Ukraine is in the middle of a presidential election campaign in which its larger neighbor plays an outsize role.
The war with Russia-backed separatists, which has lasted five years and claimed 13,000 lives, weighs heavily on the race, as do fears of Moscow’s interference. Three months ago, Ukraine’s Central Electoral Commission shut down polls at its five Russian consulates—3 million Ukrainians live in Russia, so those wishing to vote must travel to Ukraine or consulates elsewhere.
Volodymyr Fesenko, of the Kiev-based Penta political research firm, said it was “a symbolic act that confirms a systemic conflict with Russia.”
That kind of symbolism has been useful to President Petro Poroshenko, who after placing second in the March 31 vote faces comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a runoff scheduled for April 21. Though other candidates have made corruption under Poroshenko’s watch a theme of their campaigns, he’s emphasized Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.
But while the countries are locked in military conflict, with a long history of disdain and disagreement, the consulate issue illustrates just how intertwined these former members of the Soviet Union remain—economically, culturally and personally.
Indeed, a poll released last month shows Ukrainians are becoming less likely to look negatively upon their Russian counterparts. And the feeling, the survey indicates, might be mutual. (Russian-leaning candidates did better than expected in the March 31 vote.)
Despite Russia’s attack on Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait and its imprisonment of two dozen Ukrainian sailors and scores of others, attitudes among people on both sides seem to be thawing, according to the poll. Conducted in February, the survey by the Levada Centre in Moscow and the Kiev Institute of Sociology included 1,600 people in Russia and 2,042 in Ukraine.