What awaits Ukraine in 2023?

Ukrainians are confident they will win the war, but fears of a renewed Russian offensive in 2023 are growing.

Construction workers climb onto the roof of a destroyed church in the village of Bohorodychne, Donetsk region
Construction workers climb onto the roof of a destroyed church in the village of Bohorodychne, in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region [Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP]

Kyiv, Ukraine – By the end of 2022, a sense of pride dominated Ukraine.

After more than 10 months of the war, Kyiv’s armed forces had liberated almost half of the areas Russia occupied earlier in the year.

“In the past, this feeling of pride was barely familiar to most of Ukraine’s population; by now it has become massive,” Svetlana Chunikhina, vice president of the Association of Political Psychologists, a group in Kyiv, told Al Jazeera.

Ukraine went through two anti-Russian popular revolts, in 2004 and 2014. But each time, the newly-elected and widely-supported pro-Western governments got mired in corruption scandals and turf wars in the halls of power.

These days, however, Ukrainians overwhelmingly support President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was elected in 2019 with a record-breaking 71 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, the clout of billionaire oligarchs, who once controlled entire regions and branches of the economy and were widely seen as political puppeteers, has waned dramatically.

“The unity of the government and the public in the fight for Ukraine’s independence and freedom is the new psychological reality,” Chunikhina said, citing recent polls.

Ukraine believes it will win the war

The David-vs-Goliath resistance to the Russian forces that Moscow once dubbed “the world’s second-best army” after that of the United States, fills almost every Ukrainian with the anticipation of an imminent military victory.

Some 97 percent of Ukrainians are adamant that Kyiv’s triumph over Moscow is all but certain, according to a survey by the Rating Group, an independent pollster, released in late November.

This newfound assertiveness rose each time Russia suffered a humiliating defeat.

“We don’t just resist our enemy, but we also teach our allies” in the West, Lt Gen Ihor Romanenko, Ukraine’s former deputy chief of general staff, told Al Jazeera after Ukrainian drones struck a strategic airfield deep inside Russia on December 5.

Barely a month later, on the first day of 2023, Ukrainian troops killed at least dozens of Russian soldiers in a major assault in Donetsk, one of the bloodiest attacks of the war.

Children play along the side of the road in Bakhmut, Ukraine
Children play on the side of a road in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine [Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]

The entire nation hit rock bottom in 2022. So the only way is up, as nine out of 10 Ukrainians look at 2023 with optimism, and only 6 percent are “pessimistic”, the Rating Group’s poll said.

Once deeply polarised between the Russian-speaking east and south and the Ukrainian-speaking central and western provinces, the ex-Soviet nation has witnessed unprecedented emotional and political unity.

In the southeastern city of Mariupol, survivors helped each other find water and food amid incessant shelling.

In western regions, residents who once ridiculed Russian speakers welcomed millions of uprooted “easterners”.

In Kyiv, people exchanged tips on how to preserve food and warm their bedrooms with makeshift devices amid depressing, hours-long blackouts.

“There is more solidarity, spontaneous trust and cooperation,” psychologist Chunikhina said.

Economic fallout

But when it comes to individual sentiments, pride and unity give way to feelings of guilt because many Ukrainians think they have not done enough to resist the aggression, she said.

Self-esteem is uneven and unstable, especially among those uprooted by the war in a crescent-shaped area in eastern and southern Ukraine, she said.

There is less tolerance and a lot more stress, and many Ukrainians risk developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological conditions, she said.

In terms of the economy, things are far from optimistic.

Ukraine lost 30.4 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022.

Russia-occupied areas in the rust-belt east and south no longer contribute to the economy. Millions are displaced, jobless and destitute.

Russia has conducted a dozen massive attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure as its cruise missiles and drones methodically target power and heating stations – also hitting apartment buildings, hospitals and schools.

In 2023, Ukraine faces three economic scenarios – none of which looks very optimistic, according to Aleksey Kushch, a Kyiv-based economist.

The first scenario is that a prolonged war will trigger an economic free fall of 5 to 15 percent of GDP and galloping inflation of 20 percent, he said.

The exchange rate of hryvnia, Ukraine’s currency, will, however, remain stable because of significant infusions of Western aid, he said.

Ukrainian soldiers fire a French-made CAESAR self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions near Avdiivka, Donetsk region
Ukrainian soldiers fire a French-made CAESAR self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions near Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region [File: Libkos/AP Photo]

Scenario two unfolds if the war is over and the economy bounces back with GDP growth of about 5 percent, smaller inflation and a stronger hryvnia, he said.

And scenario three is a “hybrid” of the first two. The war ends in summer, the economy will slowly rebound with zero economic growth, and the inflation and the hryvnia’s devaluation will be at 20 percent, he said.

“The combination of negative factors is more likely – a demographic crisis, a significant destruction of the economy and the rise of poverty to more than 50 percent of the population await Ukraine,” Kushch told Al Jazeera.

Fears of a renewed Russian offensive

Meanwhile, Ukrainian fears persist of potentially massive Russian attacks via Belarus, Moscow’s key ally.

In recent weeks, thousands of Russian troops have been amassed in southern Belarus, next to the Ukrainian border and some 200km (124 miles) north of Kyiv.

Minsk has said it will not join Russia’s war but allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory to invade Ukraine on February 24.

“We’re getting ready for any kind of defence scenarios. Whoever wants to convince Minsk, it won’t help them, just like any other sick ideas in this war against Ukraine and Ukrainians,” Zelenskyy said in a video address on December 18.

Just hours earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time visited the headquarters of the “special military operation”, as Moscow calls the invasion, at an undisclosed location.

And a day earlier, his Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu “inspected” the front line in the southeastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.

“It all looks like last broad strokes ahead of a large Russian advance from at least two sides – northern Luhansk [in Ukraine’s east] and Belarus,” Nikolay Mitrokhin, a historian with Germany’s Bremen University, told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera