Saturday, February 1, 2020

Half of Ukraine’s Population Losses Since 2001 Reflect Russian Seizure of Crimea and Donbass

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 26 – Stung by reports about the demographic decline of the Russian Federation, Moscow writers are now focusing on the population losses of other former Soviet republics, above all, Ukraine. But their stories unintentionally highlight the way Russian aggression has depressed its population and kept Russia’s from falling even further. 

            A case in point is an article by Moscow journalist Igor Karmazin in Izvestiya devoted not only to Ukraine but to the entire post-Soviet space, a place where except for the Muslim countries of Central Asia and Azerbaijan, the demographic situation isn’t good (

            What he doesn’t say is that the problems of these countries are quite similar to those in the Russian Federation, although he does quote a Moscow demographer as saying that a major factor in these population losses is the difficulties the population has had in coping with the disintegration of the USSR and the passing of the more traditional Soviet way of life.

            The situation in Ukraine is truly dire. Its population today, according to Kyiv, is 37.2 million, down 11 million since the beginning of this century. That decline continues and may even be accelerating, but half of that decline – 5.5 million people – reflects Ukraine’s loss of Crimea and the Donbass because of Russian aggression.

            The Izvestiya journalist also doesn’t say that the addition of the 2.1 million people from Crimea and Sevastopol to the Russian total hides some of Russia’s decline. (Moscow does not yet include the Donbass in Russian population figures even though at least some officials in Ukraine no longer count them within their country’s total.)

            This is not to say that Ukraine does not have real demographic problems. Between three and four million of its citizens have gone abroad for work given that salaries are higher there – 70 percent higher in Russia, three times as great in Poland, and 3.4 times as large as in the Czech Republic.

            In addition, birth rates have fallen while death rates have increased, with both larger now than even in the 1990s, Karmazin says, something that pushes the growth rate down and sets the stage for even further declines in the next decade or two when there will be still fewer women of child-bearing age.

            Some Ukrainian experts believe, the Moscow journalist continues, that the Ukrainian population will decline to 30 million by mid-century. If that happens, Ukraine will need to attract workers from elsewhere, possibly from China.

Similar problems exist in other post-Soviet states, the Izvestiya journalist says. Estonia and Latvia both have had large declines in the number of the residents since 1991, the result of massive emigration and an ever-greater imbalance between births and deaths.  Moldova has seen its population decline by 1.5 percent a year, with its total projected to fall by another third by 2050. And Georgia has lost 16 percent of its population since 1991.

Only in the Muslim republics of Central Asia plus Azerbaijan have populations continued to rise – and they have grown despite massive exodus of workers to Russia and elsewhere. In part, the journalist suggests, that is because these countries have succeeded in maintaining traditional family patterns more successfully than the other countries in the region.

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