Where did all the Ukrainians go?


The population of Ukraine has dropped by 6 million since the fall of the Soviet Union. Why does nobody in the media mention this?

The world is currently very focused on the hunt for one missing Ukrainian:  former president Viktor Yanukovych. However, I wonder if when historians look back on recent events they might attach greater significance to the 6 million missing Ukrainians.

This refers to the astonishing demographic decline of Ukraine since it gained independence from the Soviet Union: the “population has shrunk by 6.2mn people from 51.8 to 45.6mn since 1990.”

Euromonitor explains that:

  • Falling disposable incomes and the closure of many childcare facilities after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 had made it increasingly unaffordable for many Ukrainian families to have more than one child. As a result, Ukraine’s fertility rate had been falling throughout the 1990s, reaching an all-time low of 1.1 children born per female by 1999. Although improving economy saw the fertility rate climb back to 1.4 by 2011, this is still significantly below the replacement level of 2.2. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s death rate is the highest in Europe, at 16.1 per 1,000 inhabitants in 2011, significantly higher than its birth rate of 10.5 per 1,000 inhabitants for the same year;
  • Although other European countries, including the Baltics, are experiencing similar demographic trends, it is the size of Ukraine that makes this decline so drastic. Between 1991 and 2011 the Ukrainian population decreased by 11.8%, from 51.6 million to 45.5 million. Falling population has brought with it dire consequences for the state budget and economic output.


Low fertility rates in Western Europe are often associated with an ageing society. However, this is not the case in Ukraine:

  • High death rates due to smoking, accidents at work and high incidence of suicides affect men in particular before they reach the age of 65. In 2011, life expectancy at birth in Ukraine was only 69.5, compared to 78.6 in the EU;
  • The old-age dependency ratio (the percentage of persons older than 65 per persons aged 15-64) actually decreased from 23.3% in 2006 to 21.7% in 2011. During this period, population aged 65+ fell by 8.1%, from 7.6 million to 7.0 million.
I feel this might have fed into current political events because:

Now I am possibly/probably wrong about all this: I’m not an expert on either the Ukraine or demographics. However, I do feel it’s an issue that should at least be discussed. If I’m wrong I’d like to know that.

I learned this fact not from the news but stumbled across it when I was looking through the CIA World factbook to find out what proportion of Ukrainians spoke Russian. It’s the kind of context the media should be providing but doesn’t. It likes to discuss the flotsam and jetsam of daily political events, while ignoring less visible socio-economic currents moving them. It’s not just our understanding of Ukraine that is impoverished by this tendency.


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