Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels


The World Values Survey* initiated in 1981 within years became a powerful instrument of progress assessment for each country-participant as well as a helpful tool of geopolitical planning. For Ukraine this large-scale project has never been more relevant then nowadays, showing both Ukraine’s readiness to share European values and a significant gap on the way of European integration. It does not only allow to track the progress of Ukrainian society in key issues of value orientations, as well as to compare with the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries, but also can potentially modify the directions taken by the Ukrainian government in different domains of legislative implementation and demonstrate foreign partners the objective state of play.

If to compare…

With mostly consoling results that show some progress within the country (such as the number of Ukrainians who consider themselves happy is 78% in 2020, compared to 68% in 2011, as well as those who think they are in good health – 45% this year, in comparison with 37% in 2011 etc.), on the scale with EU-countries those rates are still at the very bottom.

In general, even between the EU-countries, there is a significant difference considering the key questions of the research, in particular, the Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland) traditionally differ due to the developed social policy – especially in the issue of absolute intolerance of violence, acceptance of differences, high trust in state institutions and economical security.

When comparing Ukraine with other countries, it seems that geopolitical and historical factors are making the game: it remains the closest to the group of Orthodox European countries, such as Bulgaria, Greece and Romania. Apart from faith and geographical location the countries united by paternalistic sentiments, financial insecurity and lowest then the average level of tolerance towards different social groups.

It is worth noticing that the expected similarity concerning the results between Ukraine and Russia was not detected during the current wave of the research. In terms of values step by step, Ukraine (and Belarus) are moving forward on the cultural map of the world towards secular values. Which means a slow but confident movement to the European type of society where secular values prevail.

The growing share of those who are proud of their citizenship (82.2% in 2020, only 67% in 2011, which is still quite low on the scale of EU) for post-colonial countries (which Ukraine is) may indicate a strengthening of statehood and solidarity, especially during the war. It is confirmed also by the fact that the share of citizens willing to defend their country has increased from 40% to 56.9%.

(Table 1. Reluctance to live near different social groups)

Tolerance: one step forward, two steps back

The issue of tolerance often polarizes the population the most, as there is no socially acceptable answer that would prevail and be the same for the whole country, and at the same time the share of those who are undecided is very small, so people have a clear position on certain practices. Some of the study’s results justify in favour of Ukraine: over the past two decades, the share of Ukrainians who are not ready to accept people who use drugs, alcohol, homosexuals, and HIV patients as neighbours has decreased significantly (although according to the research most of Ukrainians still do not support such practices as homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, divorce etc.) Researchers admit the factor of generational change, as well as the influence of advocacy and educational campaigns.

However, under the influence of socio-economic processes in Ukraine, there is a marked regression in tolerance of people of other nationalities: the reluctance to have immigrants, foreign workers, people who speak another language, people of another religion as neighbours has significantly increased.

Considering this attitude towards migrants, 41% of respondents believe that it is necessary to strictly limit the number of foreign nationals who come. It is important to note that in 2020 the largest share of such responses was recorded. More than half of Ukrainians agrees that immigration raises unemployment, leading to social conflicts.

(Table 2. Proportion of those who think that immigrants have a positive impact)

Economy: positive approach or a real change?

Traditionally, there is a visible difference between Ukraine and most EU-countries in terms of economic benefits. The results confirm the high level of paternalistic attitudes, which is declining very slowly – 47.6% of Ukrainians share the view that the state should be more responsible for ensuring that all citizens are provided for. Instead, 21.6% supported the view that people themselves should be more responsible for providing for themselves.

In general, some positive changes (at least in term of the attitude) can be noticed at the domain of economic status and financial wellbeing. One of the brightest examples is the obvious reduction of the share of dissatisfied with the financial situation from 48% (2011) to 38.9% (2020). The share of those who believe that they have a low-income level also decreased (from 55% to 45.1%) and the share of those who estimate their income as average increased (from 33% to 37%). The share of those who have never experienced the lack of food in the last years has increased from 52% to 71.7%.

At the same time, Ukrainians show a low result in comparison with the EU-countries in the level of satisfaction with their own lives – 43.6% compared to 85.7% in the Netherlands, 84.7% in Finland, 83.5% in Denmark, 80.8% in Germany. Even those countries that traditionally show similar indicators to Ukraine have higher results – Bulgaria (48.2%) and Greece (50.9%).

