WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A survey of nearly 1,700 Ukrainians say they want their country to remain united, even as divisions remain about Russia’s influence and regional differences highlight tensions over the government in Kiev, a poll released on Thursday found.
In a survey in Ukraine last month, 77 percent said they wanted the nation’s borders to remain intact while 14 percent said parts of the country should be allowed to secede, the Washington-based Pew Research Center poll showed.
But the survey, taken after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March and before recent violence erupted across southern and eastern Ukraine, also showed a clear east-west split on the issue. While 93 percent of those in the west said the country should remain united, 70 percent of those in the eastern regions agreed.
“A clear majority of Ukrainians agree that their country should remain a single, unified state,” Pew researchers wrote. “The survey in Ukraine also finds a clearly negative reaction to the role Russia is playing in the country.”
The poll comes ahead of the May 25 presidential elections, which Western governments hope can help restore calm in Ukraine and increase the legitimacy of the authorities in Kiev. Pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine have also vowed to hold a referendum on self-rule on Sunday.
While Pew found “that ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians largely have favorable views of one another,” it said the results also “showed stark regional divides, especially when it comes to the issues of official languages and governance.”
Overall, nearly half of those polled said the current government in Kiev had a good influence on the country’s directions while 41 percent disagreed. But in western Ukraine, home to Kiev, 60 percent said they were happy with the government and 67 percent of those polled in the east said the government was pulling the country in a bad direction.
Similar regional differences emerged over Ukraine’s official language and whether both Russian and Ukrainian should be recognized, according to the survey, taken between April 5 and April 23.
Ukrainians also remained divided over the United States’ influence, with nearly 40 percent citing it as positive and equally as many saying it is negative.
As for Russia, 67 percent of those in Ukraine said it was having a bad influence on their country, compared to 22 percent who backed its role.
In a separate poll of 1,000 Russian adults, also released on Thursday, nearly two-thirds said they believe parts of neighboring countries belong to Russia, Pew said.
Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott and Sofina Mirza-Reid