Polls are as reliable as the pollsters that organize them. And respondents may, for any number of reasons, particularly at a time of heightened political tension, be reluctant to reveal what they really think.
That said, as we ask ourselves what the people of eastern Ukraine really want, these findings (noted by Pew) are worth bearing in mind:
The Ukrainian poll was fielded February 8-18 by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, together with the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology…The reported margin of error for the Democratic Initiatives survey is 2.2%….
Clear majorities in Ukraine (68%) and Russia (59%) favor open borders between the countries. In Ukraine, this is the prevailing view not only in regions where Russian-speakers predominate, such as the East (72%) and South (64%), but in regions overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Ukrainians, such as the West (67%). Even among Ukrainians who want to join the EU, a 63%-majority back the free movement of goods and people between Ukraine and Russia.
However, open borders is not the same as no borders. Fewer than one-in-five Ukrainians (12%) …think the two countries should unite as a single state. Those living in Ukraine’s East (26%) and South (19%) are somewhat more enthusiastic about the idea of reuniting Ukraine and Russia, but support falls to the single digits in the country’s Center (5%) and West (1%)….
This poll (which presumably included respondents in the Crimea, a block of Russian-leaning voters now, sadly, annexed into irrelevance) was taken before Yanukovych finally fell (February 22), an event that could quite plausibly have pushed quite a few Russian-speakers into the Moscow camp (particularly if they were getting their information from Russian TV), as could the subsequent annexation of the Crimea. Nevertheless, they are a reminder of the need to take care before making the assumption that a majority of the Russian-speakers of eastern Ukraine want a return to Russian rule.