Survey by the Levada-Center

Ideas about the future among young people in large cities in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus

Study by the Levada-Center / Denis Volkov, Stepan Goncharov

Research method

The survey was conducted in September, 2018 through dual-frame sampling (online polling and telephone polling) in three countries: Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. 1000 respondents were polled in each of the countries (500 via telephone surveys, 500 via online surveys). In total, 3000 respondents were polled. Survey results in this report were obtained through the use of telephone and online polling methods.

The survey was conducted among young residents of large cities in the age group from 18 to 35 years old.

The following cities were selected for the research sample:

  • In Russia – cities with a population of more than 1 million: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Samara, Rostov-on-Don, Ufa, Krasnoyarsk, Perm, Voronezh, Volgograd.
  • In Ukraine – cities with a population of over 350 thousand: Kiev, Kharkiv, Odessa, Dnepr, Donetsk, Zaporizhie, Lviv, Kryvyi Rih, Nykolaiv, Mariupol, Luhansk, Vinnytsia.
  • In Belarus – administrative centers of the Belarus regions: Minsk, Brest, Vitebsk, Gomel, Grodno and Mogilev.

The online polling included respondents registered on the online survey platforms. They were selected randomly but age and gender balance was ensured.

The adjustment criterion “Level of Education” was applied to the initially collected data to reach the same proportions as in the national statistical reports of the respective countries. The method of online polling allows to better reach out to young people in their most comfortable environment and ensures good response rates.

The sample for the telephone polling was constructed through employing random number generator method known as RDD (random digit dialling). The telephone polling was conducted in the same cities and among the same age groups as the online polling. Despite higher rates of refusals than in case of the online polling, the method of RDD makes a sample representative. The following adjustment criteria were applied to the initially collected data – “Gender”, “Age” and “Level of Education” – to have the same proportions as in the national statistical reports of the respective countries.

It is important to highlight that the largest cities of Ukraine are concentrated in south-eastern and central parts of the country. The sample constructed proportionally to the population distribution is geographically biased: it is shifted towards East Ukraine. West Ukraine accounts for 9% of the sample, Kiev – for 26% and cities in East Ukraine – for 65% (11% out of 65% of the sample was collected in Donetsk and Lugansk). Given that Ukraine is characterized by geographical polarization of opinions on social and political issues, such a makeup of the sample could impact the results of the study. Divisions of Eastern and Western parts of Ukraine were also captured by the study. In some cases they were not statistically significant. Those cases where the divisions were particularly strong are highlighted in the final report.

Future planning

In all three countries, the majority of survey respondents has short-term planning horizons that lie in the range between one and two years. This is true for 62% of polled in Russia and for 70% of polled in Belarus. 37% polled in Russia and 28% polled in Belarus have longer planning horizons.

In all three countries, the majority of survey respondents has short-term planning horizons that lie in the range between 1 and two years. This is true for 62% of polled in Russia and for 70% of polled in Belarus. 37% polled in Russia and 28% polled in Belarus have longer planning horizons.

Responses to the question “What prevents young people from having longer planning horizons?” vary across countries (it is likely that the overall socio-economic and political situation in the studied countries plays a role). It is striking that survey respondents from Ukraine chose almost all of the suggested multiple-choice answers more readily than survey respondents from the other two countries. It seems that economic hardships, threat of rights violations and “never ending changes” are felt more acutely in Ukraine than in Russia and Belarus.

Overall, the structure of responses in all three countries is similar, but there are still a number of differences. The main factor that hinders long-term future planning in all three cases is poor economic situation. In Russia, survey participants showed concerns about violations of citizens’ rights, lack of state support, instability, lack of reliable sources of information and difficulties in finding jobs. All these concerns were fairly significant in the responses.

Survey respondents from Ukraine voiced equally deep concerns about violation of citizens’ rights, lack of state support and instability. Ukrainians polled chose these three categories far more often than respondents from Russia and Belarus. Slightly less prominent were concerns about lack of reliable sources of information and employment.

