Ukraine’s governance agenda and socio-economic development have seen multiple ups and downs, as well as unprecedented events in the last decade. Some of the most vocal demands post-Maidan have been those of justice and total cleansing of corruption. Over the previous three years, Ukraine has seen what some experts dubbed “the third electoral Maidan” with Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his team’s landslide victory (allowing him to retain a relatively high personal rating of trust in his third year of tenure). Over 1,5 years ago, the country plunged into the COVID-19 pandemic. Events of such magnitude tend to alter citizen perceptions and, in the case of pandemic restrictions, real-life experiences. The explosion of digital communications has boosted the popularity of politicians who can make voters feel as though they are talking to their neighbor, a person from across the street. In this light, do the numbers in the 2021 anti-corruption poll point to actual progress or are they a shift in volatile opinions due to well-crafted political rhetoric? Does the sheer weight of Presidential supporters today as opposed to opponents have an impact on perceptions? And is corruption truly the top-ranking issue? This note compares the all-Ukrainian landscape with data gathered in Kirovohradska, Mykolayivska, Odeska and Khersonska oblasts and is mostly concentrated on the areas that demonstrate “data outliers” and unexpected findings.
The Anticorruption Perception and Experience poll has been in place for over 15 years now, covering issues of corruption and anti-corruption developments, perceptions, and real-life experiences of Ukrainians. This brief analysis captures only some of the most noteworthy insights of the poll’s March 2021 edition and contrasts the nation-wide data with the situation observed in the macro-region made up of the five oblasts. The nation-wide poll sample, shaped by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, included 10,000 respondents and reached out to no fewer than 400 persons in each of the oblasts in late February 2021. As such, the most evident data analysis disclaimer is that the ongoing pandemic and its restrictions have impacted citizen perceptions and real-life experiences. Meanwhile, we present below the sometimes controversial and, at the same time, vivid story that the 2021 data bring us.
- 2021 nationwide data suggest that “corruption” is the number one concern (93,6% – combined ‘very serious’ and ‘serious’ responses) for the country followed very closely by the “high cost of living and low salaries” (92,7%) and the “military conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts” (91,7%). At the oblast level, the data is clustered so closely that it is is impossible to discern which of the issues bears more weight with the respondents. The four southern oblasts in the focus of this brief have some of the highest response percentages in the whole country, and in certain cases – the absolute maximum scores: thus, 100,00% of Kirovohradska oblast residents believe that “high cost and low quality of medical services” are of concern in Ukraine, and 99,5% in both Odeska and Khersonska oblasts believe that “unemployment” or “high cost of living and low salaries” are major hindrances. Overall, responses to this question seem to suggest widespread social pessimism and pent-up agitation with the respondents in four oblasts. Unsurprisingly, the average oblast-level score of 99,0% of the respondents opting for “corruption” as a grave concern is higher than the all-national 93,6%.
- At the national level, “grand and political corruption” is seen as much more toxic (87,2% – combined ‘very serious’ and ‘serious’ responses) if compared to “everyday petty corruption” (77,8%) and “corruption in business” (74,9%). Residents of the four target oblasts share this sentiment – in all four cases, graft at the top is rated higher than the other two corruption types. In Mykolayivska oblast, unlike three others, “corruption in business” (88,8%) has received slightly more votes than “petty corruption” (86,5%). Similar to the previous question, the average of four oblasts on “grand and political corruption” (92,9%) is higher than the national average for the same response option (87,2%).
- In line with responses to the questions noted above, Ukrainians tend to believe that corruption is prevalent in Ukraine. On a scale from 1 to 5, where higher points mean ‘common’, 63,0% of the respondents all over the country chose ‘5’ and 23,1% indicated ‘4’ in their responses. In all the oblasts respondents chose the highest point, suggesting very high corruption prevalence (64,5% for Kirovohradska, 49,0% for Mykolayivska, 71,1% for Odeska and 64,7% for Khersonska oblast). Notably, respondents in Mykolayivska oblast have a significantly lower overall level of concern (83,7%) about corruption prevalence than the remaining three oblasts – 91,8% in Kirovohradska, and Odeska and 91,2% in Khersonska oblasts.
- In the nation-wide average, Ukrainians indicated that the overall, abstract, levels of corruption over the last two years have either “increased” (34,1%) or have “remained the same” (52,4%) with only a small fraction noting that corruption prevalence levels have “decreased” (4,3%). The four oblasts demonstrate a comparable picture, where even in the most optimistic of cases (Khersonska oblast), one in twenty respondents (5,2%) noted that corruption was shrinking. Residents of Mykolayivska (43,6%), Odeska (44,8%) and Khersonska (40,0%) oblasts have a higher proportion of respondents who believe that the situation has deteriorated if compared to the national average of 34,1%.
- In subsequent questionnaire sections, Ukrainians were asked to note whether corruption, in their mind, was widespread in certain governance structures and entities. Verkhovna Rada topped the list of institutions perceived to have ‘very widespread’ corruption (64,5%), followed by the Cabinet of Ministers (52,9%), the President and his Office (40,4%), oblast-level authorities (38,5%) and, finally, the local self-government (29,2%). Oblast-level data suggests that corruption in the Parliament and Government is perceived as more prevalent, compared to the local level. The President and his Office were received as less prone to corruption if compared to the Parliament or the Cabinet and were thought to have levels of corruption similar to oblast government bodies in Odeska and Khersonska oblasts.
- As far as law enforcement and specialized anti-corruption agencies are concerned, Ukrainians are somewhat skeptical about the integrity of these institutions – they believe that corruption is ‘very widespread’ in the Security Service of Ukraine (33,8%), National Anti-Corruption Bureau (29,4%), Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (29,8%), National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (29,4%), High Anti-Corruption Court (29,9%), and the State Bureau of Investigations (27,8%). The four oblasts have varied levels of pessimism about corruption prevalence in each of these institutions but rank them more or less uniformly within one oblast. In other words, the newly-created specialized anti-corruption institutions (NABU, SAPO, HACC and NAPC) are not doing much better (or worse) than SSU or SBI. On average, residents of Kirovohradska and Odeska oblasts tend to believe that all of the listed institutions are, from 10% to almost 20% more corrupt if compared to the nation-wide score (national average corruption prevalence score for the six institutions is 30,0%; Kirovohradska oblast average is 40,1%, Odeska oblast is 49,7%).
- Corruption is also believed to be widespread in thematic sectors – both in those, where Ukrainians have more frequent contacts with the relevant authorities (leaning towards experience-based assessment of prevalence), and those where real-life contacts are almost nonexistent (as such, representing pure perceptions). The study asked respondents to indicate whether they believe corruption to be prevalent in 21 life situations or within certain agencies. Notably, Ukrainians on average believe corruption to be less widespread with school administrations and among teachers (14,6%), at centers for administrative service provision (14,7%), or when one is faced with receiving a loan from a state institution (18,9%). Instead, corruption is seen as ‘very widespread’ in customs (55,1%), in the court (54,8%) and prosecution systems (46,4%) and in the healthcare realm (46,1%). Residents in the four oblasts ranked the judiciary and the customs as areas with the highest corruption prevalence.
- Throughout the survey, respondents were asked to select up to three core reasons for the prevalence of corruption in Ukrainian society. Both the all-Ukrainian dataset and the narrower, regional one suggest that corruption exists and can proliferate primarily due to no adequate sanctions for it: ‘no adequate punishment for corruption’ tops the list for Ukraine at large and for each of the oblasts in the macro-region. Unexpectedly, residents of Kirovohradska oblast also singled out ‘citizen habits to solve their problems using corruption including bribery’ (24,0%) as a reason for corruption in Ukraine. Other oblast respondents did not emphasize this option so prominently (7,0% for Mykolayivska, 11,7% for Odeska and 9,5% for Khersonska oblasts).
