The full-scale war by Russia against Ukraine goes on and produces new challenges for Ukrainian society. As a team of social researchers and analysts, we continue doing what we have expertise in: conducting research and studying the impact of war on society, particularly on the fields of education, migration, housing, and social protection.
In March, we conducted our first study of the impact of the full-scale war and learned about the thoughts, feelings and actions of people in Ukraine during the first two weeks after February 24. Since we wanted to see the dynamics of change in the emotional states, decision making, and adjustments of everyday life to the conditions of war, we started working on the second wave of the study in April. The work of preparing and conducting it, as well as analyzing the collected data, was done in the second through fifth months of the full-scale war. During that time, the Cedos team was located in different cities and countries and experienced the same situations as the study respondents: moving within Ukraine, adjusting to new routines, crossing the border, obtaining documents in other countries, and returning home.
Our goal was to record the feelings and motivations, to collect the diversity of experiences of the war rather than to assess how widespread various phenomena were in quantitative terms. In view of this, just like during the first wave, we chose a qualitative approach. This allowed us to make a study with similar methodology and gave us an opportunity to juxtapose the findings.
In order to collect the data, we used a self-report questionnaire designed in Google Forms. As the first wave 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.
Even though we call this study a “second wave,” it was decided not to repeat the previous questionnaire, because by April-May the situation in Ukraine had changed compared to the first weeks after the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion. In view of this, we developed a new questionnaire and focused on the questions which had become more important given the development and changes in the experiences of war over time. Nevertheless, some questions remained in the same or a somewhat modified form in order to preserve continuity. The questionnaire included seven main sets of questions: about adaptation to life under the conditions of war, about housing, decision making, moving, volunteering, the experience of asking for help, and plans for the future; it also included introductory and final questions. 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 mental discomfort, and to check the average time it took to fill out the questionnaire.
The survey was conducted on May 5–22, 2022. 335 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:
- Since we sought to record the experiences of adaptation to the conditions of war in a processual way (directly while the events were unfolding) rather than in retrospect, we purposefully conducted the study at the moment when people were making the decisions to return to their previous places of residence or other important decisions which were tied by the media discourse to certain dates, particularly May 9, which fell within the period of data collection.
- 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 this report, 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 make 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 sharing 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 of those who have no skills of using the Google Forms platform.
- Compared to the first wave of the study, we managed to collect the experiences of fewer people; the dynamics of answering the questionnaire were lower. We associate this with the state of general exhaustion among the respondents and with the fact that, compared to the first week of March, calls to participate in various studies of the impact of war had become more usual and evoked less interest. In order to get more respondents to fill out the form, we used targeted advertising from the Cedos Facebook page aimed for those who followed the page and their friends. This target audience of paid sharing was also intended to make the second wave sample more similar to the sample of the first wave due to organic spread (without advertising).
- Based on our experience of the first wave of the survey, this time we also employed a number of steps to ensure better representation among the respondents of men and people in older age groups, who were underrepresented in the first wave. 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, on the third week of data collection (May 13–16, May 16–22), 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 men.
- Even though we shared the form using the same communication channels and sent links to it to the participants of the first wave 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 of comparing this study with the one we conducted in March 2022 are limited. We compare them wherever it is relevant and appropriate. However, comparisons of this kind are not definite evidence of 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 involvement of the researchers, that is, the fact that they themselves were, 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.
The key conclusions about the experiences and feelings in Ukrainian society in May 2022 which we can draw from the survey we conducted are as follows. First of all, during the third month of the full-scale war, the majority of the respondents at least started to become aware of the scale of the events, particularly that the war would not be over in a month but rather was going to take a long time and significantly affect both their lives and the life of the whole country. Second, in view of this realization, a significant share of the respondents tried to deal with their emotions, stabilize and normalize their daily lives, plan for the future and live in the present as it was. At the same time, some respondents were in shock from the realization of the scale of the events; they could not accept the new everyday life; they rejected the new reality; they could not and/or did not want to make plans; even though they did not experience sharp emotions, but they felt empty and grieved the past. Third, compared to the first weeks of the full-scale war, instead of acute emotions in response to rapid dramatic developments, emotions related to reflection on the past, present and future now came to the forefront. Fourth, among the things that concerned the respondents, their answers now featured issues related to employment and financial well-being notably more often. Fifthly, volunteering and engagement in mutual aid had become less prevalent but better organized. Sixth, compared to the first weeks after February 24, differences in the experiences of and feelings about the war had become more prominent: they were associated with the degree of danger the respondents had to face, having experience of moving within Ukraine and abroad, gender roles, as well as social classes and statuses.
