Social capital is an important factor for the well-being among Ukrainians

[2017-12-11] Before the current Ukrainian military conflict began in 2014, social capital was characterized as comparably low and unequally distributed among different groups in the Ukrainian society. However, due to the current military conflict context, social capital in Ukraine has transformed. In her doctoral dissertation at Umeå University in Sweden, Ukrainian public health researcher Kateryna Karhina has studied social capital and its role for well-being of the Ukrainian population.

Social capital is a term used to explain human interactions and the trust that results from these interactions. It develops through involvement in social networks with different forms and densities: starting from the family and friends (very strong ties and bonds) up to the networks of citizens in a country (loose and distant interactions).

Kateryna Karhina, a doctoral student at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, conducted 18 in-depth interviews with Ukrainian women and men between May and July of 2015, and used two large quantitative surveys (World Health Survey and European Social Survey) to study social capital in relation to well-being among people in Ukrainian society. The results showed that access to social capital had various effects on health and well-being for men and women. Access to some forms of social capital decreased the risk for depressive symptoms among Ukrainian women, while not for men. In general, women were more trusting and socially engaged compared to men, who expressed more feelings of safety than women.

Kateryna Karhina
Photo: Lena Mustonen

“The history of Ukraine, as an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is characterised by two revolutions, political and economic instability, deteriorating well-being and low trust, and comparably low levels of social capital,” says Kateryna Karhina. “Unfortunately, Ukraine has been experiencing a military conflict since 2014. Beyond several thousand deaths and more than one million displaced people, this situation has also affected the amount and forms of social networks in Ukraine, as well as the internal rules of behaviour in these networks.”  

In her research, Kateryna Karhina shows how strong bonds within some families were destroyed and replaced by new bonds to army “brothers”, as well as to people involved in informal voluntary services that emerged as a reaction to the military crisis.

“In this transitional context, existing social capital has been transformed and new social capital has been generated due to the military conflict in Ukraine. This has influenced the well-being of those who are involved. In interviews, volunteers expressed the sentiment that life in Ukraine has become more difficult, but is full of meaning,” says Kateryna Karhina.

Volunteering is one form of social capital. The research shows that even in a setting where social capital is historically considered to be low, people join forces to help each other in times of societal crisis.

“As a native Ukrainian, it is not difficult for me to understand the context and the reasons for the lack of trust in public institutions that characterise the Ukrainian society. However, this historical context is often neglected in social capital research, which takes place in more stable societies or is done by external researchers. My hopes are that this will lead to more research on social capital in Ukraine and its relation to well-being and gender. Hopefully soon this can be done without the disruptive context of the military conflict,” says Kateryna Karhina.

Link to doctoral dissertation

For more information, please contact:

Kateryna Karhina, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Umeå University
Phone: +46 73 041 8241

About the public dissertation defense:

On Friday December 15, Kateryna Karhina, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Epidemiology and Global Health Unit, is publicly defending her thesis titled: Social capital and well-being in the transitional setting of Ukraine. Faculty opponent: Professor Mikael Rostila, Centre for Health Equity Studies, Stockholm University. Principal supervisor: Associate Professor Malin Eriksson.

The dissertation defense is at 9:00 am in Room 135, Building 9A, University Hospital of Umeå (NUS).

Editor: Daniel Harju

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