Ukraine's birth rate plummets to 300-year low as country’s population collapses

Ukraine's birth rate plummets to 300-year low as country’s population collapses
Ukraine's population has fallen to its lowest level in recorded history of only 29mn citizens. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews April 17, 2024

Ukraine’s population collapsed to 29mn souls last year, according to Ukraine Business News, with just 187,000 births recorded (including in Russian-occupied territories). This is the lowest annual figure in recorded history over the last 300 years, exacerbating an already dire population catastrophe facilitated by economic turmoil and war.

Ukraine's demographic crisis dates back to the Soviet collapse in 1991, when the country’s population stood at 51.9mn. Economic crises and labour migration saw the country’s total fertility rate plummet to 1.4 births per woman (well below the replacement level of 2.1) by 2022 and possibly as low as .7 by the following year, according to Ukraine’s Institute of Demography and Social Studies.

As bne IntelliNews reported, Emerging Europe is already suffering from a demographic crisis that will take population levels back to the early 20th century in the coming decade. Germany has a fertility rate of 1.6 in 2023. Ukraine’s population fell behind that of Poland for the first time as an electronic census revealed the number of citizens had dropped by some 5mn people to 37.289mn in 2020 since the last census in 2000. By contrast, a UN study found the populations in Central Asia are booming and are all expected to grow in the next few decades.

Thanks to the relative prosperity that Russians enjoyed following the end of the recession in the middle of this decade, plus a pro-birth government policies, Russian fertility rates recovered to 1.8 in 2023 – one of the highest in Europe – from record lows in the middle of the decade when the fertility rate fell to a record low 1.5.

The size of Ukraine’s population had been a matter of speculation for several years. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy promised to hold a census in 2020 as part of his election manifesto but cut some corners and held an electronic census last year instead. The size of the population also shrank by some 4mn after Russia annexed the Crimea in 2014. 

But even ignoring these problems, the demographic curve shows that Ukraine’s population has been in an uninterrupted decline since 1991, and took an even sharper downward step in 2014 following the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. 

The introduction of visa-free travel by the EU in 2017, while hailed as a landmark reform, has precipitated a mass labour outflow, further exacerbating Ukraine's demographic woes. The exodus of millions to Central European countries in search of better opportunities has further strained the country's population dynamics.

The ongoing conflict has spurred another mass exodus, with millions seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Estimates suggest that approximately 8mn refugees have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion in 2022, with Russia being the largest recipient. Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s human rights ombudswoman, has claimed that over 5mn Ukrainians have come to Russia “seeking safety from Ukrainian shelling and bombing.” This staggering exodus of citizens has helped Uzbekistan (with 34.9mn people last year) overtake Ukraine to become the second most populous country in the former Soviet Union since last year.

A study conducted last year by Ukraine’s Institute for the Future counted only 29mn souls in modern-day Ukraine, with many refugees abroad showing no intent to return home. Compounded with catastrophically low fertility levels and ongoing conflict, these factors do not bode well for the country’s demographic future.