How many Ukrainians will return from abroad and what the population will look like in 2030

21 December 2022, 12:12 PM

The only thing that can be said for sure is that the number of Ukrainians living abroad has increased by at least 1.5 million compared to the pre-war period.

According to the State Border Service (SBS), there are currently no signs of an increase in trips abroad. As for the departure of the population of Kyiv, I have no evidence that it is happening in any sort of mass capacity. This is most likely due to the fact that, first of all, in spite of everything, the capital is not facing the sort of bombardments and destruction that is happening in, for example, in Zaporizhzhya. Secondly, small and medium-sized businesses, which traditionally make up a high pro-portion of Kyiv’s business community, have adapted to the extreme situation to a considerable extent and are providing work and income for a significant number of residents. It is much easier to find a job here than in the frontline zone, in the de-occupied territories, or, say, in the traditionally labor-abundant western regions.

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According to the State Border Service, since the beginning of the invasion, 10.7 million people have left Ukraine, and 9.5 million have entered. But one cannot say that these are the same people. First, it is quite probable that those who left have remained abroad, while those who left before the war have returned. Secondly, no one has shut down the small border traffic made up of vacations, business trips, and family meetings. Therefore, we cannot pinpoint those “fugitives”.

The only thing that can be said for sure is that the number of Ukrainians abroad has increased by 1.5 million compared to the pre-war level. But do not forget about the border with Russia – we have no idea how many people have crossed it.

The greatest number of people left Ukraine between February 24 and March 9, with 100-110 thousand people per day crossing in that period. Of those who left, 90% were city dwellers, 70% had a higher education, and the majority were residents of Kharkiv and Kyiv. These are women who have a more or less competitive profession or are able to master a new one, can easily learn a new language and, most importantly, believe in themselves.

In addition, these are young women of active reproductive and working age, which means that they are not working in Ukraine today and not giving birth to children here. It is clear that the purely quantitative effect is negative. But given the catastrophic decline of the economy due to the war, most likely these women would not have found work in Ukraine, and their presence would have increased pressure on the labor market.

As for the pluses, then, of course, the greatest positive is that people there are at least safe from shelling, hypothermia, lack of hot meals, and loss of access to offline learning. When in developed countries, Ukrainian women acquire new experiences of the behavior, interaction with officials, employers, and neighbors they find in the country they settle in. And upon their return, they will share this experience with others, even subconsciously.

Based on the results of polling by Ukrainian and European sociologists, the lion's share of “fugitives” who have fled abroad from the war, 80-90%, are ready to return to Ukraine as soon as it is safe here and if their housing is not destroyed. I don't really trust this figure, because there is patriotism, there is the fact that it is fashionable to return, and there is the discomfort of admitting to oneself and others that you want to stay.

Overall, based on the experience of wartime migration in other countries, it is believed that a third of those who left usually return. But I don’t believe in this either, and I think more will come back. This will mainly depend on the amount of time that women will be abroad, because each new month of their stay there deepens their adaptation – their knowledge of the language improves, their children go to schools and universities, and mothers take on work.

The fact that the majority are determined to return to Ukraine is also evidenced by the fact that those “fugitives” who have fled the war abroad are guided not by lifelong refugee status, but by temporary protected status (now set at 1.5-2 years), which does not restrict freedom of movement, including temporary return to Ukraine, and provides the opportunity for employment. Adding to the optimism is the fact that during the first two weeks after the start of Russia’s aggression, 200,000 men entered Ukraine, clearly realizing that they would not be able to go back abroad. Therefore, patriotism is inherent in our compatriots.

It is important to note that the depopulation of Ukraine is inevitable in any scenario, and that the war has only strengthened it as an additional factor to a natural process that we were counting on. This is not even a generational failure. We have not been giving birth to the necessary number of children since the 1960s. Each next generation shrinks a little less, but is always smaller than the previous one. And now, because of the war, there are many children who should have been born who will never see the light of day.

At the same time, in addition to people who die directly on the battlefield or at the hands of the invaders, even more additional numbers are dying from additional heart attacks and strokes, due to constant stress, malnutrition, hypothermia, and the inability to receive proper medical care on time. There is no doubt that the rolling blackouts will also hit Ukrainians’ health hard. In addition, there is in-creased mortality in territories close to the front line, from which we receive very scattered data. And there is nothing that can be said about the temporarily occupied territories; it’s a total black hole there.

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Therefore, the total population loss as a result of the war is now almost impossible to calculate. By 2030, we expect the population of Ukraine to be between 30 and 35 million, depending on when the war ends and how actively those who are now abroad return.

But even under the most optimistic scenario, one must be aware of the inevitable increase in the level of aging due to the war. And this is an increase in the burden on the working population which pays the taxes from which medicine and social services are financed.

If the war ends in the summer of 2023, as we all hope, then from 2024 on, the birth rate will gradually increase, and somewhere within two or three years we can count on 1.6. I don't believe in greater significance to this, just as I don't believe in the post-war baby boom.

I think that we will receive more or less reliable data on the total demographic damage from the war only a few months after victory. For a full-fledged census to determine the composition of the population, another two years must pass after the complete end of hostilities. That is, before the end of 2025, we cannot even dream of having any exact calculations.

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