Home Art The demographics of Ukraine in the second year of a full-fledged war

The demographics of Ukraine in the second year of a full-fledged war

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What makes Ukrainian demographics so complex?
The Ukrainian demographic situation is an incredibly complex issue. Simply asking the question of population first requires clarifying our frame of reference. Are we wondering about the Ukrainian population living within the internationally recognized Ukrainian borders, known as the 1991 borders? Or the population of Ukraine inhabiting the territory within the 1991 borders, but without Crimea and Sevastopol (this is the area from which the National Statistics Service of Ukraine collected information in 2015-2021) ? Or the population of the territories controlled by the Ukrainian authorities before the start of large-scale Russian aggression (the so-called 2022 borders) and lands not controlled by the government? Or the remaining population living in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian authorities after the start of the large-scale Russian invasion, and if so, in which month, since the current situation is very unstable?

The questions become even more complex if we remember that all data is based on information from the last census, carried out more than twenty years ago, on March 5, 2001. Since then, Ukraine has gone through a long process of restructuring internal on a large scale. and external migration, particularly after the annexation of Crimea and revolts in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in 2014. Even more people have been displaced since the Russian assault began in February 2022. It It is difficult to obtain reliable data on the population…namely, its size, composition and movements – now residing on government-controlled lands. It is even more difficult to know what is happening in the occupied regions (parts of Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts).

To find answers, I will discuss the demographic situation using three frames of reference: the territories of Ukraine in 1991, the territories of Ukraine in 2022, and the lands currently under the control of the Ukrainian government. I fill information gaps with estimates based on data from a selected number of reliable sources (these are listed in the notes at the end of the article).

What we can learn from the data
Since 1991, Ukraine has experienced a rapid process of depopulation, exacerbated by the massive departure of Ukrainians abroad, notably migrant workers before the war and then those who have fled hostilities since 2014 (figure 1).

Figure 1. Size of the Ukrainian population (in thousands of people at the beginning of each year)

Chart 1

As of January 1, 2023, 37.6 million people lived in the territory included in the 1991 borders, 32.6 million in the 2022 borders, and 31.1 million in the territories currently controlled by the Ukrainian government.

This means that population losses within the 1991 borders exceed 14 million people (27.6 percent). This proportion increases to 37.4 percent if we add to the losses the population living in regions not controlled by the government in 2014-2021 (the loss would amount to approximately 19 million). The population loss within the 1991 borders increased by another 1.5 million after Russia launched its full-scale aggression (data as of January 1, 2023). Although part of the territories occupied by Russia has been liberated, population losses have probably increased over the last six months with continued migration abroad, constant bombing of cities, leading to a concentration of deaths among civilians, and the environmental disaster caused by the destruction of the territories occupied by Russia. Kakhovka Dam.

Migration is the main driver of Ukraine’s demographic dynamics. Despite the apparently well-established system of recording border crossings, estimating the scale of migration is hampered by obvious discrepancies between Ukrainian and foreign data dating from the first days of the war. For example, according to Ukrainian border services, between February 24, 2022 and May 24, 2023, 1.7 million more people left the country than entered. According to Eurostat (data as of April 30, 2023), almost 4 million Ukrainians who left Ukraine after February 24, 2022 were registered under the law on temporary protection in EU countries. Most of them are registered in Germany (1.1 million), Poland (1.0 million) and the Czech Republic (0.3 million). About half of those who fled the war are women aged 20 to 64 and a third are children and adolescents.

According to a number of surveys of Ukrainians who fled to Europe, 70 percent of refugee women have higher (or incomplete) education; a significant number of refugees have already found employment, although only a third are practicing their profession or using their qualifications; and the vast majority of children receive general or vocational education, indicating a good level of previous education.

Every month Ukrainian refugees spend abroad reduces the likelihood of their return to Ukraine. On the one hand, they work hard to adapt to living conditions in another country; on the other hand, the possibilities of a return to Ukraine are diminishing with the continued and targeted destruction of homes and critical infrastructure. The number of potential jobs in Ukraine is also decreasing. Refugees wishing to return to Ukraine may therefore have nowhere to return to. Surveys show that Ukrainian war refugees cite security, the availability of housing and work opportunities as the main conditions for their return.