In Belarus, apart from general economic situation, difficulty in finding job was the second most significant factor mentioned that hinders future planning. Survey respondents often experienced human rights violations. Lack of state support and instability were mentioned by polled Belarusians less frequently compared to polled Russians and Ukrainians. But these factors also fuel concerns. Lack of reliable sources of information was almost equally worrying for young people from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.

In predicting their respective countries’ future, respondents showed a little bit more confidence. However, even in this case, more than half of respondents in Russia and Belarus and more than 60% of respondents in Ukraine have their envision horizons limited to 1–2 years. Polled Ukrainians seem to demonstrate the greatest difficulty in response to this question. Part of the problem is that Ukraine is currently undergoing serious economic and political transformation.

Respondents from Russia and Ukraine demonstrated almost equal divisions when answering the questions related to their own future. Some are confident of their future while others are concerned. Respondents polled in Belarus have generally greater confidence in their future. This perception was voiced by 60% of polled respondents while 40% who did not show confidence. One clear pattern can be observed in all three countries: the better-off a respondent is, the more confidence in the future he/she demonstrates. The income level plays the key role.

When it comes to the future of their respective countries, respondents demonstrate concerns. This is especially visible in Ukraine, where pessimistic responses to this question were given four times more often than optimistic ones. In Russia, the ratio of pessimistic responses to optimistic ones is 67% to 31%. Respondents are less concerned about the future of their country in Belarus (58% to 40%), but even in this case, pessimistic vision prevails. The income level of respondents affected their answers, but the differences between the poorest and the wealthiest were not as prominent as in responses to the previous question.

Retirement planning

Respondents do not generally think about their life after retirement. This is true for all three countries as the responses do not vary across countries. Between 15–19% of the respondents think about retirement “quite often”. Another group of 37–42% of respondents only thinks about retirement “from time to time”.

The overwhelming majority of respondents – 80% of young Belarusians and 89% of young Ukrainians – agree that in 25 years people will rely on themselves for living in retirement. The state won’t play any significant role; young residents of large cities do not expect a lot of support from the state.

Perceptions of changes in the country

Noticeable divisions between Ukraine’s youth and Belarus’ and Russia’s youths can be seen in their responses to the question whether changes are necessary in their respective countries. In contrast to 63% and 52% of Russians and Belarusians respectively, 88% of polled Ukrainians are willing fundamental and large-scale changes in their country. Perhaps, these aspirations for change can be explained by economic and political crisis Ukraine is facing today. Belarus’ youth shows even greater resilience (or conservatism) than the sample of respondents from Russia in their responses to this question.

Among most wanted and necessary changes respondents in all three countries named general improvement of living standards and an increase in wages and pensions. Their views on other priorities for improvement vary across countries.

Quite unexpectedly, aspiration for political change is the second most frequent response to the question in Russia and Ukraine (in Belarus such responses were two to three times less frequent). The most frequent responses to an open question in this category were : “change of the power structure”, “change in the political line”, “change of government”, “change of president”, “change of leadership”. In many cases, these responses go together with demands to fight corruption, oligarchs and to put an end to privileges government officials enjoy. Less frequent were calls for “free and fair elections” and for good governance.

Young residents of large Russian cities voiced such priorities for improvement as better system of social security, high-quality and affordable (cheap or free) education and medical care, economic stability and creation of new jobs.

For Ukrainian respondents, stability and confidence in the future were extremely important and appear third on the list of priorities. For young Ukrainians top priorities include economic development, jobs creation, fight against corruption. Demands for better quality of education and medical care come after.

Respondents from Belarus showed concerns with the problems in finding jobs and quality of education (second place), followed by demands for economic development and affordable housing.

In responses to the question “Which country serves as a role model?” most respondents rely on judgmental assessments of countries’ attractiveness and comfort. It is unlikely that respondents are aware of the political structure or cultural aspects of the mentioned countries. They tend to base their choices on the general image of the selected country in which they’d like to live.

In each of the three countries studied, Germany seems to be the most attractive model for young people in large cities. In general, young people polled demonstrate strong pro-Western and pro-European sentiments.

Russia is regarded as a more or less attractive model only in Belarus, but it shares the second place with Poland. Even among young people in East Ukraine, Russia comes fourth on the list of the most attractive countries (after Germany, Poland and the United States) and three times less popular than Germany (13% versus 36%).

