Ella Libanova — Academician of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Doctor of Economics, Professor, Honored Economist of Ukraine / forumkyiv.org
Demography — is the heartbeat of society, but health does not come without effort.
The demographic picture of the world has already changed a lot. The birth rate is declining everywhere, even in Africa. We also see a population decline in China, but the problem is that this process is happening the fastest in Europe.
According to UN forecasts, the most balanced workforce will very soon be in South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. As a result, the strict immigration policies of wealthy European countries have begun to require a major overhaul. The war in Ukraine has accelerated this process.
«Demographics is a raw material», says Philip O’Keefe, lead author of the report for the World Bank, «and the interaction of raw materials and the right policies pays dividends.
What Ukrainian society will look like largely depends on understanding the demographic processes taking place in Ukraine and beyond, political decisions, and changes in citizen behavior. We discussed this with Ella Libanova, a demographer, academician of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Honored Economist of Ukraine, and Head of the Ptoukha Institute for Demography and Social Studies.
We publish the theses of the conversation.
#1 EUROPEAN GOVERNMENTS AND BUSINESSES ARE INTERESTED IN OUR REFUGEES STAYING THERE
Today, 8.5-9 million of our citizens are outside Ukraine, of whom 2.5-3 million are labor migrants who left before February 24. Of the 6 million «fleeing the war», 4.1 million are in the European Union.
Recent polls show that almost 87% feel comfortable in the European Union, finding a sense of security there.
These polls are confirmed by the analysis of the rhetoric of European countries that have given refuge to our compatriots. They state: «We want to guarantee (read «give») Ukrainians a sense of certainty». And this is a signal for our compatriots to assimilate into the EU.
Of course, a lot depends on the duration of the war — every day, those who left become more and more integrated into the life of the country where they are, and every day of bombing brings new destruction to Ukraine.
#2 UKRAINIAN «WAR REFUGEES» COMPENSATE FOR LABOR SHORTAGES IN AGING DEVELOPED COUNTRIES
Undoubtedly, the main motive for such incredible support for Ukrainians in most countries of the world was empathy from the very beginning. It was hard to remain indifferent to the fate of civilians suffering from bombing, lack of electricity and water, experiencing violence and brutal executions, and being unable to get out of basements for weeks in the center of Europe in the twenty-first century.
Among those leaving Ukraine, women (42.4%) and children (24.2%) dominated, with few old people (5.8%). Unlike refugees from Asian and African countries, where young men were almost the majority, male IDPs from Ukraine aged 18 to 64 accounted for 17.7%.
It turned out that Ukrainians practically do not apply for refugee status, preferring temporary protection status, that they seek to find work as soon as possible, and finally, that 70% of women have higher education, often quite competitive in local labor markets.
School and university professors noted the high level of preparation of Ukrainian schoolchildren and students, who demonstrated both knowledge and the ability to learn despite obvious language problems.
This is, of course, primarily due to the dominance of urban residents from Ukraine, mainly from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and Dnipro, whose population is more educated and mobile than the rest of the country.
For most European countries, where natural population decline is compensated solely by immigration and the workforce is rapidly aging, the influx of so many young and active people means solving some of the most pressing problems not only of today but also of the near future.
By the end of 2022, a significant number of Ukrainians in Poland were able to find jobs and rent housing on their own, and although they received some assistance from the state, according to Polish analysts, they more than compensated for these funds with their taxes.
Given this, we can confidently say that most developed countries are interested in the integration of Ukrainians.
#3 UKRAINE CAN NOT COMPETE WITH THE EU COUNTRIES IN SOCIAL GUARANTEES FOR ITS RESIDENTS
Most of our compatriots who fled the war apply for temporary protection status.
The European Commission has decided to extend the temporary protection mechanism for Ukrainians until March 2025, which practically equates Ukrainians with host country citizens. Employment opportunities and/or generous benefits cause them to move to Germany, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic.
