Why Ukraine Is Dying A Slow Death (Literally)

February 22, 2017 Topic: Economics Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: UkraineRussiaPoliticsDemographicsEastern UkraineWarWorldHistory

Why Ukraine Is Dying A Slow Death (Literally)

Amid War, Ukraine’s Population Continues to Dwindle. 

Family Planning

Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 proved to be an unremitted economic catastrophe, which ultimately made parenthood unaffordable for many Ukrainians.

By 1996, Ukraine’s gross domestic product had fallen by about 60 percent from its 1990 level. In comparison, the U.S. GDP fell 30 percent during the Great Depression from 1929 to 1933.

Ukrainian industrial production reduced by more than half from 1991 to 1996—a bigger drop than what the Soviet Union experienced during World War II when half the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, and 24 million people, both civilians and military, were killed.

With the Soviet Union’s breakup, many Ukrainians saw their life savings basically disappear overnight. Hyperinflation from 1992 to 1994 left about 80 percent of Ukrainians in poverty and roughly one-quarter of the population unemployed.

Consequently, the purchasing power of the average Ukrainian salary for basic food items fell dramatically from 1992 to 1994. For Ukrainians on minimum wage, their purchasing power for basic food items fell by as much as 95 percent, according to studies from the Kyiv National Economic University.

The economic meltdown dissuaded many Ukrainian families from having children. Consequently, Ukraine’s female fertility rate fell precipitously continuously throughout the 1990s, reaching a low point of 1.1 children per woman in 2000.

By 2016, the fertility rate had slightly recovered back up to 1.5. This is, however, still below the replacement fertility rate of at least 2.1 needed for zero population growth in developed countries.

And despite the uptick in fertility rate since 2000, total Ukrainian births have continued to decline. There were more than 365,000 births in Ukraine in 2016, down from about 412,000 in 2015, and 466,000 in 2014.

“Since 1991, there have been always more deaths than births in Ukraine,” Fedets said.

The Family

Ukraine’s abortion and marriage rates have both declined since the Soviet Union’s breakup, underscoring Ukrainians’ reluctance to start families and have children.

Ukraine’s marriage rate decreased from 9.3 marriages per 1,000 people in 1990 to 7.8 marriages per 1,000 people in 2015, according to government data.

The reduction in Ukraine’s abortion rate has been more dramatic.

In 1990, according to the World Health Organization, Ukraine registered about 1,550 abortions for every 1,000 births—about 7.8 times higher than the average rate that year among countries that would ultimately comprise the European Union in 1993.

However, by 2013, the last year abortion data for Ukraine was available, the number of Ukrainian abortions per 1,000 births had fallen to 166—which was lower than the EU average of about 220 that year.

According to Ukrainian analysts, the precipitous drop in Ukraine’s abortion rate after 1991 is likely attributable to better family planning education, and the more widespread use of contraceptives.

Contraceptives were not widely available in the Soviet Union. But abortions, which were legalized in the Soviet Union in 1955, were free for working women and cost nonworking women about four or five Soviet rubles (about $2.50 to $3.15, according to the exchange rate before Nov. 1, 1990).

“Shortages of birth control devices lasted throughout the Soviet era,” Deborah A. Field wrote in her 2007 book “Private Life and Communist Morality in Khrushchev’s Russia.”

“Despite the pleas of doctors and health officials, contraceptive production was never made a national priority, leaving abortion and abstinence as the two forms of birth control available to most women,” Field wrote.

Also, cultural stigmas (perpetuated by the Communist Party) against talking openly about sex hampered family planning education in the Soviet Union.

After 1991, however, family planning education improved in Ukraine. Concurrently, contraceptives became more widely available and abortions became much more expensive.

Today, legal abortions in Ukraine cost about $180. But the costs are not limited to the procedure itself. Ukrainian women also have to pay for a three-day hospital stay and a post-abortion treatment protocol, which collectively double the overall cost of the procedure to almost $400.

In a country with an average monthly salary of about $164, abortions are, consequently, cost prohibitive for many Ukrainian women.

In contrast, a month of birth control pills from a pharmacy in Kyiv costs between 150 to 500 hryvnias (about $5.40 to $17.80), depending on the brand and type. A prescription is not needed.

According to UNICEF, 52 percent of Ukrainian women currently use a method of contraception.

Depopulation is a major challenge for Ukraine’s economic and political development. For its part, the Ukrainian government has introduced measures to reverse the trend, such as a financial assistance program for new parents.

In 2017, the government offered a 41,000 hryvnia payout per child (about $1,500), split into regular payments over 36 months.

While government assistance relieves some of the financial burden of parenthood, reversing Ukraine’s population decline will ultimately depend on the country’s economic and political stability, and an end to the war.

“Ukrainians want to live a peaceful and thriving life in their country and I think it is a reasonable goal,” Fedets said.

This first appeared in The Daily Signal here

Image Credit: Creative Commons.