Introduction

On February 24, the day when Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, the majority of our Cedos team was in Kyiv. From the first days of the war, we have been involved in volunteer initiatives. At the same time, we continue our work in those fields where we have the most expertise, i.e., social research and analytics.

At this time, we decided to focus on the impact war has on the civilian population by, in particular, conducting this survey to document people’s experiences, thoughts and feelings during the first days of the full-scale war in Ukraine. While working on this research, research team participants changed their place of stay in search of security, heard air raid sirens several times a day, found new routines and experienced the same emotions as survey respondents.

Because our purpose was to document different experiences, thoughts and emotions, we adopted a qualitative research approach. At the same time, given the current martial law situation, we decided to use a self-disclosure survey as the method of data collection. The survey was put into Google forms. This variant of data collection was supposed to be the simplest and the most convenient one for our potential respondents as it meant that there was no time limit on completing the survey, it was possible to give optional responses and the process of survey completion could be interrupted at any moment. Therefore, this format, under the current research conditions, was generally deemed as friendly as possible with respect to our respondents and their experiences. Information about our research, including a link to the fill-out form, was distributed on Cedos pages on social media, researchers’ personal pages and in personal communication.

The survey consisted of six main question blocks as well as introductory and concluding questions. The question blocks concerned the thematic foci of the survey: the start of the war; respondents’ next steps; emotions; volunteering; professional activities and education; everyday routine. The block of concluding questions examined socio-demographic aspects of the situation.

The survey started from an introductory note clarifying the research goal and containing a disclaimer about the confidentiality of answers. In the introduction section, respondents were warned that the survey included questions regarding the respondents’ emotional state since February 24, the start of the full-scale war, and were instructed to answer these questions only if they felt comfortable doing so.

Most questions presupposed self-disclosure responses, so respondents were not limited by predefined answers. This way, we encouraged  the informants to give narrative answers and disclose what they experienced.

Before the survey was distributed, we carried out the pre-testing of research tools. The pre-testing was conducted among the acquaintances of research team participants. First and foremost, its objective was to find out whether the wording of the questions was clear and whether the way questions were formulated and the process of filling out the survey caused psychological discomfort; additionally, the task was to check how much time, on average, it took to fill out the survey.

The survey was conducted between March 2 and March 7. Within this period, 555 respondents took part in the survey. The average age of respondents is 29. The youngest respondent is 17 years old, the oldest one 70. Two thirds of all respondents (66%) are of prime working age (25-54), another third (29%) is people of early working age (15-24). Slightly less than 4% of those who filled out the survey have not indicated their age. More than two thirds of respondents (72%) identify as women, while a little less than a quarter (23%) identify as men. Another 1.4% identify outside the above-mentioned categories (in particular, as a non-binary person, as a queer person) or see no need to use gender as the basis of their identification. 4% of respondents provided no answer to this question. More than two thirds (70%) of respondents have higher education, another 7% hold a doctoral degree. 14% said that the highest level of education they obtained so far is secondary education, another 5% indicated that they obtained occupational / vocational education. 4% of respondents did not answer the question.

While conducting the research, we faced a number of challenges related to research methodology and ethics. The responses to these challenges chosen by the team determined the limitations of the conducted research.

  • Work on the research tools was subject to time constraints, as delayed start to data collection would have significantly influenced the character of data. Our goal was to document people’s emotions and experiences in the first weeks of the war as the events actually unfolded, not retrospectively; therefore, we relied on our team’s previous experience of working with sensitive topics and conducted a pre-testing of research tools.
  • The way the survey was disseminated led to Cedos’ audience featuring prominently among the respondents. The socio-demographic characteristics of this group do not reflect the socio-demographic characteristics of Ukraine’s adult population as a whole (age and gender distribution, level of education etc.). Moreover, the very method of collecting data through an online form could have an effect on certain features of the sample (causing, in particular, the senior age group to be underrepresented). Because filling out the survey took time and required access to the Internet, it is reasonable to assume that it could mostly be filled out by those respondents who between March 2 and March 7 were relatively safe and had uninterrupted access to the Internet.
  • The self-disclosure survey presupposed documenting one’s experience and emotions through writing. Choosing this method has a certain limitation (or consequence): documenting one’s own experiences in writing inevitably contributes to a greater narrativisation of the account and encourages the respondent to rationalize the lived experience. We took this into account while analysing the data and believe that the method we chose constitutes a justified compromise in conditions that make it impossible to collect data via interviews.
  • Researchers’ participation, i.e., the fact that they themselves, to a certain degree, experienced full-scale war and forced relocation, can be considered both an advantage and a limitation of our research. On the one hand, it can encourage greater reflexivity and sensitivity while dealing with the received data as a result of comparing the data to the researcher’s personal experiences. On the other hand, it may predetermine certain analytical matrices that affect the interpretation of received data. To avoid cognitive bias or bias caused from pre-existing experience, work on received data was distributed between researchers during analysis and interpretation as well as during peer editing.

