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Over the next 3 decades, Ukraine's population is expected to drop dramatically

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Ukraine - Ukraine's population is estimated to be about 36 million people. But last week, the Ukrainian government estimated it could drop by 10 million people in just 3 decades, and Russia's full-on invasion of Ukraine, now in its third year, is not the only factor in the predicted population decline. So what might Ukraine's leadership do about this? To find out, our colleague A Martínez spoke to Tymofii Brik, rector of Kyiv School of Economics.

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: So Ukraine became independent in 1991. Its population back then was estimated to be about 52 million. So it seems like this decline is a long-running problem, not necessarily just a recent-Russia-invasion problem. Why is this happening?

TYMOFII BRIK: There are few components to explain this decline. One, the excessive mortality rates among the male population 'cause, usually, males are engaged in occupations that are more dangerous for their health, not to mention the lifestyles of males. The outmigration has been a major issue for Ukraine for decades, given the economic circumstances. Quite a lot of young, prosperous, urban Ukrainians - they wanted to move. The estimation of population in Ukraine are not of a very high quality, given that census happened in 2001, so we actually don't really know the exact population.

MARTÍNEZ: But is it fair to say that the population has declined significantly?

BRIK: Oh, absolutely. Especially due to the ongoing invasion, we estimate that about 10 million people moved. Six of them were forced to migrate outside of Ukraine, primarily in Europe. There are also internally displaced people - about 4 million of them.

MARTÍNEZ: For the people that do leave, has the Ukrainian government tried to do anything to either get them to come back or try to entice the people that are still there to stay?

BRIK: Oh, it's a huge debate right now in Ukraine. We understand that many Ukrainians - they need security, and it is OK for them. On the other hand, we are very conscious about the brain drain, so we try to leave the doors open to people to come back. And it is about incentives. About 30% of Ukrainian territory now has mines, or at least bombs, and this is very dangerous for Ukrainian agriculture, but also for safety of adults and kids. And a lot of people understand it, and they're afraid of it. So the government tries to address it by providing demining initiatives with drones. Usually, you do not see such things in the national strategy about demography.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, a funny thing happened when we asked our colleagues at the Kyiv bureau to get tape from Ukrainians who were planning to leave the country. They actually couldn't find anyone that would leave. Everyone they spoke to wanted to stay, so what's the disconnect here?

BRIK: When the invasion started, my wife and myself - we were in Kyiv, which was under attack itself, and we decided to stay in Kyiv. And I think there are two components to this - emotional, but also rational decision. On the one hand, many Ukrainians experience what you usually call the rally-around-the-flag effect, and many people felt this urge to signal their commitment and to stay in the country despite the threats. And we see it from the sociological surveys. Starting from the 1992 till present, more and more Ukrainians answer that they feel like belonging to Ukrainian citizenship is something very important now.

On the other hand, we also know from other studies that Ukrainian government has been under many reforms since the Euromaidan revolution - since 2013. Reforms empowered local population, and many Ukrainians increased in their trust to local governance.

MARTÍNEZ: If Ukrainians are indeed feeling a sense of pride of being Ukrainian and living in Ukraine, I mean, is that something that can turn around this demographic decline?

BRIK: I think the answer to your question is resilience - so the question whether following generations will pick up on this resilience or not. And I think it actually depends not on the size of the population. It depends on the quality of institutions. So if the Ukrainian government and markets and nongovernmental actors will provide quality governance, nice public services, education, healthcare, the Ukrainian population, I think, will remain proud of being members of Ukrainian nation.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Tymofii Brik, rector at the Kyiv School of Economics. Thank you very much.

BRIK: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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