Even before the war, so few children were born in Ukraine that the population did not grow. Now the situation has worsened dramatically. What will future development look like?
In the first half of 2023, around 93,500 children were born in Ukraine – 28 percent fewer than in the same period in the pre-war year of 2021. However, a downward trend in the birth rate has been observed for a decade. The migration of the female population abroad and the security risks associated with the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine have immense consequences.
The decline in the birth rate, together with excessive mortality and migration, could decimate Ukraine’s population from around 37 million currently to 26 million in ten years in the worst case, says the head of the Ukrainian Institute of Demography and Social Research, Ella Libanova.
Even before the war, the birth rate in Ukraine did not ensure a stable population development, where there must be at least 210 children per 100 women. In 2021 this value was 116 and in 2022 the number of births fell by a further 25 percent.
However, as research associate at the Institute for Demography and Social Research, Svitlana Aksjonova, said in an interview with Deutsche Welle, this is due to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and not to the war. In 2021 alone, there were 86,000 deaths among confirmed coronavirus cases in Ukraine.
“At that time, many families decided to postpone their offspring until a safer epidemiological situation emerged,” said the expert.
What about children born abroad?
In connection with the sharp decline in the birth rate, Aksyonova points out that the children of Ukrainian refugees born abroad are not taken into account in the statistics for 2022. “According to the information we have, they are not included in these statistics, as are some of the births in the territories occupied by Russia,” she explains.
Deutsche Welle wanted to know from the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice how many Ukrainian children were born abroad last year after the start of the all-out war, but so far there has been no answer.
In 2023, according to Aksyonova, the impact of the war on the birth rate in Ukraine has become much more evident. In the first half of the year, demographers recorded a decline of nine percent compared to the same period last year. This was to be expected given the war and the constant dangers associated with it.
According to the expert, it is difficult to predict how the birth rate in Ukraine will develop after the war. According to her, demographers have now developed around fifty different scenarios for the further development of the situation, depending on the course of the war and the migration behavior of the population.
According to Aksjonova, a significant increase in births is not expected after the end of the war. “We will have a compensatory increase thanks to the new generation that has now been postponed, but this will be small,” predicts the expert.
She cites the consequences of the war as the reason, such as the destruction of infrastructure and living space as well as problems on the labor market. In addition, an increase in childlessness due to war trauma must be expected. “People increasingly believe that it is wrong to give birth to a child in this cruel world and expose it to such dangers,” explains the demographer.
Over six million Ukrainians fled
At the same time, migration plays a crucial role in predicting future developments in the birth rate. Since the beginning of Russia’s widespread aggression, more than 6.2 million people have left Ukraine, most of them working-age women and children.
“The longer the war lasts, the greater the proportion of those who prefer to stay abroad. One of the scenarios assumes that in certain age groups there will be more men than women in the future because a significant proportion of Ukrainian women will no longer return to Ukraine,” says Aksyonova.
There are also other factors with regard to the future birth rate. “According to sociological surveys, before the war most people wanted more than one child,” says the expert. Whether parents can realize this also depends on the security and economic situation, living conditions, belief in the future and trust in the government.
Can Ukraine persuade people to return?
Dmytro Boyarchuk from the Center for Socio-Economic Research CASE Ukraine believes that the government should respond to the population decline today and implement appropriate economic reforms. The decline in the working-age population will cause problems, especially for the pension system.
“Ukrainian refugees have found that their work (abroad) may be paid much better than in Ukraine. If everything develops quickly in Ukraine, then there is a chance of persuading Ukrainians from abroad to return,” explains Boyarchuk. “But if we don’t offer interesting, competitive work, we won’t be able to keep people in the country.”