Monday, November 14, 2022

Russia’s Small Cities Losing Population at the Rate of Three Percent a Year

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 12 – Russia’s smaller cities, where one quarter of the population of the country lives, are currently losing on average three percent of their residents every year, with some of the worst off losing more than ten percent a year and now facing the prospect that they will turn into ghost towns.

            That is one of the devastating findings reported in a new collection of articles by the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Socio-Cultural Potential of Small Cities of Russia (in Russian; Moscow, 2022, 212 pp., 300 copies) at

            The authors say that this decline is the result of the economic difficulties these cities face and especially Putin’s optimization program which has left many of the cities without adequate medical facilities or schools but has convinced most people living in them that from Moscow’s perspective they are “second-class” citizens.

            People are simply deserting these cities and moving to larger ones. As a result, the book says, the share the population of these cities in the population is likely to decline by 50 percent in the coming decades, leaving not only these cities but the areas around them devastated as far as facilities are concerned.

            According to the authors, as dire as the situation of the small cities is, it is not nearly as bad as that of villages. More than ten percent of the villages on the map don’t have any residents, and a large share of those still classed as “living” have fewer than 50 people in each. In 36,000 of them, the number of residents is less than ten each.

            Thus, Nakanune reports that “half of Russia’s villages are practically ‘dead.’ And the situation is getting worse: approximately 20,000 rural schools have closed in Russia since 2001.” This means that in terms of population, large swaths of Russia are turning into “a desert” (

            According to the new volume, the war in Ukraine has had only minimal impact. The number of men mobilized and the number of dead are still statistically insignificant compared to the overall figures of decline. The one thing the war is making worse, however, is confidence in the future.

            Russians including those in smaller cities have lost confidence in the future, and with that, they have decided not to have children. Were Russia to gain a victory, that could change just as the victory at Stalingrad sparked a major upsurge in the number of births nine months later even though World War II was still going on (

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