China ranks second among Russian respondents. This can be explained by current geopolitical realities and the declared friendship of Russia with China against the West. It is unlikely that this is an indicator of respondents’ deliberate choice to favor “authoritarian” modernization. In the neighbouring countries, China ranks 8th and 9th. Among polled Russians, China is followed by the United States of America, Japan (which might also be regarded as part of the developed world and is in the group of western countries,) and other European states.

The United Arab Emirates is also mentioned as a role model for their home country’s preferred path of development by the Russian group of respondents (11th place, 6% of respondents) and this frequency is significant. In the last couple of years the UAE was often mentioned during a number of focus group discussions as an example of fair oil and gas revenues redistribution among all the citizens of the country – as opposed to “unfair redistribution” in Russia.

Name 2–3 countries that your country should use as a model in its development
(open question; twenty most frequently named countries are indicated)

in the list Russia   Ukraine   Belarus  
1 Germany 26 Germany 39 Germany 35
2 China 21 Poland 29 Russia 22
3 USA 16 USA 21 Poland 21
4 Japan 15 Switzerland 15 Sweden 14
5 Sweden 12 UK 10 Switzerland 12
6 Switzerland 10 Belarus 10 USA 11
7 Norway 10 Russia 9 UK 10
8 Canada 8 Canada 9 China 9
9 UK 8 China 8 Norway 8
10 Finland 7 Japan 8 Japan 7
11 UAE 6 Czech Republic 7 Czech Republic 5
12 France 6 Norway 7 Lithuania 5
13 Belarus 3 Sweden 6 Canada 5
14 Australia 3 France 5 Italy 3
15 Singapore 3 Netherlands 5 France 3
16 Netherlands 3 Singapore 3 Netherlands 3
17 Spain 3 Israel 3 Denmark 3
18 Russia 2 Italy 3 Finland 3
19 Denmark 2 Denmark 3 Austria 3
20 Italy 2 Finland 3 Singapore 2

Willingness to be engaged in civil activities

The study shows high level of willingness among respondents to be engaged in civil activities to foster improvements in their countries. In all three countries, the structure of responses to the question is the same. With a few exceptions, the resulting figures are close. However, in Belarus fewer respondents chose those responses that imply public expression of their political positions than in the Russian and Ukrainian samples. Ukraine’s youth demonstrate slightly higher readiness for political action, but, in general, the responses derived from Russian and Ukrainian respondents to the questions related to political and civic activism are almost the same.

Overall, the observed high level of willingness to be engaged in civil activities is rather unexpected. Nation-wide polls conducted on a regular basis in Russia with a similar focus usually show far less readiness for social and political participation. The population as a whole, and young people in particular, are, at the most, ready to vote at the elections, sign petitions and submit complaints and proposals to executive authorities. All other forms of political and civil engagement are time-consuming, pose financial risks and and can incur high emotional costs and might even lead to troubles with the authorities. Moreover, even named above forms of civil engagements that are “permitted” by the authorities are just declarations and are not acted upon.

These three forms of civil activities – voting, petitions, and complaints’ submission to local executive authorities – were included in our multiple-choice answers and appear on top of the list. Other popular responses come unexpected: willingness to participate in civil and political organizations (more than half of surveyed in Russia and Ukraine, a little less than half in Belarus), to volunteer (from 41% to 50%), to take part in street protests and demonstrations (one-third in Russia and Ukraine and one-fifth in Belarus) and even to run for various elected positions ( quarter in Russia and Ukraine and 13% in Belarus). Reluctancy to donate to support social and political initiatives can be easily explained: usually people in this age group have no extra money.

The observed high levels of willingness to be engaged in civil activities require verification and further clarifications. On the one hand, these results might be explained by the selected polling methods (online and telephone polls). Our experience shows, that telephone polling captures more active respondents and it could also have impacted the results of the survey. On the other hand, the way the questions and answers were stated could have influenced the results: respondents were asked to react to each statement by choosing “ready” and “not ready”, rather than to just select all the statements that fit.