The second and third months of the full-scale war became a time when the respondents had to adapt their lives, routines, and relationships to new conditions, change their places of residence or return home. For some respondents, mostly those who were not in areas of active fighting, everyday lives were gradually returning to their prewar state. In these cases, the main changes in their routines that remained were air raid sirens and security measures, such as a packed emergency bag, stockpiles of water, food, medicine, light masking, a furnished hallway or cellar. Some respondents found everyday life during the war to be similar to their routines during lockdowns, and recent experience of the latter helped them adjust more quickly.
Everyday life during the war was associated by the respondents with more attention paid to health, their own and their loved ones’, particularly to changes in their physical and mental states, which had deteriorated for many of the surveyed. For some, their everyday lives involved looking for jobs or gigs, taking retraining classes, learning a foreign language.
Even though in the first weeks of the war there were much fewer opportunities for leisure, by the time of the survey some respondents had been gradually resuming their leisure practices. This was linked to the restoration of social life, particularly in public spaces. At the same time, for a certain share of the respondents social life was limited at the time of the survey, which was affected, in particular, by the fact that they or their loved ones had moved.
Some people who had been forced to leave their permanent place of residence felt the temporary nature of changes in their daily lives, so they lived “on packed suitcases,” in anticipation of their return. Some felt a lack of personal space or the feeling of “home” in the place they had moved to. They tried to mitigate it by buying their own household items and things similar to the ones they had used at home. At the same time, a number of the respondents had not settled in their new location by the time of the survey and had not returned to their old routines or developed new habits.
The respondents started doing more unpaid housework and care work. This was affected by factors such as changes in the size of households, lack of opportunities to send children to education institutions, changes in housing, deterioration of household conditions. The surveyed women mentioned social expectations that they would do unpaid housework and care work as well as expectations about their emotional state. At the same time, some women felt a moral duty to go and defend the country as a member of the Armed Forces and reported reduced pressure regarding motherhood. Men felt social pressure regarding the need to first evacuate their families to a safe place and then join the Armed Forces.
People who had changed their place of residence moved to rental housing, to the homes of their relatives, friends or strangers, to dormitories, hotels, refugee centers, art residencies. In their new housing, people encountered difficulties with the people who lived with them: they lacked personal space, faced differences in household management habits, found themselves in hierarchical relationships. Some people did not have the things necessary for their life and routines. The respondents reported difficulties with looking for housing and with rents that were unaffordable to them.
As for the most important decisions respondents had had to make since the beginning of the full-scale war, the most frequently mentioned decision was to move, to stay in their own locality, decisions related to employment, income and savings. Women were more likely to mention decisions about moving. Meanwhile, men were more likely to mention decisions related to work, studying, money. Other important decisions described by the respondents included decisions about evacuation and care for loved ones, relatives, pets; decisions related to organizing life under new conditions, self-care and plans for the future; decisions about romantic relationships; decisions about volunteering, helping others, joining the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Compared to the first wave of the study, the process of making decisions in general and decisions about moving in particular had become even more complex, painful, and often dangerous. If during the first days after February 24 few people could appreciate the full scale of the disaster, in the next months some had to experience occupation and escape under shelling. The people who managed to leave dangerous areas, such as Mariupol or the north of the Kyiv Region, before the occupation said that they were only able to appreciate the importance of their decisions later.
Compared to the first wave of the study, decisions had generally become more complex, and there were more decisions which could be called long-term. The respondents’ answers show a tendency towards realization that the war is going to last a long time. Thus, the need arose to adapt their routines and everyday lives to the new conditions, to overcome the “delayed life syndrome.” The surveyed noted that they tried to continue living without postponing it to a more suitable time. This trend was also associated with reclaiming agency and coming out of the state of stupor.
The war made the respondents feel frozen and apathetic, the scale of the disaster produced the feeling of losing agency in their own lives. Even though these emotions were not dominant among the surveyed, they did affect decision making and evaluation. Some respondents noted that no decisions felt important to them anymore and that their lives had “stopped.”
However, the opposite tendency could also be observed. Some of the surveyed wrote about the frozen state as if that stage was already behind them and they had gradually managed to restore the feeling of control over what was going on in their lives. This could be facilitated by returning to work, realizing that the war was going to last a long time, and having to organize life under new conditions.
