anti-elitism: Politicians exploit binary identities hinged on corruption, an issue that has historically defined Ukranian politics. Leading candidates in the 2018-19 presidential campaign advocated for “punishing corrupt elites” in favour of poor Ukrainians, and engaged social grievance narratives around the everyday problems faced by ordinary people, such as low income and high prices, to promote the state’s ability to deliver cheaper public services and reduce prices. Unlike many Western European populist contexts, nostalgia for the former Soviet Union (rather than for ethnic nationalism) is the basis for the polarisation of two groups.
anti-pluralism: While the recent election of President Volodymyr Zelensky was widely regarded as a public rebuke of traditional establishment politicians, it is ironic and unsettling that he, as a former comedian, rose to fame due to his popular TV series, “Servant of the People”, a parody of the powerful personality cults that have dominated politics in Ukraine.
Other additional features of populism in Ukraine are:
anti-debate: According to the political scientist Taras Kuzio, “Ukrainian populists, both “pro-Western” and “pro-Russian”, hold authoritarian and undemocratic traits commonly found in European populists. These include making decisions without listening to advice, believing everybody else is wrong, and using populism for the goal of attaining maximum power”.
resistant to countervailing facts: Politicians have been questioned about their misrepresentation and distortion of information about everything from gas prices to tariffs, pensions and salaries. Public officials and politicians have also been caught knowingly disseminating false information, undermining citizen’s confidence in the media and its role in publicly holding authorities to account.
crisis, breakdown or threat: Populist politicians have also exploited the genuine crisis of the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine in support of their specific agendas.
A recent study which looked at vulnerability to populism found that 84% of Ukrainians support populist messages, and 59% think that the promises made are achievable.