- An insightful contrast may be observed when comparing responses to the two questions, based on the corruption prevalence perceptions that have been described up until now. Nation-wide analysis has demonstrated an almost perfectly inverted picture of responses to the questions of “who is responsible for overcoming corruption” and whether these same entities are “willing to overcome corruption in Ukraine”. Thus, national-level data suggests that entities seen as responsible for countering corruption (state entities) are not willing to overcome it, and, vice versa, entities that are not viewed accountable for anti-corruption action (mass media, NGOs, businesses or common citizens) are believed to be the ones most willing to fight the corruption scourge. National-level analysis results show that the President and his Office are viewed at the ones most responsible for combatting corruption in Ukraine (55,0%) followed by the Parliament (49,1%) and only then – the Government (31,8%). The second “tier” of responsibility for anti-corruption action is reserved for the specialized agencies and law enforcement entities: ranging from the High Anti-Corruption Court (26,3%) and descending to the National Police (13,4%). Local governance entities (9,5%) and oblast authorities (8,4%) are seen almost on par with ordinary citizens (8,5%), media (1,9%), NGOs (1,8%) and businesses (1,3%).
Data broken down by the oblast shows some variability. Thus, while the President and the Parliament are the two institutions ranked at the top of the “responsibility rating”, the degree of this responsibility is different in the oblasts. Thus, for instance, respondents from Kirovohradska and Mykolayivska oblasts believe that the President and the Parliament are almost equally responsible for anti-corruption action (the difference between the options is 0,7% in Kirovohrad and 1,2% in Mykolayiv). In Odeska oblast, this difference is 17,3% – with the President and his Office seen as “much more responsible” for anti-corruption action. Kirovohradska oblast respondents differed in their opinions in another important way. They ascribed very little responsibility for anti-corruption action to the new specialized anti-corruption bodies (very low percentages compared to the other three oblasts and the national average), while emphasizing the responsibility of the local self-government, oblast government and the ordinary citizens. The remaining three oblasts – Mykolayivska, Odeska and Khersonska – do not conform with this pattern and, instead, bear similarity with the nation-wide averages.
As far as willingness is concerned, ordinary citizens (67,0%), mass media (41,7%), NGOs (39,7%) and the business community (21,7%) are believed to long for effective anti-corruption transformations at the national level. Specialized bodies, the judiciary system, prosecution system and sub-national government bodies all fluctuate in perceived willingness between 6,4% (the judiciary) and 15,4% (local government). The President and his Office are seen as the most willing state entity to act against corruption (19,4%) – much more willing than the Cabinet of Ministers (9,9%) or the Verkhovna Rada (7,1%). These latter results should be interpreted with care, though, as at the national level results may be linked to the popularity of politicians in top-level positions (for instance, at the helm of the Cabinet or the Parliament and the President himself) rather than practical anti-corruption action.
At the oblast level, ‘ordinary citizens’, ‘mass media’ and ‘non-governmental organizations’ top the list of those, who are willing to overcome corruption in the four oblasts. In Khersonska oblast, respondents also showed significant trust to NABU, NAPC and SAPO by noting these three entities as most willing to fight corruption out of all government entities listed.
- Ukrainians tend to believe that the authorities are, for the most part, ‘not effective at all’ in fighting corruption (on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 means total lack of effectiveness). Thus, 38,5% believed that the government was ‘totally ineffective’ (1 point) and 31,9% noted that such efforts were ‘ineffective’ (2 points). Only 3,0% of the respondents stated that state agencies were ‘very effective’ (5 points). Respondents from the four oblasts in the macro-region have, generally, remained skeptical of government-initiated anti-corruption efforts. In line with the national trend, very few residents of all oblasts noted that government efforts to fight corruption were very fruitful – from 3,3% in Odeska to 0,8% in Khersonska oblast. A combined “ineffectiveness level” (combination of respondent shares selecting options 5 and 4) is 70,4% for the national level, whereas oblasts are more pessimistic: 88,3% for Kirovohradska, 78,7% for Mykolayivska, 84,9% for Odeska and 79,8% for Khersonska oblasts.
- When analyzing and interpreting data on corruption, one should always be mindful of whether respondents voice their beliefs and share perceptions or, in contrast, report their life experiences. As shown above, Ukrainians tend to see high-level, political corruption as the biggest challenge for Ukraine, and – in general – feel that the situation with corruption is stagnant or deteriorating. At the same time, real-life experiences reported by the citizens are related to everyday situations they actually face when dealing with government authorities. Respondents from Mykolayivska oblast have reported the lowest rate of exposure to corrupt practices (9,5%) but also the highest share of the ‘hard to say/refuse to answer’ responses (14,1% – compared to 9,4% in Khersonska or 1,0% in Kirovohradska oblasts). On the other end of the spectrum, one in every four respondents in Odeska oblast (25,5%) faced corruption personally or indirectly through family members.
