The mid­dleweight: nei­ther 52 mil­lion – nor 26

What a cen­sus can tell us that no other sur­vey can

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Olek­sandr Kra­mar

What a cen­sus can tell us that no other sur­vey can

Lately, dis­cus­sions about a “cat­a­strophic” de­cline in the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion have be­come more com­mon in Ukraine it­self, lead­ing to calls for a new cen­sus to be un­der­taken as soon as pos­si­ble. The last one was 17 years ago, while com­mon world prac­tice is to carry one out ev­ery 10 years. Mean­while, politi­cians and ex­perts keep sug­gest­ing that the process is be­ing de­layed be­cause of­fi­cial data about Ukraine’s pop­u­la­tion is likely very dif­fer­ent from the re­al­ity — and that there is barely more than half the fa­mous “We’re 52 mil­lion strong” ac­tu­ally liv­ing in the coun­try to­day.

As it of­ten hap­pens, top­ics that are the sub­ject of great spec­u­la­tion quickly lose touch with re­al­ity and take on a life of their own, of­fer­ing, as they do, a use­fully vivid tool that can be ap­plied very ef­fec­tively for the pur­poses of pro­pa­ganda and pop­ulism. Among politi­cians who are de­ter­mined to prove, one way or an­other, that in­de­pen­dent Ukraine is no more than a failed state, one par­tic­u­larly strik­ing line has been about “los­ing al­most half the pop­u­la­tion with­out a Holodomor.” And, of course, their so­lu­tion is to change the di­rec­tion the coun­try is go­ing in and re­turn, like the Prodi­gal Son, to the arms of a for­giv­ing em­pire.


Ukraine re­ally does need a proper cen­sus and de­lays in do­ing so have gone be­yond the mea­sure of rea­son­able. A cen­sus be­gan to be planned back in 2012, when a decade had al­ready passed since the pre­vi­ous one, run in De­cem­ber 2001. It was post­poned sev­eral times un­der Pres­i­dent Yanukovych. With the Rus­sian in­va­sion of Crimea, the op­por­tu­nity to hold one across all of Ukraine’s ter­ri­tory dis­ap­peared. Since then, how­ever, it has con­tin­ued to be put off. Clearly, post­pon­ing a cen­sus un­til Ukraine has re­cov­ered all of cur­rently oc­cu­pied ORDiLO and Crimea — which could hap­pen in a mat­ter of months or in a decade and is not re­ally in Ukraine’s hands — is also not an op­tion.

On the other hand, the press seems to be ex­ag­ger­at­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of a cen­sus us­ing ar­gu­ments that have lit­tle ba­sis. A cen­sus won’t nec­es­sar­ily of­fer a rad­i­cal ad­just­ment of the num­bers com­pared with cur­rent statis­tics, partly be­cause a cen­sus is trust-based. Cen­suses are a kind of na­tional sur­vey that cov­ers many more ques­tions than opin­ion polls and whose se­lec­tion at­tempts to reach 100% of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion. On the other hand, the in­for­ma­tion that a cen­sus pro­duces typ­i­cally does not un­dergo doc­u­men­tary con­fir­ma­tion. And whether a given house­hold de­cides to say that there are 1, 2 or 3 mem­bers in the fam­ily or 5-6 mem­bers, that’s the num­ber that will be recorded — even if, in fact, sev­eral mem­bers ac­tu­ally moved abroad long ago and have no in­ten­tion of re­turn­ing to their home­land, or, on the con­trary, if here are a num­ber of il­le­gal mi­grants liv­ing in the house­hold.

Given this case, cur­rent sta­tis­ti­cal data, which is based on in­for­ma­tion from res­i­den­tial reg­is­tra­tion data­bases, reg­istries of civil sta­tus — births, mar­riages and deaths — and im­mi­gra­tion ser­vices that record who has left or en­tered the coun­try, all of which are based on at least some doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence, are clearly far more likely to re­flect the real sit­u­a­tion.

