and domestic policy of the state in the future, respondents spoke about the importance of maintaining the principles of democracy and human rights, a fair justice system, anti-corruption measures, and competent governance. Some answers also referred to providing a decent standard of living and opportunities for self-realization for everyone: health care, education, employment and social policies. Respondents expressed concerns about the risk of losing the “ardor” for change, which would mean that thousands of people died in vain. While describing desirable reforms, respondents noted that these domestic political changes were necessary in order to avoid becoming similar to Russia and in order to secure the breakup with the colonial past.
During the war in Ukraine, we collect and analyse data on its impact on Ukrainian society, especially housing, education, social protection, and migration