“Enemy bombers with half-ton bombs were flying over my house”

A researcher from Kharkiv studies how Ukrainians respond to the threats and challenges of war

The war has changed and continues to change Ukrainians. Our society is maturing, learning to fight back the enemy, and acquiring immunity to the influence of the ‘russian world’. The war will end sooner or later. Will Ukrainians learn its lessons? Will they remember the value of democracy after the victory? Or will they crave a ‘strong hand’ and authoritarian ‘order’?

Viacheslav Dziundziuk, Head of Public Policy Chair at V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, is trying to find out how stressors and threats affect behavior. His proposal was successful in the ‘NWO Hop-On Call for Researchers Based in Ukraine: NWO-NRFU Partnership Initiative 2023’ and is currently working with a group of Dutch researchers.

The researchers are implementing the project ‘Under Pressure: How Citizens Respond to Threats and Develop Attitudes and Behaviors to Counteract Them’.

We asked the Professor Dziundziuk why this topic is important to him and what exactly he plans to do within the framework of the project.

“I have been interested in people’s political behavior since the first days of the war”, the professor replied. “I believe that my research will allow to predict how citizens’ preferences and, respectively, the political landscape will change after the war. In other words, whether citizens will realize the benefits of democracy or, on the contrary, will be gravitating toward more authoritarian ideas”.

Professor Dziundziuk has extensive experience in researching public administration and public policy. His interest in political psychology has turned from a ‘research hobby’ into a separate important area of investigation. “The study of political behavior was the ‘hit’ in the Dutch project”, the researcher continued. “In the Netherlands, rising unemployment levels, an influx of migrants, etc, are the challenges. In Ukraine, meanwhile, the threats are missile attacks, russian tanks, and economic instability. It is important to study how Ukrainians react to really serious threats and how their political preferences change”.

In order to participate in the Call, the researcher was to find partners from the Netherlands. Viacheslav Dziundziuk found both the project and his future colleagues very quickly. He went to the website of the Dutch Research Council (NWO), analyzed the projects and chose the one that was closest to his research interests. Then he wrote to the PI, a researcher from the University of Amsterdam, Dr. B.N. Bakker, and received a response the following day.

“Today, there is no country in the EU where citizens live under such stress as Ukrainians. That is why it is important for Europeans to understand how people act in war conditions”, emphasized Viacheslav Dziundziuk.

According to the methodology developed by colleagues from the Netherlands, Viacheslav Dziundziuk will conduct a sociological survey of Kharkiv residents. The purpose of the survey is to determine how crisis situations affect people. “Kharkiv is a frontline city that is shelled by the enemy every single day. The russians are trying to level entire districts of the metropolis down to the ground. I cannot forget enemy bombers flying over my house and dropping half-ton bombs on the city”, recalls the researcher.

The researcher plans to analyze the impact of a number of challenges on people, including the impact of daily danger, internal and external migration, rising prices, deterioration of living standards, etc. After the surveys are completed in Ukraine and the Netherlands, the researchers will compare the results.

As part of the project, researchers will also study the so-called counteraction behavior of Ukrainians and Europeans. What is this behavior?

Professor Viacheslav Dziundziuk explained that it is one of human reactions to stressful situations. There are several basic response scenarios. The first one is: ‘to hide your head in the sand’ and try to ignore what is happening around. The second one is to try to notice only the good and ignore the bad. The third one is to be active (help the Armed Forces, prepare for blackouts, or perhaps look for another country).

After the sociological survey is done, the researchers will try to analyze how people with different response scenarios change their political preferences. “Of course, this can be predicted very conditionally, but it is still worth a try”, mentioned the researcher.

The project is expected to engage experts in various fields: sociologists, psychologists, linguists and others. For example, to have focus groups in Kharkiv, the researcher plans to engage experts in threat response. “I am very grateful to the Dutch Research Council and the National Research Foundation of Ukraine for the opportunity to implement this project”, the researcher pointed out. “The University of Amsterdam is a very strong institution with a good research base. I have the opportunity to work with the best specialists, to use the results of previous studies. In addition, thanks to this cooperation, I have interesting discussions with my students, we discuss modern European research on political psychology, the life of Ukrainians during the war. Together we are trying to ‘see’ the picture of the future”.