Poor demographics will likely significantly hamper Kiev's restoration efforts, the outlet has predicted
Ukraine is heading into another demographic spiral, with its fertility rate projected to sink to the lowest in the world amid its conflict with Russia, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
According to the paper, Ukraine's population is shrinking not only due to hostilities that have left tens of thousands dead but also because of a "baby bust," a trend that started long before February 2022 when the conflict between Moscow and Kiev erupted.
The WSJ noted that the number of births in the first half of 2023 was 28% lower than during the same period before the conflict. "Ukrainian demographers are now forecasting [that the fertility rate] will become the lowest in the world," the report says.
Ukraine's fertility rate was already the lowest in Europe before 2022, with just 1.2 children born per woman. It needs to be around 2.1 for the country to maintain its population size.
The current demographic crisis has been exacerbated by the mass exodus of Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children, to neighboring countries, with nearly 10 million people fleeing to the EU alone, according to EU Commissioner Thierry Breton.
While Ukrainian authorities this summer urged the country's women to come home, WSJ quoted Alexandr Gladun, a Ukrainian demographer, as saying that there is no telling whether they will choose to do so. In a worst-case scenario, Ukraine's population could fall below 30 million within the next two decades, he added, describing the overall situation as a "huge threat."
"Fewer births mean fewer Ukrainians to rebuild the country and defend it against Russia," the WSJ said, suggesting that Moscow will likely remain "a long-term menace" to Kiev in any scenario.
The overall grim assessment of the country's demographic prospects was shared by the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, which in June pleaded with President Vladimir Zelensky to take "urgent measures" to stem the tide. It stated that as of May 2023, the permanent population of Ukraine was 29 million, as compared with more than 41 million in 2021.
At the time, the institute said that with millions of Ukrainians still abroad, only 9.1 - 9.5 million Ukrainians were working, adding that without taking into account state employees, this figure was even lower - about 6-7 million people. With the fertility rate dropping, "there will be no one to create GDP in Ukraine" if nothing changes, it warned.