At Any Cost: How Ukrainians Think about Self-Defense Against Russia


How do Ukrainians view the costs and benefits of armed self-defense? We examine support for different strategies Ukraine could pursue against Russia, using a conjoint survey experiment with 1,160 Ukrainian respondents, fielded in July 2022. The strategies have projected outcomes with varying degrees of political autonomy and territorial integrity and three expected costs: civilian fatalities, deaths among Ukrainian fighters, and risk of nuclear escalation. We find that Ukrainians strongly prefer strategies that fully restore Ukraine’s political autonomy and territorial integrity, even if concessions would reduce the costs of fighting Russia. The moral principle of proportionality suggests that the expected costs of self-defense should not exceed its projected benefits, corresponding to calls on Ukraine to grant concessions to end the war. Our respondents’ choices do not reflect this logic. Instead they evoke a categorical resistance against aggression: 79 percent of respondents oppose strategies leading to a Russian-controlled government, regardless of the costs.

American Journal of Political Science, Early View