Vasyl Goloborodko wakes up and cannot find anyone. The driver of the presidential car was gone. The head of the state travels through the empty streets of Kyiv. He calls the Ukrainians but then realizes that he will have to spend the whole series alone.
In the second season of “Servants of the People” TV show, Ukraine received liberalization of the visa regime in the Schengen zone, which prompted the entire population to rush abroad. Involuntarily, the president Vasyl Goloborodko (played by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky) can only blame himself for the fact that he could not achieve a good life for people in Ukraine.
Volodymyr Zelensky, who was actually elected president of the country in April last year, cannot help but worry about the long-existing demographic crisis: according to the last Soviet census, the population was 52 million in 1989, but fell to 48 million in 2001, when independent Ukraine carried out the first census.
From 2014 to 2019, during the period of "Russian aggression," Petro Poroshenko was the president of a country with a population of 46 million people. It is worth noting that this decline is part of a regional trend. According to UN forecasts, the ten countries in the world that are losing population the fastest are located in post-Soviet Central and Eastern Europe.
The presidential term of the person who introduced the demographic decline in the series has a new figure. “We estimate 37.289 million people in Ukraine on December 1, 2019,” said Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers Dmytro Dubilet on January 23.
The fully electronic census that had been conducted for three months yielded numbers of 20.009 million women and 17.280 million men. A tenth of the population, that is, 3.7 million people, lives in the administrative boundaries of Kyiv, which is one of the largest European cities.
The results were obtained using a new technique. The minister agreed with mobile operators on the provision of user data and compared the data of several state registers such as lists of pensioners, taxpayers, recipients of housing subsidies, etc. “This method did not entail additional costs for the state budget,” Dmytro Dubilet assured. According to him, the error is only 2.86%.
The chosen methodology is controversial. Economist Mykhailo Kukhar welcomes the initiative, which “makes Ukraine a pioneer in census methods in the 21st century” instead of a long and expensive procedure for sending home census takers.
Sociologist Iryna Bekeshina, in turn, calls this “a simple population count. This cannot be called a census, which allows you to get very important information about lifestyle, family structure, social and professional categories, native language - all this is necessary for the formation of state policy.”
She criticizes the accounting approach of Minister Dubilet, a former banker. Incidentally, he has yet to decide on a classic census by the end of 2020.
Although the methodology causes controversy, the most acute reaction is associated with the symbolism of the numbers obtained. “If you believe the government, Ukraine has lost 15 million people in 28 years without a world war, natural disaster, famine and the Communists,” MP from the presidential majority, Maksym Buzhansky, wrote on Twitter. “We are used to blaming the Soviet Union for all the troubles, but today I don’t know, who's guilty here.”
According to Minister Dubilet, the situation is explained not by one reason, but by “three blocks.” Firstly, it is the inability to conduct a census of the 2 millionth population of Crimea occupied by Russia and the separatist Donbas, where at least 3 million Ukrainians live.
Kyiv still claims to be this territory, which makes up about 7% of the country's total area, but the prospects for a full restoration of its power in these regions seem vague. The minister claims that he included in the census pensioners who live in self-proclaimed republics but regularly cross the border through five checkpoints to receive a pension on Ukrainian territory. However, such information may be only partial.
"According to our estimates, about four million Ukrainians left the country over the past decade to work and live abroad," Dmytro Dubilet outlined the "second block."
As hinted at in Servant of the People TV show, liberalization of the visa regime with the Schengen zone in 2017 de facto expanded the already large-scale phenomenon of labor migration. Tens of thousands went to the Polish labor market, where there is a serious shortage of labor.
The recent relative openness of Germany and the Czech Republic to the Ukrainians also contributed to the departure of people. In addition, Russia remains one of the most attractive countries for earning money, despite the situation of an undeclared war. Many works on fixed-term contracts and regularly return to Ukraine, which complicates the calculation.
Finally, the “third block” deals with the structural imbalance between fertility and mortality. According to the State Statistics Service, in 2018 there were 58 newborns and 100 deaths per 1000 inhabitants, which is twice as many reads. The situation is associated with an aging population, one of the highest child mortality rates in Europe (8.7 per 1000 inhabitants in 2018), low vaccination rates, and other data.
In Ukraine, in a religious and patriarchal country, campaigns are often conducted to promote large families, in which, by the way, there is a touch of homophobia. Anyway, the main obstacles to raising the birth rate remain the lack of economic prospects and practical guarantees regarding the conditions of family formation. In addition, unlike Western European countries, this demographic deficit is not offset by immigration policies.
The methodology and census results can be controversial, but government research certainly confirms that the demographic crisis is a serious and long-term one. This is a sensitive issue for Ukraine and other countries in the region, as it is an indicator of the viability of post-communist independence. “When I was 8 years old, there were 52 million of us, now I am 34, and there are 37 left,” MP Olga Smaglyuk laments.
The former journalist prophesied in one of her reports “the disappearance of the Ukrainian nation if the authorities do nothing.” Today she is MP of the presidential Servant of the People party. Nevertheless, the situation from the parliamentary seat inspires no more optimism.
“It seems that more and more people are deciding to leave,” she says, commenting on the results of the “Minister Dubilet Formula.” “To change the trend, we need a sustainable policy, but I don’t see it either in the government or in the parliament.”
In any case, this topic is very close to President Zelensky. He calls himself a “simple man” and addressed all people of goodwill in an inaugural speech: “There are 65 million of us, don’t be surprised. Those who were born by Ukrainian land. I appeal to all Ukrainians on the planet. Ukrainians in Europe and Asia, in North and South America, Australia, and Africa, we really need you.”
Subsequently, he put forward several ideas such as tax incentives for members of the diaspora who would create enterprises in Ukraine or even granting dual citizenship (a taboo subject in the context of the war with Russia), but the policy in this area did not get a concrete outline nine months after his election.
The executive branch nevertheless launched several programs to transform the country, but it’s still difficult to say whether it will manage to turn Ukraine into an attractive space where there will be a desire to start a family. Time will tell. Time and results of the new census.