Finally, the purpose of civil engagement was embedded in the question: respondents were not asked whether they would take action driven by personal motivation, but whether they would take action to improve the situation in their country. We can make a reliable judgment that the way the question was put made young respondents give positive answers.

Ability to influence events

Respondents’ answers to the set of questions about their ability to influence events are similar across all three countries. Around 75% of respondents say that they are able to influence their families’ live. Only 10% of respondents claim the ability to influence the situation in their city (in Belarus only 5%). And only half of those who believe that they can influence the developments in their cities feels that they can influence the situation in their country. Nationwide polls conducted on a regular basis in Russia show similar results.

Sentiments towards migration, openness to the world

The majority of young people in all three countries has travelled abroad. Respondents from Belarus travel abroad most often (almost 80% of respondents). This can be explained by the small size of the country, its geographic position as its borders with Russia and the European Union, relative economic stability and widespread desire among young people to leave the country.

60% of young residents of large Russian cities have travelled abroad. The results of the previously conducted surveys that explored similar topics confirm that young people who live in large Russian cities travel abroad more often than the rest of the population.1 However, Russia’s youth travels abroad less frequently that middleaged people: they still do not have enough money and lack experience. The desire to travel abroad and even to move to a foreign country is more prominent among young people than among the rest of the population. The fact that these plans remain just plans is a different matter.

The study shows that young Belarusians (59%) and young Ukrainians (56%) outstrip young Russians in their desire to leave their countries. Among young Russians this number is significantly lower (44%). The prevailing choice is to stay. The number of those who want to leave is even lower among the population of the whole country.

The reasons for young people to leave their countries are more or less similar for all respondents polled. General economic prosperity comes first: polled respondents are attracted by higher living standards abroad. As mentioned above, European countries fall in this category.

The second reason, which mirrors the first one, are economic problems and instability inside their respective home countries (Polled Belarusians name this reason less frequently). The third and most important reason that fuels the desire to leave in case of Russia and Ukraine (in Belarus it comes second) is to ensure better future for children.

Political reasons, though significant, are not among the most decisive factors that serve as driving force to leave their respective home countries: 44% of respondents from the Russian sample, 43% from the Ukrainian sample and 25% from the Belarusian sample list it as the main factor. Not all young people are interested in politics and follow current social and political affairs. This problem is touched upon in detail further in the report. Therefore, the reasons to emigrate “because of politics” are controversial and should be explored in-depth at group discussions and seminars.

Few respondents in three countries mentioned practical reasons: about a quarter spoke of more favourable conditions for business. Only one in five said that the reason for leaving is to get good education (the least frequently mentioned factor from the list). Low frequency of naming practical reasons for emigration might serve as an indirect indicator that for many young people emigration is just a vague concept, a dream.

Political orientation of the respondents

In all three countries political indifference is prevailing among polled respondents. This poll confirms the results of the previously conducted polls.2 It is important to stress that in this case the question about political views was stated as an open one: no multiple-choice answers were provided and responses were recorded by a specialist exactly as voiced by the participants. The processed data were summarized to better reflect political preferences. You can find the results in the diagram below.

Most of the polled respondents expressed no interest in politics (they either said it straightforwardly by claiming they have no interest in politics or found the question difficult to answer). In some cases polled respondents refused to respond to the question in the latter case, it is difficult to explain clearly the real motives and thoughts underlying this response. Mere listening to the audios provided reveal the following patterns: some respondents answered they were not interested by saying that they “don’t give a damn”; some responded with reservation that they “can’t say”; some replied with a grin that he/she “doesn’t know” and others asked for a multiple-choice option to select from. In other words, a significant part of the respondents who refused to answer this open question, might fall in the category of those with no clear political preferences. The results of surveys previously conducted in Russia show that a significant portion of “undecided” respondents usually belongs to passive supporters of the current government.

42% of Russia’s respondents, 31% of Ukraine’s respondents and only 25% of young Belarusians polled were able to (or wanted to) voice their political preferences. Respondents who voiced their political opinions in all three countries can be divided in two groups: supporters of the current government and supporters of democracy with a liberal mindset (supporters of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky fall in another category).

