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Major problem and big secret: How many people are still in Ukraine?

Depopulation in independent Ukraine has reached unprecedented scales during the recent years. One can no longer turn a blind eye on it. Recently, Taras Berezovets, a prominent Ukrainian political strategist closely connected with the president’s administration, has left a post on Facebook openly stating that “depopulation is the problem No.1 for Ukraine.” Berezovets believes that his country will have to settle the problem by “attracting labor force from CIS and South-Eastern Asia.”

According to the State Statistical Committee of Ukraine, the population shrank by 6.7 million to 45.5 million within 20 years, from 1993-2013. These are official data that include also the citizens who regularly live and work outside Ukraine. Whereas, a method of calculation based on bread and electricity consumption per capita showed that in 2013 the population in Ukraine made up 39 million people.

According to the State Committee of Statistics, as of September 1, 2017, the permanent population of Ukraine totaled 42.2 million people, exclusive of Crimea and Sevastopol but inclusive of the territories of Donbass (not controlled by Kiev) with a population of about 3 million people. Considering that at least 4 million Ukrainians permanently reside in Russia and Poland, less than 35 million people live in Kiev-controlled territory (besides Russia and Poland, Ukrainians make up the largest ‘labor diaspora’ in the Czech Republic and Lithuania).

In this light, the known forecasts by the World Health Organization saying that Ukraine’s population will shrink to 30 million people sound even too optimistic. Ukraine’s government have been avoiding making public the number of the population for about 15 years already – the last census was held in Ukraine in 2001 when 48,9 million people were recorded. In late 2015, the population census set for 2016 was postponed until 2020 i.e. far beyond the first term of Petro Poroshenko. This is not surprising, since “dead souls” is a colossal reserve to rig elections amid dramatically falling approval ratings of those in power. Besides, it is a good chance to earn on fake utility subsidies. In fact, the number of Ukraine’s population is nearly the biggest secret of the state.

Ukraine is turning into a country with large-scale emigration. A poll conducted by Rating Social Group (September 2017) found out that 44% of respondents wish to work abroad, of which 68% are young people. Another 35% of the polled wish to move abroad with permanent residency (a 5% growth year-over-year). Ukraine’s neighbors get advantage of the situation and steal both unskilled labor force (mostly Poland and Hungary that facilitated employment procedures for seasonal jobs after visa liberalization) and highly qualified specialists.

Particularly, by data of Poland’s Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers, Poland needs 5 million more people within coming 20 years to ensure economic growth. As a result, finding a skilled construction team has become quite problematic in West Ukraine: most of skillful workers have moved to the nearest EU countries or Russia for earning.

Apparently, certain Western countries consider Ukraine as a cheap labor force reserve that should eventually reduce costs on labor force on the all-European market. This explains the anti-social reforms of Ukraine’s government. They seek to create social and economic conditions in Ukraine worse than in neighboring EU countries. Besides, emigration is a method of “blowing off” social discontent. The ruling elite in Ukraine pins hopes with foreign transfers from Ukrainian migrants working abroad. Meantime, many in Ukraine now move abroad with their families, which means that private money remittances to Ukraine will gradually decrease. Noteworthy that pro-governmental political strategist writes about this and brings the following example: earlier, one microbus imported 30,000-40,000 EUR in cash to relatives in Ukraine, now, this sum has decreased almost 10-fold.

The latest pension and medical reforms introduced by Supreme Rada will just boost emigration. Besides, the medical reform that implies a significant commercialization of healthcare system that will seriously affect life expectancy and contribute to natural decline in the population. Besides, as skeptics ironize, this will reduce the burden on the Pension Fund, since the number of pensioners in the country has exceeded the number of the officially employed population.

On top of it, in the period from 2014 up to August of the current year, death rate exceeded birthrate by 679,000 people. Actually, the annual death rate is equal to the population of an average regional center in Ukraine. The situation is getting worse with every year. In 2015, three regions of Ukraine saw natural growth of the population, whereas last year, birthrate exceeded death rate only in Kiev (and just by a few hundred people). Consequently, by mortality rate Ukraine has been the leader in Europe (vaccination coverage is the lowest, since, in fact, sanctions have been imposed on vaccines imported from Russia) and among top three countries in the world during the recent years.

About the idea to “attract labor forces from CIS and Southeast Asia,” Ukraine will hardly get something to offer migrants from those regions. Ukraine can be used as a transit country to EU countries at best, since getting citizenship in Ukraine is not hard due to high level of corruption there. Noteworthy is the example of Baltic States where they tried to give shelter to several dozens of Middle East refugees, which, in fact, wished to leave Baltics for Northern and Western Europe. Normally, the Baltic States experienced demographic problems similar to those of Ukraine. Only Estonia has seen certain population growth during the last two years. Let’s wait and see if it will manage to ensure long-term population growth.

At what stage will demographic stabilization in Ukraine start? Perhaps, it will happen at the level of 15-20 million people, who will adapt to the reformed social situation in the country and recover the living standards of at least 2013. This is quite possible, considering the idea to turn Ukraine into “a great agrarian country,” because nowadays agricultural industry sector does not need too big labor force.

In such situation, the population that will remain in Ukraine will hardly regards depopulation as a problem.

Igor Federovsky, Kiev

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