The research is not comprehensive. The  result feature diverse ways in which the war is experienced within a certain timeframe but cannot be extrapolated onto the entire population of Ukraine and the whole period of war, as the totality of war experiences is much bigger and more multifaceted. These experiences demand much further examination: from representative research on national level to research focused on individual social groups.

This text does not constitute an exhaustive report on the results of analysing the collected data; rather, here we present an analytical note containing initial findings and a description of main trends which we have so far discovered.

Conclusions

On February 24, at 5 am, when a full-scale war in Ukraine began, most of the respondents were safe at home or with relatives, friends and acquaintances. Respondents learned about the beginning of the invasion in different ways: directly hearing explosions and sirens, from acquaintances, friends and relatives, as well as from the media and social networks. The first thoughts of the respondents concerned their safety and the safety of their relatives, the possibility of evacuation, packing an “alarm suitcase” and providing themselves and their family with everything they need (food, medicine, water).

In the first hours and on the first day of the full-scale invasion respondents tried to do something to adapt to a new reality. In particular, many contacted family and friends, resolved urgent work issues, packed the “alarm suitcase”, arranged their lives in an attempt to prepare for war activities nearby and moved around in search of safe places.

During the first days of the full-scale war, the main decisions were about relocation: moving or staying in one’s place of living, going abroad, or evacuating children and relatives. For many respondents the decision to leave meant the loss of home, property, and separation from family. For those who decided to stay, an important issue was the organization of life during the war: preparing housing for shelling, arranging shelter, providing food supplies. For some respondents, decisions related to emotions and experiences became the most important. They described them as the need to “come to terms with the reality”, to accept “that life will not be the same as before”, and to realize the risk of death. Joining the Armed Forces of Ukraine and volunteering also became important decisions mentioned by the respondents. In addition, in the first days of the war, some respondents said that they could not or did not have time to make any important decisions. For some, it was due to a difficult emotional state, for others – the inability to plan for the future. However, some mentioned that even everyday affairs, such as shopping for food, can be seen as an important decision in wartime, as they can be dangerous and require courage.

The decision to leave or stay in the place of residence at the beginning of the full-scale invasion was impacted by the security situation, the availability of resources, including finances, transport, housing, family, evacuation contacts, health, road or rail connection, opportunity to work or help. This decision mainly caused the respondents to feel fear, panic, anxiety, shame or guilt.

After the start of the full-scale invasion, most respondents changed their relationships with their relatives. Some respondents noted an improvement and increase in communication with relatives. Others, on the other hand, wrote that they had a tense relationship or that they deliberately limited it. Respondents often pointed to a reduction or complete restriction of communication with relatives or friends living in Russia or supporting the aggressor state.

Women and men faced prejudices related to their activities. In the case of women, there was an expectation that they would not take part in active hostilities, in the case of men, on the contrary, that they would. Some displaced people faced prejudices from local residents, which could lead to restrictions on access to rental housing.

Most respondents in the first two weeks of the war felt anxious: for their and their family safety and for the future in general. In addition, many spoke of hatred for the Russian army and attacks of fear for their lives. Respondents’ emotions were experienced differently: someone experiences dramatic alternations of different emotional manifestations; someone’s intense emotions were replaced by exhaustion and apathy. Some respondents talked about attempts to control and suppress their emotions, some – about experiencing emotions through physical pain. For many respondents the hope for the war ending and the sense of unity with the society helped to cope with anxiety and sadness.

Those respondents who stated that their life principles had changed most often stated that they had changed their attitude towards Russia as an occupying state, individual government officials and / or its citizens. These attitudes ranged from “hatred of invaders” to dehumanisation of enemies. Respondents also pointed to a change in their attitude to the war as such (rejection of pacifist views, readiness to take up arms) and a change in political views (mostly in the categories of respect and rethinking attitudes towards the authorities in Ukraine). The respondents also mentioned the devaluation of material values ​​and awareness of the values ​​of communication with relatives and / or unity with the Ukrainian people. The strengthening of national identity was also a noticeable trend among the changes in the life principles of the respondents.

In most cases, the survey participants did not plan their future due to the high level of unpredictability of various circumstances. At the same time, some respondents had plans for what they wanted to do after the war.

Most of the respondents helped other people or were involved in some form of volunteering. Most of them were engaged in volunteering not directly related to professional activities: information volunteering, physical assistance locally, coordination of requests. Significantly fewer respondents reported using their professional skills to volunteer: psychologists, designers, media professionals, and more. Many respondents helped by sending donations to the military and humanitarian initiatives.

They described their motivation to volunteer through their inner need to “be useful” and maintain their mental state; a sense of solidarity and a desire to help people; a sense of patriotism and a desire to contribute to the victory; a sense of duty and an understanding of the need for their help; availability of opportunities, resources or specific competencies.

Translation: Olesiia Kamyshnykova, Liudmyla Adariukova, Maryna Kabanets

Illustration: Anna Ivanenko

We ask you to support the approach of victory through donations to help the Armed Forces of Ukraine and humanitarian initiatives.

The donations we are currently receiving for our work will be used to research and analyse the impact of the war on a civilian population.

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