The third largest group of respondents who voiced their political preferences in Russia and Belarus were communists and socialists. In Ukraine, the third largest group apart from those with no clear political convictions, were respondents who claimed to be against all known political schools of thought. In Russia, “monarchists and conservatives” forms another quite visible group. Only 1–2% of the sample name other political preferences.

The question about politicians and public figures who have appealing ideas on the development of their respective countries provided a clearer picture of the genuine political preferences of polled respondents. Though we do not have enough expertise in political developments in Ukraine and Belarus, we can draw some general conclusions.

Polled respondents from Belarus could name the least number of politicians. Only two politicians scored more than 1%: the incumbent President (2%) and the incumbent Prime Minister (1%). Polled respondents from Russia and Ukraine named a lot more politicians: 13 and 15 personalities, respectively, scored 1% or slightly more. In Russia, the top five leaders of the poll include Vladimir Putin (11%), Vladimir Zhirinovsky (8%), Alexei Navalny (6%), Pavel Grudinin (4%) and Gennnady Zyuganov (3%). In Ukraine, the list includes only two politicians – Yulia Tymoshenko (5%) and Petro Poroshenko (3%). In Russia, only three politicians under the age of 50 scored more than 1% while in Ukraine this figure is seven.

The results gathered through the polling of the Russian sample in many respects repeat the results of regularly conducted nationwide polls when it comes to trust in politicians. Among most frequently mentioned politicians are those who appear regularly on national television channels. The only exception is Alexei Navalny who ranks third among most popular politicians, though he is banned on all major TV channels and receives a lot of negative coverage by national TV stations.3

It seems that the situation in Ukraine is different from the one in Russia and the preferences of young people seem to diverge more strongly from the preferences of the whole population of Ukraine. It can be a sign that Ukraine has a more diverse political culture compared to that in Russia and especially to Belarus. Nonetheless, it seems that young people in all three countries generally prefer politicians who are already in power, hold high official positions and have connections with the state.

Who offers appealing ideas on the development of your country among politicians and public figures? (open question; in the cases of Russia and Ukraine, politicians who gain more than 1% are included)

Putin 11 Tymoshenko 5 Lukashenko 2
Zhirinovsky 8 Poroshenko 3 Rumas 1
Navalny 6 Murayev 2 Kanapackaja 0,3
Grudinin 4 Lyashko 1 Korotkevich 0,2
Zyuganov 3 Vilkul 1 Romanchuk 0,2
Medvedev 1 Klitschko 1 Rudy 0,2
Lavrov 1 Vakarchuk 1 Sidorsky 0,2
Sobchak 1 Groysman 1 Putin 0,1
Sobyanin 1 Kernes 1 others 2
Shoigu 1 Zelenskiy 1
Yavlinsky 1 Akhmetov 1
Varlamov 1 Balashov 1
Kudrin 1 Putin 1
others 8 Hrytsenko 1

Boyko 1

others 6

Sources of information

Respondents polled in all three countries gave very similar answers on what sources of information they use. For young people, the Internet is the most important source of information: they use social media networks and a range of other Internet platforms, including Yandex, Russian leading search engine and news aggregator. The Internet is the main source of information for 55–60% of polled respondents. Strong cross-country differences in the use of Yandex.News are explained by the fact that Ukraine blocked Yandex on its territory.

Television is still an important source of information for young Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians. According to the survey, Russia’s youth watch news programs somewhat more frequently than their peers in Ukraine and Belarus (44%, 40% and 36%, respectively), but the observed differences are not very big.

Close relatives, friends and acquaintances are still an important source of information for young people. Radio and printed press are the least popular information sources among young people in all three countries; they are used by no more than 10–15% of polled respondents. The results of this part of our survey in Russia are similar to the results of nationwide surveys in Russia conducted regularly by the Levada-Center.

Differences in social media platforms used across Russia and Belarus, on the one hand, and Ukraine, on the other hand, are the consequences of VKontakte, Odnoklassniki and being blocked in Ukraine. Significantly fewer Ukrainians use banned Internet platforms but it does not mean that these platforms are not used al all by Ukraine’s youth polled 4.

