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Zelenskyy losing Ukrainians' trust after disappointing year leaves war deadlocked

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Copyright AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
Copyright AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
By Euronews with AP
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Ukraine's president has faced increasing criticism since the failure of the summer counteroffensive.

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As Ukraine heads into a harsh winter without having significantly driven back the Russian invasion this year, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appears to have lost much of the phenomenal public trust he earned in the war's first year.

According to new data from the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, where Zelenskyy was trusted by 84% of Ukrainians this time last year, the figure is now 62%, with 18% telling the institute they do not trust him.

This is still a towering figure in his favour, but it puts him well behind the Ukrainian military, which is trusted by 96% of the public – the exact same level of support it enjoyed a year ago.

In its analysis, the institute points out that aside from the Armed Forces of Ukraine, all public institutions have lost a noticeable amount of public trust, some of them experiencing a dramatic change.

"Compared to December 2022, criticism of the authorities is growing," the authors explain. "In particular, the share of those who trust the Verkhovna Rada decreased from 35% to 15%, and the share of those who do not trust it increased from 34% to 61%. Trust in the Government decreased from 52% to 26%, distrust increased from 19% to 44%."

Among the other biggest losers in the poll are Ukrainian mass media, now only trusted by 29% of Ukrainians, and the courts and prosecutors, whose grim ratings of a year ago now stand at a dire 12% and 9% respectively.

Ukrainian soldiers practice on a tank during military training, December 2023.
Ukrainian soldiers practice on a tank during military training, December 2023.Efrem Lukatsky/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

With the Ukrainian military failing to turn the tide decisively against Russia this year, Zelenskyy has been working hard to shore up Western support for the war effort. The outbreak of war in Israel and Gaza has diverted the attention of many citizens and lawmakers in NATO countries. Right-wing lawmakers in the US in particular are more preoccupied with helping Israel than they are enthusiastic about backing Ukraine.

Zelenskyy has managed to keep a high profile even as sympathetic Western commentators worry about "Ukraine fatigue", meeting with several European leaders in just the last month and returning to Washington, DC to press his case with both Joe Biden and Republican legislators.

Despite the disappointment of the counteroffensive this summer and signs of wavering financial support from allies, Ukrainian soldiers say they remain fiercely determined to win. But with winter’s arrival, many are worried that Russia is better equipped for battle and are frustrated about being on the defensive again in a gruelling war.

Discontent among Ukrainian soldiers was once extremely rare and expressed only in private, but is now more common and out in the open. The fatigue and frustration on the battlefield are mirrored in Kyiv, where disagreements among leaders have recently spilled out into the open.

Zelenskyy last month publicly disputed the assessment by Ukraine’s military chief, Valery Zaluzhny, that the war had reached a stalemate. And the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, has repeatedly lashed out at Zelenskyy, saying he holds too much power.

However, it seems from the new polling that the Ukrainian public is not taking sides in these arguments, with those who trust Zelenskyy generally trusting Zaluzhny and vice versa.

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