During 2023, the number of Ukrainians with temporary protection status decreased significantly, for example, in Poland, where most of our migrants were initially concentrated. Moving to more prosperous and, at the same time, more distant countries, as international and our own experience shows, significantly complicates the prospects for migrants’ return.
By providing migrants with a package of social guarantees, the state ties them to its society, and by a competent ratio of social benefits and salaries, it stimulates labor activity, which is extremely important for Europe, which is rapidly aging.
We obviously cannot compete with the EU countries regarding the generosity of social guarantees, mainly due to limited financial resources. Therefore, we should not count on economic instruments to motivate people to return to Ukraine.
#4 ECONOMIC MOTIVATION FOR THE RETURN OF UKRAINIANS WILL PROVOKE A SOCIAL EXPLOSION
The issue of returning Ukrainians to their homeland is quite acute, and the state is looking for various ways to solve it. One option is economic motivation, housing benefits, etc. This is absolutely unacceptable: it is economically unjustified and socially unfair.
One of Ukraine’s most significant achievements during the war was the incredible unity of our society. The famous phrase «Where there are two Ukrainians, there are three hetmans» is no longer relevant — the fight against the enemy has united Ukrainians who stood up to defend freedom, and preserving this unity is extremely important not only for the Victory but also for building a new, fairer and better country.
Of course, unity is not the same as homogeneity, and four groups can be distinguished quite clearly in today’s Ukrainian society:
- Those who defend the country with weapons in their hands.
- Those who stayed where they lived before the war despite the bombing, blackouts, etc.
- Those who evacuated within Ukraine.
- Those who evacuated abroad.
The duration of the evacuation may also matter in the future.
Today, society will accept almost any benefits for our defenders, but any attempt to provide any preferences to the latter group is fraught with social discontent. This will simply not be accepted. And the unity of society is much more important than the return of even hundreds of thousands of migrants.
#5 IT IS IMPORTANT TO COMMUNICATE WITH THOSE WHO LEFT. «UKRAINE IS WAITING FOR YOU»
Lacking economic tools, we can use moral ones: we need to constantly communicate with those who have not yet returned so that they feel that they are welcome here. When Greece became a donor of labor for the whole of Europe during the crisis, they put up boards at airports saying, «Come back! Greece is waiting for you».
The fact that moral tools can work is evidenced by the return of 200,000 Ukrainian men across the western borders and the border with Moldova in the first two weeks after the start of the full-scale war. They returned after the introduction of martial law, realizing that they would not be able to go back. But their sense of «Ukrainianness», their desire to defend their homeland and help their loved ones, proved to be stronger than their doubts and fears.
Ukrainian employers, who had already faced labor shortages before the war, need to keep in touch with their former employees. Yes, many people are already working abroad, but out of necessity — mainly in the wrong jobs, in the wrong social status, etc. Contacts of classmates, groupmates, and neighbors can help.
There are many examples of families deciding to return now under the influence of children who did not like foreign schools. By the way, honor and praise the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, which decided that schoolchildren/students do not need to «complete» subjects they may not have studied abroad upon their return. Everyone will be able to continue their studies in Ukraine without losing a year.
But in general, today, there are no prerequisites for a mass return of Ukrainians home. You have to be an irresponsible person to tell mothers: «Come back with your children now». Where are the guarantees that they will not be killed? Where are the social guarantees for life?
Now, we need to think about the return of as many Ukrainians as possible after the Victory and about avoiding the postwar wave of emigration, in particular, related to men leaving for their families. And to look for opportunities to do so — to create effective jobs with decent pay, to restore housing and social infrastructure in general, to overcome unacceptable property stratification, to ensure equality before the law, and to ensure reliable protection of rights, including property rights.
In general, it is necessary to recognize the inevitability of large-scale migration exchange, which is both the result and the driving force of globalization, the exchange of knowledge, technology, culture, etc.