While discussing their difficulties with moving, some people described specific situations during the move itself, while others focused on their state after moving. This can signify the need to adapt to the new place of residence. The difficulties which the respondents mentioned the most frequently included emotional, logistic, and safety difficulties while moving. Difficulties related to meeting their basic needs, housing, and relations with their companions were mentioned less frequently.
In response to the question about the reasons that motivated them to move, the respondents mostly referred to the security situation—both objective and subjective aspects of it. Less often, they mentioned that they were convinced to move by their loved ones or that moving was necessary to maintain their usual way of life, to expand their planning horizon. If respondents were in a satisfactory safety situation, had housing, jobs, social connections, they stayed in their own location of residence.
The key factors considered by the respondents to make the decision about returning to their previous places of residence included the security situation, the availability of housing (their own or rental), and the feeling of affinity with the city.
Most respondents were engaged in volunteering or helping others. Volunteering could take different forms and directions: physical help on the ground, help with supplies for the military, financial aid, organization and coordination work, information coverage, helping IDPs and Ukrainian refugees. Volunteering could be organized in different ways: people joined newly founded or existing initiatives or organizations, or they helped in a targeted way depending on requests and possibilities.
Previous experience of volunteering before the beginning of the full-scale invasion was one of the reasons for some respondents to participate again. In addition, respondents were influenced by their acquaintances, friends or relatives who were engaged in volunteering, as well as by having the required skills and knowledge. The problems faced while volunteering included issues with organization, coordination and communication; lack of funding; poorly established logistics; lack of time for volunteering; overworking and burnout.
The respondents donated to big foundations or organizations, to government bank accounts, to specialized or small local organizations, to specific volunteers, to acquaintances, friends or relatives who were fundraising. They based their donations mostly on their own trust in certain organizations or people whom they knew personally. In addition, donation decisions were also affected by fundraising goals, prioritization of needs, and urgency of requests.
The survey sample included people who had asked for help both in Ukraine and abroad. While they could apply for various kinds of help in Ukraine, in other countries it was mostly part of official registration, for instance, of applying for temporary protection. Respondents mostly applied for financial aid, help with housing and other basic needs (food, clothes), medical and psychological help.
Some of the people who needed help did not ask for it for various reasons. Some compared themselves to other people who were more in need of help and concluded that their own requests were not as urgent. In addition, some respondents did not ask for help because they could cover these needs with their own capacities and resources. Other reasons why people did not ask for help included limited provision of help, lack of information, bureaucratic processes, and psychological limitations.
While during the first wave the respondents mostly shared emotions that were responses to dramatic developments here and now (anger, fear, anxiety, pain), during the second wave feelings related to a different challenge, the need to accept new reality and live in it, came to the forefront. These feelings included, first of all, anxiety about their inability to plan the future and about their financial well-being (work and income), as well as grief and desperation due to the realization that their past lives and past plans had been destroyed.
Acute emotions and the emotional roller-coaster had been replaced by tiredness, sadness, exhaustion—both due to the need to accept new reality and solve new problems and due to experiencing intense negative emotions or emotional swings during the first months of the war. The surveyed wrote that this negatively affected their work productivity and their ability to solve new problems.
A widespread tendency was the feeling of detachment from life, the feeling that time had stopped, the feeling of having fallen out of reality. The feeling of sympathy with the grief of compatriots was still prominent. At the same time, the second wave of the study showed that the respondents’ emotions started to focus more on themselves.Although the tendency to plan the future for only a day or a few days was still widespread among the respondents, it was no longer dominant, in contrast to the first wave. With the realization that the war was going to last a long time, planning horizons were changing; thus, respondents mostly noted that they had plans both for the short term and for the long term. Longer-term plans were most often associated with events postponed for the time after the war: returning home, resuming usual life, meeting loved ones. Among the people who had moved abroad, the tendency to plan for a few months or a year ahead was more notable, which can be related to the need to follow bureaucratic procedures, find a job, organize children’s education and everyday life in a new country. At the same time, regardless of whether they had moved or not, some of the surveyed avoided planning for the future and noted that they were living a “delayed life” with a constant feeling of temporariness and uncertainty.
During the war in Ukraine, we collect and analyse data on its impact on Ukrainian society, especially housing, education, social protection, and migration