Demographic situation in Ukraine has been rather difficult since the proclamation of independence in 1991. Birth rate has stayed lower than the death rate, while large scale labour migration, ageing of the population became Ukraine’s everyday routine. Nowadays such complicated circumstances do not allow one to foresee a full scale of the challenges that are threatening the mere existence of Ukraine as a state and its national identity. These challenges have been accumulating over the past couple of years along with rapid deteriorating of the demographic indicators, even compared to the previous decades. We are talking about the danger, which could become no less fatal than the ongoing Russian military aggression or economic grievances that Ukraine is currently battling. Coupled with breakdown in traditional family ties and structures (amount of recent newly-concluded marriages has drastically decreased, while the divorce rate is growing), there is a visible drop in a birth rate. Even despite the fact that compared to the previous decades death rate indicators remained stable and even lowered a bit, the numbers of newly born in 2019 were almost twice as low as the the amount of those who died. Over the past year Ukraine’s population has shrunk on 252,000 people. After a while, those population losses are gradually compensated by arrival of other ethnically and culturally different populations from overseas. Ukrainian state, its previous and current governments alike, however, failed to address these demographic challenges.
How Ukrainians will vanish
In spite of active phase of Russian military intervention on the East in 2014–2015, as well as the sudden and deep devaluation of Ukrainian currency and country’s economic crush, there were 410,000 children born on Ukraine-controlled territory in these years. In 2018 these numbers have decreased to 336,000, and it seems like in 2019 we are anticipating to only have around 300,000 newborns (there were only 127,000 born so far). Birth rate has decreased from 442 of newly born per 10,000 women to 369 in 2018. It continues to decrease. This is not a sign of a long-term tendency, though – from 2008 until 2016 relevant indicators varied from 424 to 459 children per 10,000 women. State policy, designed to encourage young families to have children, that has been actively implemented since the Orange Revolution on 2004, has still had its effects, despite its downside and limited allocated funds.
At present we are witnessing the first signs of a new demographic peril. Demographic tendencies are unbelievably inert and it takes time and a lot of effort to correct them, at the same time making it impossible to amend these tendencies within the short period of time. If Ukrainian state sets out to prevent the demographic catastrophe right now, results will only become noticeable after one generation – but should the state ignore the problem right now and stay indifferent, it will lead to irreversible catastrophe within some two or three decades. For example, in 1960 there have been 870,000 people born in Ukraine (those who are approaching their retirement age right now); in the period from 1980 to 1990 each year this indicator fluctuated between 650,000 and 750,000 people (most of them are today’s youngsters.) At the same time in 2000 (i.e. those how have just recently reached their legal adulthood) this number barely reached 385,000, and this year, as mentioned earlier, this number may or may even not reach 300,000. Generation of the demographic hole of 1990–2000 will soon be in the childbearing age. But the difference between those is almost double.
Traditionally, relatively high birth rate has always remained solid in the west of Ukraine. Recently, however, even those regions have demonstrated rapid drop in the birth rate indicators. For instance, over the first five months of 2014 there have been 12,800 children born in Volyn and Rivne Oblasts, but there have only been 9,300 children born within the same timeframe in 2019. In Galychyna (which includes Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil Oblasts) these numbers were set at 23,500 and 17,100 respectively; in Zakarpattya – 7,100 and 5,200; in Bukovyna – 4,600 and 3,400. In central Ukrainian Oblasts dynamics are not much better – and in several cases they are much worse. For instance, in Vinnytsia Oblast there were 7,100 children born in the first half of 2014 and 4,900 born in the same time in 2019; in Khmelnytsk Oblast these numbers were 5,900 and 4,100; in Zhytomyr Oblast – 6,100 and 4,100; in CherkasyOblast – 4,950 and 3,200. Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, was the only region where statistics has remained much the same (13,800 and 13,400 respectively), however, even in Kyiv these numbers have failed to grow.
Over the past couple of decades Ukraine has experienced severe wave of social migration. These are the people, who went abroad trying to secure higher standards of living, settling down and working there. Nonetheless, it would not be right to suggest that Ukrainian demographic crisis is simply rooted in country’s troublesome economic and social situation. There are plenty of countries across the globe that maintain rather high birth rate indicators, and their living standards and economic situation are far below those in Ukraine.
At the same time, in urbanised countries of Europe and in the United States, birth rates are visibly higher than in Ukraine. Similar thing can be said about Ukraine’s immediate neighbours. For example, while in Ukraine coefficient of birth has lowered down to 1.3, in Poland and Belarus it was 1.47 in 2018, while in the US – 1.73 and 17.74 in the United Kingdom. Poland’s current population is equal to that of Ukraine (without the occupied territories). In 2018 there were 388,200 children born in Poland compared to 369,300 in 2015. Even in Romania, which is facing similar demographic problems, there were 189,000 children born in 2018 – still a competitive indicator, considering the fact that Romanian population is nearly twice the size less than Ukraine’s. Belarus population is almost four times smaller than Ukraine’s; however there was 94,000 born in the same time frame. Every year there is less children born in Ukraine than just in the state of Texas alone (382,000 in 2017). Ukraine’s current levels are almost equal to the ones in Australia (309,000) however, Australia’s population is one and a half time smaller.
The others will come instead
Should the current pattern remain, after several generations there will be no more than 20 million people left in Ukraine – at least descendants of those, who are living here right now. However, such a huge and comfortable territory in Europe will not remain empty or with low population density for a long time. Therefore, while the numbers of Ukrainians are falling, a number of migrants from various countries across the globe are growing. This will create a challenge, which may become as substantial as the danger of being fully absorbed by Russia or becoming its political and cultural satellite.
