Ukraine after war: social dimension

As of today, we do not know the final price of this war. After all, we don’t know at which point on the trajectory of the war we currently find ourselves. We can optimistically predict that the most dramatic and tragic circumstances of this war have already taken place. However, this is not guaranteed. It could be different. The picture we have is still quite unstable. And without knowing the full price of the war, we cannot predict all of its consequences. Furthermore, the question of “what will Ukrainian society be like after the war?” is entirely relevant. It is important to answer it if we want to have a rationally informed vision of the future and a development strategy for the country.

Assessments and studies on the changes in Ukrainian society

Within just six months after the start of the full-scale war, there have been numerous assessments of the changes occurring in Ukrainian society and the consequences that can be observed. These assessments have been hypothetical and not always supported by empirical evidence.

Later, the first studies emerged, and there will be more in the future, but they do not yet form a comprehensive picture. Ukraine at the International Renaissance Foundation collaborate with several analytical centers to obtain more scientifically substantiated data.

In particular, the Kyiv-based Center for Economic Strategy conducted a study on Ukrainian migration, refugees, their plans, and expectations. It is not just about the statistics of people entering and leaving the country but also about more far-reaching conclusions, particularly in the context of potentially irreversible losses of human resources.

In March, a study by the Rating Group emerged, focusing on internal migration within the country. This phenomenon is being discussed by everyone, but it is insufficiently researched. There is a lack of empirical data to determine what has happened to the population distribution map within Ukrainian society on the territory of Ukraine. All of this will be a consequence of a major war that will impact the formula of life in Ukrainian society: the economic map of Ukraine will change, the map of labor resources will change, and the social configuration will change. Undoubtedly, we will be dealing with a significantly different society.

An indicator of a serious attitude towards change is that Ukrainian businesses have started showing active interest in the new distribution map of labor resources in the country, investing in it. This means that certain long-term trends and tendencies are already being formed. We can now talk about the inevitability of reshaping the map of Ukraine in its human, economic, and infrastructural dimensions. The extent to which we draw accurate preliminary conclusions at this stage will determine how convincing we are in negotiations with potential investors and partners in Ukraine’s recovery.

Migration and refugee dynamics: impact on Ukrainian society

Polish company Gremi Personal, which studies stock markets (not even classical sociologists), conducted a survey in March among Ukrainian refugees in Poland regarding their plans to return. 55% responded that they intend to return, 38% will stay in Poland, and an additional 7% plan to move to another country. This is in contrast to the fact that at the time of leaving Ukraine, somewhere between 85-90% stated that they would return. Out of the enormous number of Ukrainians who found themselves abroad, according to rough estimates, at least 40% are in Poland among those in Europe, and according to some data, even 50%. The official number of those who obtained a Polish tax identification number (PESEL) is around 1.5 million, and according to the Polish government’s estimates, nearly two million Ukrainians are de facto residing there. This figure is dynamic, and it will continue to change. But it is a large number of people in any case. 55-60% of them are women of working age, capable and sufficiently skilled, while 40% are children. There are only a few men, mainly elderly individuals. The authors of this study conducted a similar survey in September 2022, and at that time, there were significantly fewer people willing to stay in Poland — only 18%. Such a change in numbers should greatly concern us. In addition to the destroyed cities and villages, land taken out of operation, mined, depopulated, and occupied territories, we have this migration situation.

See also: A source of non-knowledge: the history of Ukraine in European school textbooks

The next question in the Gremi Personal study was: “If you plan to return, when?” 82% answered “after the victory,” 8% said “this spring,” 6% mentioned “summer,” and 4% chose “autumn.” How should we interpret this? Can we be certain that these people will return? What state of affairs will they consider a victory sufficient for their return? This question remains open. If we apply this to statistics, we will understand that we are not talking about tens of thousands, but at least hundreds of thousands of people. And when we talk about a European future, we must understand that for many millions of Ukrainians, European integration will happen on an individual basis, rather than in the form that we have earned by obtaining candidate status. Since World War II, this is the largest-scale population loss in Europe by a particular country in favor of other countries. There has been nothing similar, even considering the significant migration from the Balkans after the wars of the 1990s.