- Out of the 21 thematic areas and life situations listed for the respondents, the largest share of contacts with state authorities was with healthcare institutions – mostly state-owned ones (54,5% nationally; 36,3% in Kirovohradska, 56,5% in Mykolayivska, 54,6% in Odeska, and 66,8% in Khersonska oblasts). Since the number of contacts with other institutions was significantly smaller, it is hard to receive valid and representative data: in many cases at the oblast level fewer than 10 respondents could say something about a given area. In the case of state-owned healthcare, respondents from the four oblasts reported extortion when a bribe was demanded from them (a high of 44,4% in Odeska and a low of 4,4% in Mykolayivska oblast), situations where they initiated a bribe or gift to obtain services (a high of 25,7% in Odeska and a low of 2,6% in Mykolayivska oblast), or used personal connections to receive health services (a high of 28,0% in Kirovohradska and a low of 6,6% in Mykolayivska oblast). The unusually low numbers in Mykolayivska oblast could be connected to a high level of corruption reporting latency (the 14,1% of those who refused to answer the question about facing corruption in real life).
Intentions, opinions and motivations
- When assessing the realm of corruption and anti-corruption action, it is insightful to probe for deeper motivations, drivers of action and opinions. Importantly, corruption is generally seen as an unwelcome, shameful phenomenon, thus making the respondents potentially vulnerable to the so-called “social desirability bias” – when answers provided are skewed as respondents try to voice support for what is seen as positive and socially-acceptable while shunning objectionable options. As such, it is not surprising that respondents tend to believe that corrupt behaviors have little excuse: nationwide three quarters of the respondents note that corruption may not be justified ever (42,0%) or in most cases (33,2%). Only 2,2% as the national average believe that corrupt behaviors are always justified and 13,0% of the respondents can excuse corruption in most, but not all, cases. Respondents in Kirovohradska, Mykolayivska and, partially, Khersonska oblasts believe that corruption is almost never or never justified: a resolutely stark stance against corruption as undesirable behavior. Residents of Odeska oblast, on the other hand, have provided responses that are much closer to the national averages.
- As corruption is oftentimes seen as an encroachment on the rights of a person (for instance, denial of a legitimate service), respondents were asked whether they would be ready to stand up to defend their rights as they interact with the state machinery. Respondents in Odeska (26,3%) and Khersonska (27,6%) oblasts were amongst those ‘not ready’ to do so – shares larger than in the national average or in Kirovohradska or Mykolayivska oblasts. While the sample in this next question is very small (thus cautioning against in-depth comparison or far-reaching conclusions), responses suggest that Ukrainians both nationwide and in the five oblasts are reluctant to stand up for their rights, when violated by state entities, because they believe that citizens would not succeed in re-claiming these rights. Mykolayivska oblast reported 84,4% of respondents opting for this answer.
- While discussing the measures to tackle corruption, four approaches stood out in the national poll averages – ensuring inevitable punishment for corruption (26,0%), removing immunity from MPs in Parliament (23,1%), removing corrupt officials from office and debarring them from re-entry (17,2%) and defining the mandates of authorities clearly and enhancing their internal anti-corruption protections (15,0%). The four oblast residents tended to prioritize one of these measures as well. In addition to sanctioning culprits, respondents of Kirovohradska (29,3%), Odeska (24,0%) and Khersonska (18,1%) oblast opted for debarring officials from office. Mykolayiv and Kherson residents also emphasized the need for improvement of internal anti-corruption mechanisms and clearer mandates for governance institutions.