Numbers of foreigners, mostly from various Asian or African counties, moving to Ukraine, are dynamically growing. Due to a demographic explosion, as well as natural obstacles in their homeland, those people are actively seeking for the new opportunities to use their skills and bear the fruits of their work. In the early 2019, there have been 276,000 foreign citizens registered and settled in Ukraine. Throughout 2018 homeland security services have uncovered 11,200 illegal migrants.
According to the State Bureau of Statistics, out of 309,000 foreigners, who came to Ukraine in 2010–2017, some 180,800 or 59% were immigrants from various countries in Asia and Africa. In 2017 their share grew over 66%, while back in 2011 it constituted barely 37%. Over the past couple of years percentage of African migrants has been steadily growing – from 10.5% of all foreigners in 2015 to 16.2% in 2017 (4,600 out of 28,400; there is no data to show which countries are considered in this analysis). In 2010–2011, however, the same group of immigrants only constituted 1% of all foreigners living in Ukraine. A huge share of all foreigners, who settled in Ukraine are young men and women. For instance, in 2017, according to the State Bureau of Statistics migrants aged 15–34 constituted 65.4%.
Many foreigners, who settled in Ukraine already, had their own children born in Ukraine, and, as a result they received its citizenship. According to the current laws, there is a wide spectrum of children born to foreign parents or stateless persons, who can claim Ukrainian citizenship. According to the State Migration Service, in 2014 there have been 4,700 people, who have received the citizenship by the right of birth; in 2015 this number grew to 6,600, in 2016 – to 10,600, in 2017 – to 16,600 and in 2018 – to 19,100. Therefore, based on these statistics over the past four years the numbers have quadrupled. A number of people, who became naturalised Ukrainian citizens by birth over the first half of 2019 (8,000) have already outdone the similar numbers demonstrated in 2014 or 2015.
Overall number of people, who acquired Ukrainian citizenship by birth over the past five years constituted 47,600 (if we include the first half of 2019 this number will increase to 56,000). It is also likely, that Ukraine will follow the EU demographic model. In 2016 Ukraine issued 2,800 work permits, in 2017 this number increased to 4,700 and in 2018 – to 5,000. One worrying factor is that a wave of migrants, who settled in Ukraine, move to mostly Russified or semi-Russified big cities. This means, that for foreigners with different ethnic culture it will be Russian and not Ukrainian, that will most likely become the second language they use, and Russian will be the language of interethnic communication. Moreover, because Ukraine currently lacks any integration policies for new settlers, new comers will become Russified and will join the indifferent, Russified and sceptical postcolonial masses with an unhealthy nostalgia for a Soviet past. This may lead to either dangerous prospects of either creating unintegrated and isolated ghettos, or foreigners being fully absorbed by the Russified indoctrinated masses. They may simply turn Ukraine into a faceless stop lacking its identity on their long way to the richer EU states.
It is time to act
Demographic challenges are even more important than the issue of economic development; it may be even more urgent than stopping Russian aggression or establishing well-working political system. If Ukraine fails to solve the problem and adopt adequate demographic policies, it runs a risk of spending several decades on building a home for others, while neglecting themselves.
It is rather wrong to attempt smoothening demographic losses via the means of increasing life expectancy or decreasing death rate. These tasks, no doubt are absolutely important, especially in light of degrading standards of medicine in Ukraine and a pitiful healthcare over the past couple of decades. Those factors on its own, however, won’t be able to prevent Ukrainian identity from blaring and disappearing in light of the new global migration period across the world.
The root of declining birth rate lies in the decay of the mere idea of family in itself and the growing lack of interest of many demotivated young Ukrainians, who do not wish to create families and make children their priority. While in 2015 there has been 300,000 marriages concluded and 129,400 divorces filed in Ukraine, in 2018 these numbers changed respectively to 228,400 and 153,000. In the same timeframe amount of marriages per 1,000 people fell from 7,8 to 6, while divorce rate grew from 3.3 to 3.9 per 1,000. In the present time there are two divorces per three marriages in Ukraine and it is possible that these indicators will be equalled. In Chernihiv Oblast amount of divorces nearly reached the amount of marriages (4.7 against 5 respectively); in Sumy Oblast these numbers are 4.4 against 4.7; in Kirovohrad Oblast – 4.2 against 4.7; in Cherkasy Oblast – 4.5 against 5.1; in Poltava Oblast – 4.8 against 5.5. Recently there has even been a drastic decline in marriages and visible growth in divorce rates in western Ukrainian regions. For instance, in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast marriage coefficient (a number of marriages concluded per 1,000 people) fell to 5.6 in 2015 (overall Ukrainian figure is 6) compared to 6.9 in 2015; divorce rate grew from 3 to 3.4. In Ternopil Oblast marriage coefficient declined from 6.5 to 5.3, while divorce rate grew from 2.8 to 3.4.
Ukraine needs a well-defined demographic policy based on support for traditional marriage, support for those families who are willing to have children. There is also a need to fight many psychological, ideological, sociological and economic factors that demotivate young people from setting up a family. There is also a need to neutralise behaviour models in terms of social and economic relationships imposed by the outside factors in the day of information and technology. Ukraine also needs to adopt a proper housing policy, because according to a number of surveys issues surrounding the ownership of a house is sometimes central when it comes to youngsters’ inability to get married and it is one of the key reasons for couples filing for divorce. Only 33% of young couples live in their own homes and nearly 31% do not even own a separate house.