Staunton, November 5 – Most discussions of migration in Russia focus on the arrival of gastarbeiters from Central Asia, the Caucasus or elsewhere; but two other population flows may be even more important for the country’s future: the flight from villages to the cities and the exit of people from the north and the east to the south and the west.
Over the last decade, intra-Russian migration has doubled: in 2006, 1.9 million Russians moved from one place to another; in 2016, 4.2 million did. Half of these moved within their own regions, largely from villages to cities, but another half left their home region and moved elsewhere, typically to the major cities (russian.eurasianet.org/node/64821).
Andrey Pokida, a demographer at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, says that “the flow of the active population from other regions is useful for the receiving side, especially given the trend toward a reduction in the number of working-age people.” But even for recipients, the influx puts new burdens on infrastructure like schools and hospitals.
Population flight from villages is especially great. Since 2001, this trend has been constant. And as a result, while the number of villages in Russia “on paper” is listed as more than 150,000, in fact, “almost 19,500” no longer have any people in them and another 82,800 have fewer than 100 and may soon disappear as well.
Between 100,000 and 150,000 villagers leave their homes each year now, Pokida continues, reinforcing the stagnation and collapse of the economies and infrastructure of their villages and thus promoting even more rapid flight in the future.
Between 2000 and 2015, the number of schools in rural areas fell from more than 45,000 to fewer than 26,000 and the number of medical institutions from 5400 to 1100, the result of population changes and Vladimir Putin’s health “optimization” program, the Moscow expert continues.
What is less recognized is that population flows are coming out of smaller and mid-sized cites as well. Andrey Stas, head of the Institute of Territorial Marketing and Branding, says that “small cities are at the very edge of development.” And that is critical because “almost 37 million” Russians live in them and they face “mass depopulation” just like the villages.
Given that about half of the population of Russia lives in either villages or these smaller cities, that represents a serious threat to the future development of the country, something that is highlighted and exacerbated, demographer Yury Krupnov says, by “the unstoppable and uncontrolled growth of Moscow” and other “millionaire” cities.