It seems that Facebook, an American social media network, has become an alternative to the blocked Russian social media networks. In East Ukraine, blocked Russian social media networks are used more often (VKontakte – 54% to 44% for the whole country and to 18% in West Ukriane; Odnoklassniki – 24% to 18% and 5%, respectively). In other words, respondents’ choices of sources of information are not only influenced by the fact that some are blocked but also by cultural and ideological divisions between the eastern and western regions of Ukraine.

The most used social media platforms in Russia and Belarus are VKontakte (in Ukraine – Facebook), YouTube and Instagram (third place) in all three countries. Moreover, regularly conducted surveys show that YouTube and Instagram have grown substantially their audiences in the last couple of years.

Odnoklassniki is not particularly popular among respondents. Other studies show that this social media platform is used more by older people. In all three countries, Twitter and LiveJournal are least popular platforms among polled respondents. In general, less than 5% of respondents do not use any of the platforms mentioned above.

Main conclusions

  • For most respondents in all three countries covered by the survey the planning range doesn’t exceed 1–2 years. Short-term planning horizons are explained by poor economic situation in their respective home countries. Other significant factors include violation of rights, insufficient state support and lack of reliable sources of information.
  • Speaking about their own future respondents in Russia and Ukraine expressed equally divided opinions: some are confident of their future, others have concerns. Belarus’ youth expressed overall greater confidence in the future.
  • Speaking about the future of their home countries, respondents showed concerns. This is most prominent in Ukraine, where negative sentiments prevail – pessimistic responses to this question were given four times more often than optimistic ones.
  • Respondents do not generally think about their life in retirement. The overwhelming majority of respondents – 80% of young Belarusians and 89% of young Ukrainians – agree that in a quarter of a century people should rely on themselves for retirement security.
  • 88% of polled Ukrainians to 63% and 52% of polled Russians and Belarusians, respectively, are willing fundamental, large-scale changes in their countries.
  • Respondents in all three countries say that higher living standards along with an increase in wages and pensions are the most wanted and necessary changes for their home countries. Quite unexpectedly, in Ukraine and Russia political change appears to be the second most wanted after general economic and social-related improvements. In Belarus such responses were given two to three times less frequently.
  • In all three countries surveyed, Germany seems to be the most attractive model for development for young people who reside in large cities. In general, young people polled demonstrate strong pro-Western and pro-European orientation. Russia is regarded as a more or less attractive example only in Belarus, but there it shares its second place with Poland. Even among young people in East Ukraine, Russia comes fourth on the list.
  • The study shows high level of willingness to engage in civil activities to improve the situation in their respective countries. However, in Belarus all the activities that imply public political expression are less popular than in Russia and Ukraine. Among most popular responses selected were voting at elections, petitions’ signing and complaints and proposals submission to executive authorities.
  • About 75% of respondents talk about their ability to influence their families. Only 10% of respondents claim the ability to influence developments in their cities (in Belarus only 5%). And only half of this number feels that they can influence the situation in their respective countries.
  • The majority of young people in all three countries has travelled abroad. In this study, young Belarusians (59%) and Ukrainians (56%) are willing to leave their respective countries. In Russia there are significantly fewer respondents willing to emigrate (44%). The main reason for moving to another country is higher quality of life abroad.
  • In all three countries, young people show political indifference. More than half of respondents cannot not clearly articulate their political preferences or name politicians whose messages they find appealing. Current heads of State dominate the list of named politicians.
  • For young people, the Internet is the main source of information: they use social media networks and other Internet platforms. Meanwhile, television retains its power as a significant source of information.

1 About travel experiences abroad, check this link: (in Russian).

2 Important disclaimer: The question on political preferences was only asked in a telephone survey. Our contractors refused to include “political” questions in the Internet survey referring to the “founders’ decision”.

3 According to the surveys conducted by the Levada-Center, Alexei Navalny’s main supporters are young people. The same tendency was true during the Russia-wide protests led by Navalny and his team in 2017.

4 Ukraine decided to block the following social platforms: Yandex, VK and Odnoklassniki – check this link to learn more about Russia’s reaction to this measures: (in Russian).