For this rea­son, a cen­sus will not be a means of con­firm­ing or chal­leng­ing the real num­ber of vot­ers in one pop­u­la­tion cen­ter or an­other. Still, it will have enor­mous sig­nif­i­cance for un­der­stand­ing, not how many peo­ple, but what kind of peo­ple ac­tu­ally live in Ukraine. The most valu­able ques­tions in the cen­sus sur­vey will be those re­lated to such as­pects as self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, eth­nic­ity, lan­guage, and so­cial sta­tus. This is in­for­ma­tion that there is lit­tle pur­pose to dis­tort­ing, but it is not gen­er­ally re­flected in any of the other reg­u­larly up­dated gov­ern­ment data­bases. Some of it comes to light dur­ing opin­ion polls that are run by var­i­ous so­ci­o­log­i­cal com­pa­nies, ex­cept that such sur­veys rarely reach even 5-10,000 re­spon­dents, never mind 20-30,000. A cen­sus, what­ever else might be said about it, will reach tens of mil­lions.


As of early July 2018, Derzh­stat, the of­fi­cial statis­tics agency, re­ported 38.2 mil­lion per­ma­nent res­i­dents on Ukraine’s non-oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory, which is 6.9mn less than there was at the be­gin­ning of 2014, dur­ing the Euro­maidan, and 9.9mn less than in the 2001 na­tional cen­sus. Com­pared to the peak pop­u­la­tion fig­ure reg­is­tered in 1993, Ukraine has lost over 13.5mn res­i­dents. How­ever, this kind of drop




does not sug­gest some kind of catas­tro­phe or geno­cide. For in­stance, of the 6.9mn Ukraini­ans “lost” since 2014, 6.1mn live on ter­ri­tory that is cur­rently un­der Rus­sian oc­cu­pa­tion: over 2.3mn then lived in Crimea and an­other 3.8mn in ORDiLO. It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that those num­bers have shrunk con­sid­er­ably since 2014, be­cause some res­i­dents fled to the rest of Ukraine, while oth­ers de­cided to take their chances in Rus­sia and other coun­tries. Still, 6.1mn lost as a re­sult of Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sion is over 60% of the dif­fer­ence since the last cen­sus, and nearly 40% of the dif­fer­ence since the 1993 peak.

The re­main­ing de­mo­graphic losses are sim­ply the con­se­quence of a com­bi­na­tion of var­i­ous trends that are also com­mon to other Euro­pean coun­tries. Hav­ing co­in­cided, how­ever, they have led to a sub­stan­tially greater loss of pop­u­la­tion in the last quar­ter-cen­tury. First of all is what’s known as a de­mo­graphic tran­si­tion re­lated to a steep de­cline in birthrates in eco­nom­i­cally ad­vanced in­dus­trial or post-in­dus­trial so­ci­eties with a high level of ur­ban­iza­tion and the eman­ci­pa­tion of women. This process was un­re­lated to Ukraine’s dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence or to its two rev­o­lu­tions, in 2004 and 2013-2014. By 1958-59, the birthrate in the Ukrainian SSR was 2.3 live births per woman, which was the third low­est in the Soviet Union, af­ter Latvia with 1.94 and Es­to­nia with 1.95. In the 1970s, the birthrate de­clined fur­ther, to 2.05, and by the 1990s, it was down to 1.84. In short, Ukraine’s birthrate fell from 2.05 in 1960 to 1.27 by the late 1990’s.

This has been ac­com­pa­nied all along by a steep rise in the mor­tal­ity rate. Many Ukraini­ans who were born at a tine when it was typ­i­cal for a Ukrainian fam­ily to have four, five and even six chil­dren have died over the last two decades. Mean­while, women who were born to fam­i­lies with only one or two chil­dren have them­selves been giv­ing birth to one, or at most two, chil­dren. This means that, sooner or later, the nat­u­ral mor­tal­ity rate should also go down as the older gen­er­a­tion is re­placed and the birthrate sta­bi­lizes. This will be at a low level, but it will be the same from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion: there will also be fewer el­derly peo­ple, as many of them will have been only chil­dren.

