WASHINGTON — A new Gallup poll shows a wide split in how Ukrainians and those living on the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia, view the conflict in their country. Ukrainians as a whole tend to be divided by where they live and sometimes by whether they are ethnic Ukrainians or ethnic Russians.
There are daily armed clashes in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian insurgents looking to secede from Ukraine and the Kyiv government's security forces. And there is relative peace, seemingly a world away, in western Ukraine.
A new Gallup poll shows just how wide the gulf is between western and eastern Ukraine. The president of Washington-based Freedom House, David Kramer, said the split within Ukraine is growing.
"What we're seeing now is wider splits have come about as a result of Russian influence and Russian pressure… It is more divided now than it was before events starting in Crimea in March," said Kramer.
Gallup interviewed 1,400 Ukrainians, and another 500 in Crimea in April, the month after Moscow took control of the Ukrainian territory. The survey was funded by the U.S. government's Broadcasting Board of Governors, the parent agency of the Voice of America.
It showed substantially more support for the American role in the current crisis in western Ukraine, with sharply diminished views of the U.S. in the southern and eastern regions of the country, and almost none in Crimea.
Gallup pollster Neli Esipova said the split among Ukrainians is not surprising.
"In the last eight, nine years when we collect data in Ukraine, we see it all the time on most of the aspects of life actually. Any political situation we ask of the country, even economics in the country, the split between different regions and between different ethnic groups existed for years, and the government didn’t pay attention to it," said Esipova.
The survey of Crimeans after the Russian takeover showed they are overwhelmingly happy to be part of Russia, with nearly three-quarters of those surveyed saying their life will improve as part of Russia rather than Ukraine.
"It is part of Russia now, and you saw that the support is huge for Russian government," said Esipova.
Kramer thinks that as time passes, Crimeans may rethink their affinity for Russia.
"I would say let's check in with people living in Crimea in a while and see whether life in fact has really gotten better. Russia‘s made all sorts of promises that will cost Russia lots of money: to boost salaries, to boost pensions. Russia right now economically is not really in a position to do that," said Kramer.
The poll showed that Ukrainians are split evenly on whether they would be willing to endure a diminished standard of living for a year or two while the Kyiv government looks to fix its moribund economy.