The FINANCIAL -- Nearly four years into the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in the country's east, Ukrainians are more polarized now about their relations with Russia than they were when the fighting first began in 2014.
The largest percentage of Ukrainians (43%) still believe Ukraine needs to have a "very strong position regarding Russia." At least one in five, however, now say that Ukraine needs to have a good relationship by all means (25%) or that Ukraine needs to terminate its relationship with Russia (20%).
The U.S. State Department last week accused Russia of "stoking a hot conflict" in Ukraine, but Russia continues to deny its direct involvement in the fighting that continues between government forces and separatists in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions. So far, more than 10,000 people have died in the conflict, and the latest cease-fire is not holding, according to Gallup.
There are signs that the protracted conflict is fracturing Ukraine from within. Residents living in the western part of the country, which is closer to Europe, are more in favor now of terminating relations with Russia than they have been in the past. Those in the West are more than twice as likely to say relations with Russia should be terminated (39%) than they were in 2014 (17%).
At the same time that more residents in the West want nothing to do with Russia, those in the North and Central region (which includes Kiev) are warming to better relations. However, they still are not overly friendly; those in the North and Central region are twice as likely to say Ukraine should have a good relationship with Russia (28%) than they were in 2014 (14%).
Although residents in the East/South region are slightly more likely to favor of a "good relationship" in 2017 (35%) than they were in 2014 (27%), the general picture in this region did not change as dramatically as it did in the other two regions.
More Russians Lean Toward Terminating Relations
On the other side of the border, Russians, like Ukrainians, are most likely to say that their country should maintain a strong position with the other country (47%), but they too are less likely to say this now than they were in 2014 (63%). The percentage of Russians who would like to see better relations with Ukraine, 25%, is up only slightly since 2014, while the percentage who would like to see relations end has more than tripled from 4% to 13%.
Ukrainians' attitudes toward their own leadership, and that of Russia, influence the direction in which they would like to see Ukraine take relations between the two countries. Ukrainians who favor good relations with Russia are less likely to have confidence in their own government and to approve of the job performance of their president, Petro Poroshenko.
They are also more likely to approve of the job performance of Russia's leadership. At the same time, Ukrainians who want to end relations with Russia are more likely to disapprove of Russia's leadership. In Russia, there is no difference in how people respond to the question based on confidence in Russia's government or their approval of the job performance of President Vladimir Putin.
The longer the frozen conflict in Ukraine goes on, the data suggest the more hardened Ukrainians and Russians will likely become toward each other. And the more hardened they become, the less likely the two countries -- once so tightly linked -- will be on a path toward normalization anytime soon.