In re­cent decades, Ukraine has def­i­nitely suf­fered a ma­jor wave of emi­gra­tion for so­cial rea­sons, los­ing peo­ple both on a tem­po­rary ba­sis as they look for work abroad, and on a per­ma­nent ba­sis as they de­cide they can make a bet­ter life for them­selves else­where. More­over, this wave tends to in­volve young peo­ple who would nor­mally be hav­ing chil­dren — which they ei­ther do in an­other coun­try or post­pone al­to­gether. The older gen­er­a­tion of par­ents and grand­par­ents typ­i­cally re­mains in Ukraine and even­tu­ally dies there. This is how the grey­ing of the pop­u­la­tion takes place (see charts), as the birthrate de­clines and mor­tal­ity rises.


Still, the process of mass emi­gra­tion is also not unique to Ukraine. Most of Europe’s most suc­cess­ful coun­tries have gone through this process — and some con­tinue to feel it to this day. Far many more Ir­ish, Scots, Swedes, Nor­we­gians, Danes and even Ger­mans, English, French, Span­ish or Por­tuguese live out­side their coun­tries of ori­gin to­day. The only dif­fer­ence is that they em­i­grated prior to the de­mo­graphic tran­si­tion in their home­lands, which made the im­pact of emi­gra­tion on to­tal pop­u­la­tion num­bers in their coun­tries far less sig­nif­i­cant.

The wide­spread opin­ion that the num­ber of em­i­grants from Ukraine has greatly ex­ceeded of­fi­cial in­di­ca­tors in the last few decade seems quite ex­ag­ger­ated, es­pe­cially with some bandy­ing about num­bers that are al­most in the tens of mil­lions. That’s sup­pos­edly why the cur­rent fig­ures don’t re­flect the real de­mo­graphic de­cline. Mainly such com­ments re­fer to the il­le­gal la­bor mi­grants who trav­elled to other coun­tries in the 1990s and early 2000s, and have ei­ther re­turned home from their long-term work or have some­how man­aged to le­gal­ize their sta­tus in var­i­ous coun­tries and for­mally cut ties with their home­land. These in­di­vid­u­als are mostly re­flected in of­fi­cial emi­gra­tion statis­tics.

The sub­stan­tial out­flow of mi­grants from the coun­try for all the 26+ years of in­de­pen­dence has largely been coun­ter­bal­anced by a strong in­flow of mi­grants from else­where. Of­fi­cial statis­tics from 1991-2008 show that nearly 2.6mn Ukraini­ans left the coun­try per­ma­nently, but nearly 2.4mn im­mi­grants en­tered the coun­try dur­ing this same pe­riod. These cross-flows from post-soviet coun­tries have largely been pos­i­tive and the nearly 2.0mn Ukraini­ans who left Ukraine for other parts of the FSU were re­placed by more than 2.2mn who moved to the coun­try from else­where in the FSU. Even if some share of these were cit­i­zens who had moved away dur­ing soviet times and were not in the coun­try when it be­came in­de­pen­dent, when they re­turned they partly re­placed the out­flow of the 1990s, which re­ally did reach the mil­lions. Over 2010-2016, an­other nearly 120,000 Ukraini­ans of­fi­cially left the coun­try to live abroad per­ma­nently, mostly to the West. But these same of­fi­cial statis­tics show that 280,000 im­mi­grants ar­rived in Ukraine dur­ing this pe­riod. These out­dated no­tions about a huge hid­den pop­u­la­tion de­cline due to emi­gra­tion seem to ig­nore the of­fi­cial fig­ure of at least 2.7 mil­lion im­mi­grants since in­de­pen­dence. Pub­lic aware­ness has been im­printed with myths by a press that pri­mar­ily fo­cuses on the “exit of mil­lions” abroad.

Fi­nally, there are the sea­sonal and swing mi­grant work­ers whose num­bers have risen steeply in re­cent years but who re­main, de facto and de jure res­i­dents of Ukraine. Why not let them earn money in EU neigh­bors or else­where if they have fam­i­lies, re­turn to Ukraine for ex­tended pe­ri­ods, re­main its res­i­dents, and send most of their earn­ings home? A cen­sus will not change any­thing here.

