Is It Possible to Remain Optimistic in Times of War?

September 27, 2023
War can bring out paradoxical things. Amid losses, tension, and pain, people are able to show resilience and optimism.

For 19 months, Ukrainians have continued to whole-heartedly believe in Ukraine’s victory and its bright future.

Volodymyr Paniotto, the President of Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), told UkraineWorld what mood prevails in Ukrainian society in times of war.

The global information space is full of speculations about the necessity of territorial compromises on Ukraine's part. The dangers of such compromises are well known: they only serve to encourage the aggressor.

According to survey findings, the Ukrainian people as a whole are unwilling to make compromises with Russia.

The last sociological survey conducted by KIIS in May 2023 indicates that the absolute majority of Ukrainians - 84% - hold on to the view that any territorial concessions are unacceptable, even if it means that the war will last longer and other threats will emerge.

Surveys on Ukrainians' willingness to make territorial concessions for the sake of peace were conducted six times between May 2022 and May 2023. The data illustrates the consistency of Ukrainians' opinions. Every time, the overwhelming majority (82-87%) opposed it.

The absence of significant changes regarding this issue shows that, despite all the losses, Ukrainians strive forjust peace, which is impossible without regaining all Ukrainian territories. Furthermore, regardless of their region of origin, the language they speak, or their ethnicity, all Ukrainians share this sentiment.

The question concerned the general attitude towards territorial compromises in terms of a more detailed examination of other various possibilities of the situation. It is well known that different experiences of war affect people's willingness to make certain compromises.

In particular, the level of support for compromises increases especially in those areas where people perceive there is a greater threat to their lives and the lives of loved ones.

Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, 90-95% of Ukrainians have expressed confidence in their country's victory and this indicator has remained stable throughout.

What do Ukrainians think about the future?

Despite the problems that the war brings on a daily basis, Ukrainians tend to be optimistic about the future. According to the surveys, the percentage of people who were "very optimistic" or "rather optimistic" remained nearly unchanged - at 87% - from May 2022 to May 2023.

The optimistic perception of the future by Ukrainians is largely connected to their confidence in a Ukrainian victory.When asked to name a word that evokes optimism, Ukrainians chose "victory" most often.

The Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine conducted the monitoring, in which KIIS conducted the field stage of the last two research - on the dynamics of Ukrainians’ view of the future.

Paradoxically, but before the full-scale invasion (in November 2021) only 13% of Ukrainians believed that the situation in Ukraine would get better. And their perception changed dramatically in June 2022, after three months of the full-scale war.

76% believed that the situation would get better. This indicator remained stable until December 2022, and slightly decreased in June 2023 (66%). Yet, 19% of Ukrainians believed that the situation wouldn’t change, and only 11% - that it would get worse.

How do Ukrainians assess their level of happiness in times of war?

The level of happiness during the war is a general indicator of the state of society and demonstrates how well society copes with the challenges of war.

It’s connected to the fact that self-assessment of happiness level is sensitive to even the slightest changes in the areas significant for society, such as material aspects of life, health, education, social relations, political stability, etc.

For more than 20 years, KIIS has been asking Ukrainians the same question: “Do you consider yourself a happy person?”

According to the latest data from May 2023, despite the continuation of the full-scale war for 19 months, 70% of Ukrainians consider themselves to be happy.

The indicators illustrate stability, given the fact that they deviated little during the full-scale invasion and before it (December 2021 - 71%).

Even though Russian aggression has brought countless horrors, Ukrainians have managed to find ways to adapt to this harsh reality and move forward. However, this result may come as a surprise to many.

However, the mechanism of happiness formation is not linear.

Roughly, the level of happiness can be represented as a fraction where the numerator is the level of a person’s achievements in a broad sense (level of material well-being, creative work, etc.) and the denominator is the level of their aspirations (e.g. the level of material well-being which a person considered sufficient).

The level of aspiration decreases during times of war. People prioritize their own lives and health, as well as the health and well-being of loved ones.Therefore, the simultaneous decrease in the numerator and denominator helps to maintain this consistent level of happiness.

Notably, the level of happiness is influenced by many factors, not only by material ones. Hence, even in the face of deteriorating material living conditions and separation from loved ones, there remain factors that contribute to the elevation of happiness levels.

These may include heightened social cohesion, the reduction of regional differences, the increase of mutual support, or the growth of population value of the state.

Volodymyr Paniotto, the President of Kyiv International Institute of Sociology