Ukraine: Worries About Nation's Future

KIEV, Ukraine -- In 1995 there were 52 million Ukrainians. A decade later there are less than 47 million Ukrainians left as this former Soviet republic has hemorrhaged the equivalent of the population of Denmark to emigration, alcoholism and low birth rates.

Alcoholism in Ukraine runs as high as 50% among the adult male population

“The figure itself is not catastrophic, but the tendencies are alarming”, said Ella Libanova, deputy director of Ukraine’s Institute of Demography and Social Research.

According to official statistics, the Ukrainian population has dropped by 678,039 people in the last two years. At 6o, male life expectancy is higher than in Russia but still well below that in neighboring countries that joined the European Union in 2004 such as Hungary and Poland.

“Thirty percent of 40-year-old men will die before they are 60 and there is no hope that the situation will change soon”, said Libanova.

Mass migration adds to the demographic crisis: according to some estimates between three and five million Ukrainians work abroad illegally -- those in the east of the country head for Russia, those in the west go to the European Union.

Emigrants like Olga Dufin, a 63-year-old nurse from Kiev who has been caring for patients in Italy for four years, have no intention of returning.

The 700 euros (870 dollars) that she makes each month in the northern Italian town of Forli make it possible for her to help her two sons, one of whom is unemployed, and to pay university fees for her daughter-in-law.

“Here in Forli, I meet Ukrainians aged between 20 and 40 everywhere”, she said by telephone. “The engineers work in construction, the doctors wash dishes. Some make 1,500 euros” -- almost 10 times the average wage in Ukraine.

“The most active and dynamic leave” -- especially those from the many small towns that in Soviet times built up around single mines or factories, according to sociologist Irina Bekeshkina.

“Ageing European countries, which need labor, will continue to soften their employment legislation and this flow will only increase”, said Libanova.

For Irina Pribitkova of Ukraine’s Institute of Sociology, the crux of the problem is a falling birthrate and a mortality rate that continues to rise despite calls from the government’s critics to reform the inefficient health system.

Between January and August this year, Ukraine saw 70 percent more deaths than births, with 511,338 deaths and 301,208 births.

Over 10 years the birth rate has fallen from 1.6 to 1.2 children per woman, while the natural replacement level would be 2.2, Libanova said.

“As in Europe, Ukrainians do not want to be baby machines and children have ceased to be economically necessary”, she commented.

“Women have emancipated themselves over the last 10 years, but discrimination means that they must work twice as much as their male colleagues to build a career. They can’t allow themselves to have children”, Pribitkova averred.

Source: Monday Morning