Look­ing at all the fac­tors pre­sented here, of­fi­cially cur­rent reg­is­ters un­der var­i­ous gov­ern­ment

6.1mn of Ukraini­ans live on ter­ri­tory that is cur­rently un­der Rus­sian oc­cu­pa­tion: over 2.3mn then lived in Crimea and an­other 3.8mn in ORDiLO

agen­cies come up with 38.3mn per­ma­nent res­i­dents on Ukrainian ter­ri­tory that is not un­der Rus­sian oc­cu­pa­tion, a num­ber that ap­pears to be very re­al­is­tic. It may not in­clude IDPs from the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, who do not add up to 1.5mn as the State Emer­gency Ser­vices and other so­cial ser­vice agen­cies re­port. A large share of those tem­po­rary IDPs reg­is­tered in Ukraine is a fic­tion en­gaged in for the pur­poses of get­ting a pen­sion or other so­cial ben­e­fits — and some­times even ob­vi­ous ‘dead souls’ that are part of a cor­rupt scheme. Es­tab­lish­ing their true num­ber is a task for a later date, es­pe­cially since a large pro­por­tion of them that re­ally is liv­ing in non-oc­cu­pied Ukraine is grad­u­ally reg­is­ter­ing just like other lo­cal res­i­dents and be­com­ing part of the gen­eral statis­tics on Ukraine’s cur­rent pop­u­la­tion.


Rus­sia’s oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea and ORDiLO in com­bi­na­tion with de­mo­graphic pro­cesses that vary from re­gion to re­gion (see charts) has eased and ac­cel­er­ated Ukraine’s trans­for­ma­tion into a nor­mal Euro­pean na­tion-state. If the coun­try con­tin­ues to ex­ist in the ter­ri­tory that it cur­rently con­trols for the fore­see­able fu­ture, this will have a slew of ben­e­fits for in­ter­nal con­sol­i­da­tion and de­vel­op­ment, de­spite its real and present na­tional trau­mas.

Prior to in­de­pen­dence, the 1989 cen­sus shows that the share of eth­nic Ukraini­ans in Ukraine was 72.7%, and 64.7% of the pop­u­la­tion con­sid­ered Ukrainian its mother tongue. An­other 22.1% were eth­nic Rus­sians, while 32.8% con­sid­ered Rus­sian their na­tive lan­guage. But the ac­cel­er­ated de­cline in pop­u­la­tion in the least ukraini­an­ized re­gions due to nat­u­ral and mi­gra­tional fac­tors, and Rus­sia’s oc­cu­pa­tion of the most rus­si­fied re­gions have led to the share of eth­nic Rus­sians now be­ing be­low 12.0%. The share of those who con­sider Rus­sian their na­tive tongue has dropped to 21.0%. This is even true if the re­sults of the 2001 cen­sus are ex­trap­o­lated to the cur­rent to­tal pop­u­la­tion: the share of eth­nic Ukraini­ans has risen to at least 83.8%, while the share of those who con­sider Ukrainian their mother tongue is at 76.3%. There is no re­gion in non-oc­cu­pied Ukraine to­day where the share of peo­ple who iden­tify as eth­nic Rus­sians even reaches 30%, and in the ma­jor­ity of re­gions it is be­low 10%. Only six re­gions even reg­is­ter above 15% for this in­di­ca­tor.

