Yushchenko's Allies Say Government Insulting Ukrainians With Plan To Scale Back Family Aid

KIEV, Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko's allies accused the government on Tuesday of insulting Ukrainians with its call to scale back a popular program aimed at promoting population growth.

Vyacheslav Kyrylenko

"It shows the disrespectful attitude of the new government toward our citizens. It is a crime against our future," said Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, a lawmaker and Yushchenko ally.

On Monday, the government announced that in a proposal to be included in the 2007 draft budget, only women from poor families would receive the payments that all women are currently entitled to after the birth of each child.

Yushchenko introduced the aid last year in an attempt to fight the plunging birthrate.

The government proposal was seen as the latest volley in the power struggle between the president and his former political antagonist turned prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych.

According to the government proposal, only women in families with an income of less than 5,000 hryvna (US$990; €780) over the previous six months would receive the 8,500 hryvna (US$1,500; €1,250) childbirth payments.

In drafting the 2007 budget, the government is trying to trim expenses as much as possible.

Explaining the government's position, Deputy Finance Minister Serhiy Rybak said Monday that the current program was too expensive and wasteful.

He said the state needed to do more to ensure that the money finds its way to only to poorer families that need the payments most.

Kyrylenko said that the aid, which was increased by 11 times last April, was given to more than half a million new mothers.

He pledged that his party would do everything possible to keep the program unchanged.

Yushchenko's office also expressed concern over the government move.

"Reconsidering key elements of social policy defined by the president is unjustified. The move looks strange at the least since this aid guaranteed a constant growth in the birth rate," said Yushchenko's humanitarian adviser, Markiyan Lubkivsky.

Lubkivsky said that 258,500 children had been born in the first six months of this year — 6 percent more than during the same period last year.

Expressing his support for the scaled back aid plan, Yanukovych ally Oleksandr Peklushenko said the current program was wrong because it resulted in state subsidies going to rich parents.

"I am the father of a 2-month-old child and I have a very high salary. This money will be given to those who really need it, not to me," he said.

Ukraine's population has dropped to 47 million from 53 million since gaining independence in 1991.

Even before then, it had declined: the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident generated widespread fears among women about having babies.

The economic chaos and deterioration of the public health system that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union also discouraged births, and many people have emigrated to seek a better life abroad.

Ukraine has a birth rate of 1.2 per woman, compared with the European average of 1.4.

Source: AP