Forecast of the demographic situation of Ukraine
Despite all the risks that await them, I estimate that at least half of the refugees will return to their countries after the war. The experience of Balkan countries suggests that around a third of those who fled the war were able to return home. The high level of Ukrainian patriotism, demonstrated by the return of 200,000 troops from developed countries to Ukraine during the first two weeks of the war, justifies my more optimistic expectations of a 50 percent return.

However, if the Ukrainian economy is slow to revive after the end of the war and if employment opportunities are not satisfactory, Ukrainian families today are divided, with men in Ukraine and women and children behind. foreigners, could choose to meet abroad rather than within the country. This means that Ukraine could lose between 1 and 1.5 million educated young men.

It should be emphasized that Ukraine loses due to migration not only the general population, but also relatively young people, of childbearing age, educated and qualified, generally determined to succeed, efficient and entrepreneurial. Migration-related losses must therefore be counted not only in terms of numbers, but also in terms of the quality of demographic resources lost to Ukraine.

Another important factor driving population loss is declining fertility rates. The Covid-19 pandemic, then Russian aggression, caused a drop in the fertility rate in Ukraine, which was already the lowest in Europe. The total fertility rate (TFR) was 1.2 in 2021 and is expected to be 0.9 for 2022. As the births planned before the war still took place in 2022, a much more spectacular drop in the fertility rate is expected in 2023: it will most likely reach 0.7, and this level will be maintained at least until the end of the war. I see no reason to expect any compensatory effect in this regard, and population dynamics will follow the patterns of what was observed after the First and Second World Wars. This means that after Ukraine’s victory, the TFR may return to the level of 1.3-1.4 only in the 2030s.

Irreversible human losses (i.e. deaths, including direct losses of military personnel and civilians due to hostilities and indirect losses caused by lack of timely medical care in the occupied territories, especially in areas of active hostilities and shelling) have already had a significant impact on the average life expectancy (ALE) of Ukrainians. For 2023-2024, the FTA will remain extremely low: 70.9 years for women and 57.3 years for men. We can expect a return to pre-war levels – 76.4 and 66.4 years respectively – no earlier than 2032, while the FTA of 77.8 and 67.7 years respectively will not return to Ukraine until the mid-2030s.

Thus, in the country’s best development scenario – that is, a return to the 1991 borders and rapid economic and environmental recovery – further depopulation seems inevitable. Most likely, by 2035, Ukraine’s population will have decreased by another 18 percent, from the current 37.6 million to 31 million (for the territory of 1991 Ukraine). The 20 to 64 age demographic will decline by 15 percent, from 23.7 million to 20.2 million, while the number of women of prime reproductive age (i.e. 20 to 34 years) will decrease by 11 percent. , from 2.9 million to 2.6 million (see Figure 2 for projected data).

Figure 2. Forecast of the size of the Ukrainian population (within the borders of Ukraine-1991)

Chart 2

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not reflect those of the Kennan Institute.

Sources of data-based estimates:

  • The National Statistics Service on the number, sex and age composition of the population as of January 1, 2021 and January 1, 2022, as well as births and deaths in 2020 and 2021.
  • The National Statistics Service on the use of mobile communication services by households.
  • Mobile operators (Kyivstar, Vodafon Ukraine, Lifecell) on the number of subscribers with the so-called main subscriber number.
  • Rosstat on the population of Crimea, Sevastopol and occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
  • The State Border Guard Service at border crossings to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova or from these countries to Ukraine (per day and per month) as of February 24, 2022.
  • Eurostat on the number of Ukrainians receiving temporary protection in EU countries.
  • Rosstat on the number of Ukrainians who left for the territory of the Russian Federation and Belarus.
  • Online health system on birth rates.
  • The Pension Fund of Ukraine indicates the number, age and gender of contributors and recipients of social transfers (including pensions) for a certain period.

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