- The final three questions are better viewed through a consolidated prism, as they all refer to declared readiness to partake in anticorruption action, as well as the stimulating or debilitating factors for such action. The national-level averages suggest that Ukrainians are most comfortable with initiating or signing petitions to government bodies of all levels (23,4%) and reporting corruption to the media or sharing stories through social media to draw attention to these cases and build societal pressure (22,3%). Oblast-level responses to this question demonstrate variation. Residents of Kirovohradska oblast are ready to initiate and sign petitions (10,7%), as are respondents from Odeska (20,9%) and Khersonska (25,7%) oblasts. Mykolayivska oblast residents are more inclined to report corruption to the media, including social media (26,2%) or participate in rallies and public protests (16,8%) or support anti-corruption NGOs (17,7%). The latter share of respondents is bigger than the nation-wide average of those ready to support anti-corruption organizations or join into their work – 10,4%. Residents of Kirovohradska oblast showed the lowest readiness for participation in any activities on the choice list.
The top-three motivating factors at the national level included the feeling that the case in point was important for the respondent or their family (71,5%), guarantees of anonymity and security for those who partake in anti-corruption action (66,6%) and availability of accessible and simple mechanisms for participation (64,0%). One of the top response options that was shared between all the four oblasts was the ‘feeling that it directly concerns my interests or interests of my family’. Kirovohradska oblast respondents were also motivated by their friends and family partaking in anti-corruption initiatives (63,1%), while residents of Mykolayivska (76,9%), Odeska (61,4%) and Khersonska (68,5%) oblasts declared solidarity and compassion to individuals facing the problem.
Physical insecurity (74,1%), disbelief in effectiveness of one’s actions (70,7%) and the lack of trust towards anti-corruption authorities (69,3%) topped the list of disempowering factors in the national averages. Respondents from the four oblasts mirrored this trend and noted some additional factors important for them. Thus, respondents from Mykolayivska (87,8%) and Odeska (74,2%) oblasts quoted the lack of trust to anti-corruption CSOs while residents of Kherson (76,6%) and Odesa (72,0%) also quoted fear of retaliation as a major dissuasive factor.
Where does this leave us?
This note has looked more attentively at the macro-region comprised of four oblasts in the southern part of Ukraine. Overall, respondents in Kirovohradska, Mykolayivska, Odeska and Khersonska oblasts shared opinions comparable to the nation-wide sentiments. A summary of the poll findings may be presented in these ten points:
- Corruption is reported as the number one concern at the national level. At the oblast level, the responses are clustered very densely, as if to suggest that all listed options are important challenges for Ukraine and it is hard for respondents to make their mind. Very high numbers also can testify to sheer societal pessimism and frustration pent up in the macro-region.
- Top-level, political corruption is seen as the biggest problem if compared to petty corruption and corruption in business at the national level. The same is true for all four oblasts. Petty corruption was ranked second in Kirovohradska, Odeska and Khersonska oblasts. Respondents from Mykolayivska oblast believe that corruption in business is more important than everyday administrative corruption involving citizens.
- Corruption is seen as ‘very common’ and ‘common’ by eight out of ten respondents in the national average, and the situation is comparable in the four target oblasts. Respondents from Kirovohradska, Odeska and Khersonska oblasts have a more pessimistic outlook if compared to the national averages that estimate corruption prevalence in the country.
- In terms of corruption dynamics over the last two years, even in case of the most optimistic respondents (Khersonska oblast), only one out of twenty respondents believes that the levels of corruption have decreased. Most residents in the four oblasts believe that the situation has remained the same (slightly smaller shares than the national averages) or that corruption levels have increased (relevant respondent shares in Mykolayivska, Odeska, Khersonska oblast bigger than the national averages). At the same time, this piece of data has to be interpreted cautiously – comparison with previous years suggests that Ukrainians face corruption less frequently in real life than in previous years. Instead, perceptions of corruption prevalence are impacted not only by personal experience (petty corruption for the most part) but also by the societal narratives and the stories promoted by the media.
- Well in line with the overall trend to see most corruption originating at the high, political level, Ukrainians believe that central government bodies (the Parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers) have higher levels of corruption than local self-government bodies. The situation with the President and his Office is more nuanced – respondents from Mykolayivska oblast believe that their oblast-level government (45,9%) has higher corruption prevalence than the President and his Office (38,6%). Generally, though, corruption is seen as “an issue somewhere out there, in high offices”.