Fig­ures from re­cent opin­ion polls pro­vide even stronger con­fir­ma­tion for this ex­trap­o­la­tion: 88% of re­spon­dents claim Ukrainian eth­nic­ity, while no more than 6% claim Rus­sian eth­nic­ity. In part, this is clearly due to in­ter­nal mi­gra­tional flows from re­gions with a higher con­cen­tra­tion of Ukraini­ans to those where there used to be fewer, as well as shifts in self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion among cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als who have roots in both eth­nic groups. Since polls gen­er­ally have a sig­nif­i­cant mar­gin of er­ror, it is hard to over­es­ti­mate the role of a cen­sus in this re­spect. A cen­sus would place Ukraine in line with other coun­tries of Europe like Lithua­nia with 84.2% tit­u­lar eth­nics, Bul­garia with 85.5%, Czechia with 86.0%, Ser­bia with 86.6% when ex­clud­ing Kosovo, Croa­tia 89.6%, and Ro­ma­nia with 90.0%. It would also elim­i­nate any ba­sis at all for claim­ing that Ukraine is pre­dom­i­nantly multi-eth­nic.

Grow­ing pos­i­tive de­mo­graphic trends in the more Ukrainian re­gions en­sures that the pre­pon­der­ance of Ukraini­ans in de­ter­min­ing their coun­try’s pol­icy will con­tinue to grow. The loss of con­trol over Rus­sian-oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries in Don­bas and Crimea has also meant the loss of the elec­toral base that the anti-Ukrainian camp needs in or­der to or­ches­trate a come­back. It has forced anti-Ukrainian forces to shift their pro­pa­ganda from lob­by­ing for a re­turn to em­pire to pro­mot­ing multi-vec­tor and non-bloc sta­tus, which they hope will at least slow down or even suc­ceed in block­ing Kyiv’s move away from Moscow. The threat of a come­back by pro-Rus­sian forces is still very much there, but it has been sub­stan­tially un­der­mined.


Mean­while, these same de­mo­graphic pro­cesses have sig­nif­i­cantly al­tered Ukraine’s po­si­tion among Euro­pean coun­tries over the last nearly three decades. The gap be­tween its pop­u­la­tion and its ter­ri­to­rial size has se­ri­ously in­creased, mak­ing it hard to fairly com­pare the coun­try to oth­ers who were closer to it at in­de­pen­dence: in 1990, Ukraine’s 51.6mn was within the same range as Turkey’s 56.5mn, Italy’s 56.7mn, Great Bri­tain’s 57.3mn, and France’s 58.0mn. To­day, Turkey has bur­geoned to over 81.0mn, Italy is at 60.5mn, Great Bri­tain is over 66.0mn, and France is at 67.2mn — while Ukraine’s pop­u­la­tion has de­clined to 38-44mn, de­pend­ing on whether the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries are in­cluded or not, and is still shrink­ing. More­over, pro­jec­tions are for all these coun­tries, ex­cept per­haps for Italy, to grow to 7590mn over the next few decades.

At this point, non-oc­cu­pied Ukraine’s pop­u­la­tion does not even match Spain’s, with 41.8mn of­fi­cial cit­i­zens and 46.7mn if im­mi­grants are in­cluded, or Poland, which recorded 38.4mn at the be­gin­ning of 2018, al­though even in 1991 and af­ter the 2001 cen­sus Ukraine was well ahead of Poland (38.9mn та 41mn, re­spec­tively) and of Spain (38.2mn та 38.6mn). Of course, if the pop­u­la­tion in the two oc­cu­pied re­gions is added, Ukraine re­mains ahead of both to­day as well, with 44.3mn. In any case, Ukraine is solidly in the trio of “mid-range” Euro­pean coun­tries — ex­cept that its de­mo­graphic trends are in the op­po­site di­rec­tion: their pop­u­la­tion is sta­ble or grow­ing slightly, whereas Ukraine’s is in de­cline. Still, this is the weight class that Ukraine is likely to stay for the next few decades, as the next in line, Ro­ma­nia with 19.5mn and the Nether­lands with 17.3mn, are clearly very far be­hind.

The out­dated no­tions about a huge hid­den pop­u­la­tion de­cline due to emi­gra­tion seem to ig­nore the of­fi­cial fig­ure of at least 2.7 mil­lion im­mi­grants since in­de­pen­dence. Pub­lic aware­ness has been im­printed with myths by a press that pri­mar­ily fo­cuses on the “exit of mil­lions” abroad

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