Therefore, in cases where Ukraine is a donor of labor, it should strive to prevent temporary migration from turning into permanent migration so that Ukrainians return after a certain period with new knowledge, new experiences, and money earned abroad.
And in cases where Ukraine will be a recipient of labor, we should strive, first, to ensure that immigration is exclusively legal and, second, to ensure the inflow of labor necessary for our economy.
#6 OPENING UP THE POSSIBILITY OF IMMIGRATION TO OUR COUNTRY IS A HUGE STEP FOR THE FUTURE OF UKRAINE
At any scale of return of Ukrainian migrants, natural population decline and further aging are inevitable. We were experiencing depopulation before the war, and we will have to live in such conditions after it ends.
But after the Victory, we will face the need to restore the lost economic potential, fundamentally rebuild many industries, and restore the destroyed infrastructure. All this will lead to a significant increase in demand for labor. Of course, we can emphasize modern, high-tech, labor-intensive industries. However, this requires huge investments and years.
Will migrants come to Ukraine? It is likely that they will. If, of course, they are satisfied with the jobs. But people usually go to work from poorer countries to richer ones, and highly skilled workers in demand in their home country are not too inclined to emigrate.
Given that Ukraine will remain a poor country for a long time to come (new problems will be added to the pre-war issues caused by the destruction of the war period), we should not expect a massive inflow of, for example, Germans or Poles. However, it is always possible to find niches for immigrants in the labor market, usually unattractive to the local population.
Undoubtedly, an active immigration policy will require changes in the legal framework, changes in the behavior of officials, and changes in public consciousness.
#7 A STRATEGICALLY IMPORTANT TASK IS TO ABSORB FUTURE IMMIGRANTS AND INSTILL UKRAINIAN VALUES IN THEM
As you know, emigration is a business problem, and immigration is a government problem. Ukrainians are definitely not xenophobes, but we are not particularly tolerant either. In principle, tolerance applies not only to foreigners but to all those who are different in some way. The difference may be in nationality, skin color, religion, denomination, language, or lifestyle. For the sake of Ukraine’s future, tolerance must become one of its core values.
Ukraine has signed a social charter, which means that we are committed to ensuring that immigrants develop in our social and cultural environment. On the other hand, we have to absorb immigrants and instill Ukrainian values in them. This is one of the key conditions for the preservation and development of Ukrainian society. Therefore, we need to work with immigrants and Ukrainians.
If we do not learn the lesson of tolerance, the immigration flow, which is so vital for the economy, may cause social tensions rather than economic growth.
#8 POST-WAR RESETTLEMENT SYSTEM IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF UKRAINE SHOULD BE DIFFERENT
When we discuss the post-war system, the emphasis should be on the fact that the formation of a settlement system should somehow consider the geographical, geopolitical, demographic, economic, and environmental characteristics of different parts of the country.
We can distinguish five clusters.
• The first is the regions bordering Russia. The northern regions of Kharkiv, Sumy, and Chernihiv will be in a more dangerous situation even after the war. It is hardly advisable to leave strategic industries there, such as the Kharkiv Tank Factory.
However, there are many other industrial facilities that require highly skilled labor, which has traditionally defined the face of Kharkiv. We need to think about how to stimulate business development, what kind of business, and how to motivate the population.
There are few options, but we can study the experience of developing border areas in other countries that have had long-running military conflicts (Israel, India, Pakistan) and the experience of developing the northern territories of Canada.
• The second cluster — the western. It would seem that the logistics are excellent, and the European Union is close, where we will all be tomorrow. However, experts say that the ecological capacity of the western region is almost exhausted. There are reserves in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv regions. In Volyn, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia, it is no longer possible to locate new enterprises and form new business structures. It is possible to upgrade existing ones, but this is not so easy either.
• The third cluster is the south of Ukraine. It is not yet known what will happen to Odesa and other ports and in what condition we will receive them after the war. However, we already realize that something will change. Obviously, the agricultural complex of the Kherson region will be different.