- Ukrainians overall and residents of the five oblasts in particular see the President and his Office and the Parliament as two entities most responsible for fighting corruption. As such, in the eye of the respondents, political will for change seems to be given priority over strength of specialized anti-corruption institutions, which are located closer to the middle of the “responsibility rating”. Citizens, mass media, NGOs and businesses are seen as much less responsible for acting with a notable exception of Kirovohradska oblast where the local self-government, ordinary citizens and oblast government are also seen as actors responsible for countering corruption. In turn, the “willingness rating”, i.e. the listing of institutions and entities that are seen as wishing to overcome corruption, is almost perfectly inverted. Respondents all over Ukraine and in the four target oblasts believe that ordinary citizens, media, NGOs, and businesses are willing to overcome corruption, while government entities are not seen as champions in this realm. Respondents of Khersonska oblast are optimistic about the willingness of the newly created anti-corruption agencies to tackle corruption.
- Real-life exposure to corruption-related situations has been decreasing over the years. In the national average, only 16 out of 100 Ukrainians faced corruption in any form directly or through their relatives throughout the past year. Oblast-level data, while varied among the four oblasts, is generally in line with the situation observed at the national level. A maximum of 25,5% (Odeska oblast) and a minimum of 9,5% (Mykolayivska oblast) respondents reported facing corruption directly or through family members. Residents of Mykolayivska oblast also reported a large share of ‘hard to say / refuse to answer’ responses (14,1% compared to 5,6% in national averages), which could point to underreporting of corruption encounters.
- Out of the 21 life situations and institutions included into the questionnaire, over half of the respondents at the national level dealt with the healthcare system (overwhelmingly, state-owned healthcare institutions). When dealing with Ukrainian healthcare, respondents spoke of extorted bribes or unofficial payments as well as voluntary, citizen-initiated payments and use of personal contacts to obtain necessary care. Respondents in Mykolayivska oblast had surprisingly low reported encounters with extorted or self-initiated bribery or use of personal connections of favoritism to obtain healthcare for themselves or their relatives.
- In line with the national-level averages, Ukrainians in the four target oblasts believe that inevitability of prosecution (punishment) for corruption is a crucial deterrent for corrupt behaviors. Other popular anti-corruption measures include stripping members of Parliament from their immunity, preventing corrupt officials from taking office again, and making sure that authorities have clearly delineated responsibilities accompanied by inter-institutional anti-corruption mechanisms.
- There are multiple catalysts and inhibitors for anti-corruption action by the citizens. Respondents both in the national-level averages and in the five target oblasts are more likely to act against corruption if the issue at hand is important to them, if there are adequate protections against retaliation for anti-corruption action and simple mechanisms of participation. Some of the top-ranking inhibitors include potential physical insecurity for self or family members, disbelief that such action could change anything, and the lack of trust to the relevant authorities, as anti-corruption champions. Residents of Mykolayivska and Odeska oblast also report a significantly higher than the national average mistrust to anti-corruption NGOs as a demotivating factor. Fear of retaliation is also closer to the top of the list for residents of Kherson and Odesa.
The Anticorruption Perception and Experience poll is a unique longitudinal study on Ukraine’s population perceptions and actual experience of corruption. The study was conducted in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2018 and 2021 with samples over 10’000 respondents each time, thus enabling oblast-level comparison of data. The random samples are representative of the adult population (18+) from all oblasts of Ukraine and Kyiv city. Temporarily occupied territories of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the city of Sevastopol, and certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (non-government controlled areas) were excluded from the 2015-2021 surveys. The sample was shaped as a multistage random sample with quota selection at the last stage. Interviews were provided face-to-face, every time. The margin of effort is ≤ 1.5% for the cases where data is of the whole, nation-wide sample.
The biennial nation-wide large-scale Anticorruption Perception and Experience poll was started in 2007 and 2009 by Management Systems International (MSI) and continued in 2011, 2015, 2018 and 2021 by Pact Inc. with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The polling data, its interpretations, and resulting analytics are the sole responsibility of Pact and its implementing partners and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government. Globally, Pact builds systemic solutions in partnership with local organizations, businesses, and governments that create sustainable and resilient communities where those we serve are heard, capable, and vibrant. On the ground in nearly 40 countries, Pact’s integrated adaptive approach is shaping the future of international development.