Saturday, July 2, 2016

Ukrainians Getting Older, Less Soviet, More Urban and Less Numerous

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 2 – Demography isn’t destiny at least not in the short and medium terms, but it does profoundly affect how countries and their governments can and do act. Ukrainians provide a mixed picture demographically, Kyiv economist Ella Libanova says. They are getting older, less Soviet, more urban and less numerous.

            Many of these changes reflect the passing of time: fewer Ukrainians have memories of growing up in the Soviet Union. Others like urbanization and aging are part of global trends. And still others – flight from the villages and population decline – are the product of developments if not unique to Ukraine at least exacerbated in the case of that country.

            If in advanced countries, “the decline in fertility is accompanied by a decline in mortality and the growth of average life expectancy and migration processes ensure an increase in the total population,” Libanova says, “in Ukraine, a situation different in principle has arisen” (

                Over the past half-century, she says, Ukraine has not been able to significantly boost life expectancy, but the population is aging because of declining birthrates and the emigration of people in prime working years either to seek new opportunities or because of Russian aggression in Crimea and the Donbass, she continues.

            The combination of these factors, Libanova suggests, point to some not especially happy demographic outcomes: further declines in overall population, the concentration of people in major cities with the demise of villages, and an aging population with increasing numbers of pensioners relative to the workforce.

            By 2030, she says, Ukraine’s population is likely to fall to 42.8 million, “and if it is unable to recover Crimea, to 40.4 million.”

            But these quantitative measures are not going to be important for the future as the qualitative indicators about the population: the state of health, level of education, creativity, mobility, responsibility and tolerance – and especially on developing a system in which there will be lifelong learning.

            If Ukraine is able to reduce the number of people employed in dangerous professions, improve the environment, and boost access to medical care, she says, “mortality rates will fall, especially among men of working age.  All preconditions for this already exist,” but that in turn means that “ever more people will live to very old age,” something Kyiv will have to learn to make an advantage rather than a burden.

            Migration from rural areas to cities will continue, as will an influx of people of different ethnicities and racial groups.  And at the same time, many native Ukrainians are certain to move abroad in search of greater economic opportunity. How fast these things will occur depends on how well the Ukrainian economy develops.

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