Democracy as the dominant value

Although Ukrainians give the most positive estimates to the democratic political system as the best way of governing Ukraine, all EU-countries included in the comparison have higher values of this indicator. If in Ukraine the value of being ruled by democracy is 66.9%, 80.2% think so in Slovakia, 81.4% in Lithuania, the number in other countries is even higher.

Ukrainians emphasize on the following essential characteristics of democracy the most: women have the same rights as men (84% thinks of it as one of the basics of democracy), it is followed by free elections (81.6%) and civil rights protect people from state oppression (80.5%), state aid for unemployed (79.1%), governments tax the rich and subsidize the poor (68.8%).

And again – it is important to see the whole picture: in Ukraine, such “social characteristics” of democracy as equal rights for women and men, civil rights, free elections are somewhat underestimated compared to the EU, and on the contrary – the value of financial guaranties is more “on time” for Ukraine than for other EU-countries.

It is important to live in a country that is governed democratically for 79.2% of Ukrainians, which is overall more than in 2011 (74.1%). However, the score of Ukraine is lower than in most of the EU-countries included in the comparison, and it is closest to the bottom of the table.

At the same time, only 29.2% of the respondents in Ukraine believe that the country is now governed democratically. However, in 2011 an even smaller share of Ukrainians thought so (21.9%). Nevertheless, here also Ukraine is almost at the bottom of the list among the EU-countries, and is closest to Slovenia, while the highest scores are in Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Germany.

Surprisingly low interest in politics

This year’s results of the World Values ​​Survey (together with an anti-record turnout at this year’s local elections) showed an unexpectedly low level of interest in politics in Ukraine, compared to previous years and other European countries.

Just over a third (34.6%) of Ukrainians said they were interested in politics. Despite the fact that the poll was conducted during the local election campaign (October 25, 2020), the level of interest in politics corresponds to the level of 2011, when no elections were held. At the same time, a third of Ukrainians surveyed in 2020 never discuss political issues when meeting with friends, and only 7.8% said they do so often. Although the results may come as a surprise, the authors of the study note that in fact involvement in political aspects it is not a question of values, but rather an element of need.

At the same time, in most European countries the level of interest in politics is much higher with Germany (78.5%), Austria (62.8%) and Sweden (59.8%) on top of the list.

Such a low interest shown by Ukrainians in participating in elections may be a direct consequence of disbelief in their own choice and the importance of individual influence. In order to move the country to a higher level of development, these categories must become at least a value for Ukraine’s government and adjust the directions of its work.

(Table 3: Interest in politics)

To sum up

Ukraine has clearly declared a European path of development, but, according to empirical data of 2020 compared to the results of most of EU-countries, the value-regulatory system is one of the barriers in this direction. However, there are many more positive changes than negative ones, and questionless changing the cultural background and replacing paternalistic discourse with democratic values takes more time than signing documents and formally assigning a country to one or another political bloc.

European values are, in fact, humanistic ideals that have not yet been fully achieved by any of the EU-countries. The results of this year’s World Values Survey show both positive changes and areas in which Ukraine has room for self-improvement. Increasing tolerance for various forms of social behaviour as well as moving forward personal responsibility above the paternalistic attitude are vectors that Ukrainian society must adhere not only to become a desirable partner for the European community but first and foremost in order to be a comfortable country to live in.

The European choice is primarily an acceptance of diversity. This is evidenced by the very concept of the EU – the unification of countries with different cultural and social backgrounds. The polarity of opinions is in favour of the state because it means the opportunity to express oneself is a value itself, and the coexistence of radically different opinions is a decisive proof of Ukraine’s belonging to the European community.

* The World Values ​​Survey is the largest cross-national comparative study in the world in which Ukraine has participated since 1996. The study is based on a survey of respondents on involvement in macroeconomic, social and political processes, the level of tolerance, support for values ​​and behavioural patterns.

The article is based on the World Values Survey 2020.

Author: Kateryna Potapenko, NGO “Ukrainian Center for European Policy” (Kyiv, Ukraine).

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