Are Ukrainians preparing for a Russian invasion? | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 28.01.2022

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Europe

Are Ukrainians preparing for a Russian invasion?

As diplomatic talks aim to ease further tension between Russia and Ukraine, many Ukrainians are mulling whether the crisis is all hot air — or if it's time to pack their bags for safety. A recent survey sheds some light.

A satellite image of ground forces in Smolensk district

This satellite image shows the buildup of ground forces in Russia's Smolensk district, not far from the Ukrainian border

The situation is tense due to the deployment of tens of thousands of Russian troops on Ukraine's borders, and Western states are trying to steer the Kremlin towards de-escalation. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government has told its own population that, though it does not expect an invasion in the near future, the threat from Russia is real.

This assessment seems to be shared by about half of the Ukrainian population. According to a recent poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), 48.1% of Ukrainians believe the threat of an invasion is real, while 39.1% don't think an invasion will happen. Another 12.8% of respondents either had no opinion yet or did not want to comment.

This assessment has barely changed since the last time the institute conducted a survey in mid-December, when 49.2% of respondents saw a real danger and 41.4% said they were sure there would be no invasion.

A map of Ukraine showing where Russian troops are deployed

Kremlin activity nothing more than blackmail?

"The belief that Russia will not attack can be based on a variety of reasons: From sympathy for Russia to confidence that Ukraine and the global community will respond by preventing such an attack," the deputy head of Ukraine's Razumkov Center, Mykhailo Mischenko, told DW.

Mischenko said it was especially those who think the global community could stop Russia who were confident there would not be an invasion. He also pointed out that some Ukrainians see the Kremlin's activity as nothing more than blackmail.

Volodymyr Paniotto, the director general of the KIIS, explained that in Ukraine, as elsewhere, public opinion was formed quite quickly on the basis of certain information, and after being consolidated it did not change significantly. He said people tended to seek out sources that confirmed their opinions and were more likely to trust them.

"In Ukraine, the number of people using the internet and social networks has increased over the past two years. Now, this development has intensified. This is because the social networks are fast and their algorithms are designed to provide people only with the information that they like," he told DW. That's why people often found themselves in an echo chamber, he said — further cementing their own views, and thus making it more difficult to change their perceptions.

Ukrainians taking up arms amid Russia tension

Preparing for an emergency

Reports that some Western countries are already evacuating the families of their embassy staff could also have influenced the opinions of Ukrainians. Some view these as concrete measures being taken by states to protect their citizens, whereas others see them as a mere precaution. In any case, many Ukrainians have started posting tips online on how to pack an "emergency suitcase" or what to do in case of war.

Paniotto said evacuation reports could increase the fear of an invasion among the Ukrainian population, but this did not mean that everybody was preparing for an attack. "Of course, those who believe the danger is real will prepare more than those who don't," he said, adding that people would prepare differently according to their means. Some would simply pack a suitcase they could take with them in an emergency, whereas others might start organizing weapons.

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According to the findings of a KIIS survey in December, 33.3% of Ukrainians would be prepared to resist with arms in the event of a Russian attack; 21.7% would resist in different ways, such as through protests; 14.8% would retreat to a safer part of the country and 9.3% would flee abroad. Meanwhile, 18.6% of respondents said they would do nothing and 12.1% said they did not yet know what they would do.

This article was originally written in Ukrainian

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