Given the existing traditions, new opportunities, and demands, the industry of Mykolaiv and southern Zaporizhzhia regions will develop fundamentally differently. Finally, the enormous resort potential of the southern territories, especially Crimea and other coastal areas, needs to be utilized.
• The fourth cluster — the center of Ukraine. It is here that strategic production from the northeast should naturally be transferred, given its agricultural capabilities and needs. In general, the economic potential of the central regions, even Dnipropetrovsk, was used to a very small extent before the war. Undoubtedly, this should be corrected. And the constructed roads that will provide the necessary logistical connections can play a trump card.
• The fifth and significant cluster — metropolises which will continue to play a very important role. We are talking about Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Dnipro, Lviv, and Donetsk («God willing»). In Ukraine, as in any poor country, there has always been a gravitation towards metropolises: more developed labor and housing markets, including rental housing, more opportunities for education, employment, and the realization of one’s capabilities and desires.
Of course, the importance of metropolitan areas will remain in the postwar years, but it is important to prevent the Latin American scenario, in which up to a quarter of the population is concentrated in the capital. An alternative would be to develop agglomerations and create, for example, a metropolitan district.
It is already clear that it will take years for Ukraine to eliminate the consequences of the war and restore its economy, but it is necessary to develop strategic documents and prepare the legal framework now so as not to lose the golden time of maximum international support.
#9 SYSTEMATIC WORK OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGISTS SHOULD BE SUPPORTED BY THE GOVERNMENT
Today, there is a lot of talk about the need for psychological rehabilitation of war veterans. They refer primarily to the experience of the United States. Of course, it is difficult to argue with the excessive physical and psychological stress at the front, with the need to maximize assistance to veterans in their adaptation to peaceful life.
It is perfect that appropriate programs are being developed and funds are being sought, albeit in insufficient amounts. There is an understanding of the need for long-term support for veterans in their employment, regular monitoring of their physical and psychological condition, and the use of their leadership skills and experience in quick decision-making in the formation of various government bodies. But we cannot limit ourselves to this category.
How can civilians who lived through Bucha, Mariupol, Bakhmut, and Kupyansk forget all the horrors? How can those who have lost a child adapt to a peaceful life? Yes, we are rebuilding destroyed houses, schools, and hospitals wherever we can quite quickly. Small businesses are trying to work in absolutely unimaginable conditions. Villagers are growing crops and even selling them at the markets. However, this does not mean that they have returned to everyday life. And most importantly, most of them are not even aware of their problems.
Any child on the territory of Ukraine experiences all the horrors of war. The head of the military administration of the Transcarpathian region said that in early May 2022, during the first thunderstorm, all the displaced children instantly fell to the floor when they heard the roar of thunder. These are the consequences of extreme stress, and we understand its causes.
Children grow up hating Russia and its people. This is absolutely understandable and probably inevitable. But who can say with certainty how everything affects the mobile children’s psyche and how it will turn out in their adult lives?
Of course, most schools have psychologists. But are their qualifications always sufficient? Do children pay rent, or do teachers turn to them often? Do we notice and correct all cases of deviations? There are many more questions than answers.
It seems that the state should take a closer look at developing a comprehensive psychological rehabilitation program for the population of Ukraine. And it’s not just a matter of training — many universities have already begun to do this in their master’s programs, which is extremely important. But it is also about institutional support.
Perhaps, as part of the formation and promotion of healthy lifestyle standards among Ukrainians, along with systematic health monitoring, psychological tests should be included, and the help of a social psychologist should be made available not only to residents of large cities.
#10 STOP TALKING ABOUT GDP GROWTH. TALK ABOUT THE QUALITY OF LIFE
We need to set our priorities differently. Economic growth is, of course, significant because it creates jobs and provides the necessary resources, including investments, budget revenues, and personal income. But this is not the goal, it is only a means to achieve another, much more important and complex goal — to build a country with a high quality of life in which you want to live!