The second dimension of the problem is the movement of people within the country. A study by the Rating Group showed that out of 100% of Ukrainians surveyed, 21% are now not where they lived before February 24, 2022. 45% of respondents want to return when the war is over. But again, what is the criterion for ending the war? The war will not end when the last Russian soldier leaves Ukrainian land for the territories that are deeply affected.

The experience of the Kyiv region indicates that the return of people is far from immediate. Towns that have experienced Russian aggression (such as Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel, and Vorzel) are slowly recovering in terms of the return of the pre-war population. Some people returned relatively quickly, in the summer of last year, but since then, there remains a significant number of empty houses. Today, the population there does not reach 50% of the pre-war state. This is despite the fact that these areas have not seen active military operations for over a year. There is no direct threat, but people are not returning. In the western regions, during the initial months of the war, there was talk of one-and-a half-fold increase in population. It is unlikely to be the case now, but there is an increase, and it has a contrasting social profile. On the one hand, it consists of the most active part of the population — those who are capable of managing on their own. On the other hand, it includes those who require care: the elderly, hospital patients, residents of nursing homes, and evacuated residents of institutions. Nevertheless, there has been migration of the active class to the western part of the country, which is creating something new.

Shifts in population distribution and social configuration

The conclusion that arises is: we are witnessing a significant change in the social map of Ukraine. We will no longer see Ukraine with its industrialized urbanized east, where the main industrial resources and skilled population are concentrated, and which is associated with urban forms of economy. The group of people who have now left the cities in the east and south, significantly adding to the potential of western Ukrainian cities, forms a community that has emerged in independent Ukraine. It is highly likely that they are not the ones who formed the basis of the Soviet or post-Soviet society and its productive force.

We are witnessing significant signs not only of decline but also of depopulation in large cities in eastern Ukraine. In most cases, this is clearly understandable. The processes currently taking place will, to some extent, have an irreversible nature. Previously, the west played the role of a cultural fortress, a place where the national spirit was concentrated, while the main economy was located somewhere in the east, and the most urbanized population lived in million-plus cities in eastern Ukraine and Kyiv. Now the situation has changed significantly, and it will continue to change further. We will see a fundamentally new role for western Ukraine. This does not mean that huge urban agglomerations like post-Soviet industrial cities will form here. In many cases, we can observe a soft deurbanization, where large population groups move away from the philosophy of life in a megapolis conglomeration of high-rise buildings to the type of urban culture associated until recently with Ivano-Frankivsk, Uzhhorod, and partially with Lviv. The outcome for the east is something we can only speculate about.

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It is worth noting that a number of studies indicate that in many areas of the east, a significant portion of the population remains not because someone is “waiting for Putin to come” or exceptionally immobile. People simply adapt to the hyper-care that local society currently offers. It is a humanitarian paradigm that is transmitted to us by the world and ourselves. Therefore, we observe that a vast number of people in areas affected by or in close proximity to the front line remain there due to regular access to humanitarian aid. They do not want to leave or evacuate their children. A whole layer of people is being formed who are psychologically and organizationally tied to the infrastructure of humanitarian assistance. This is a consequence that will have a long-term effect, a new type of consumption. Humanitarian aid is needed for the affected population. However, we are already witnessing potentially long-term destructive social consequences as entire clusters of people dependent on it are formed on the ground. There are fewer and fewer other creative segments of society remaining there.

Kyiv has “lent”, according to a rough estimate, a quarter or even a third of its creative class abroad, creating a lot of niches for people who can come there and create something. Thus, a large resettlement of Ukrainians is taking place and the country is being reformatted in waves.

What factors will stimulate people to return to Ukraine? The definitive end of the war, stable well-paid employment, a higher standard of living? In previous conditions, when people went abroad for work, they had only what they earned. The current wave, which includes 4-4.5 million people who ended up in Europe, has gained a completely different access to social and material benefits. And this has a consumer effect. In Ukraine, even with hard work, they did not have the income that they have in Europe without doing anything. People understand that this is not permanent. But the second year has passed, and this consumer attitude is gradually forming. Half of them are women, and 40% are children. Even with an average scenario, we will lose 1.77 million people just from those who are already abroad.

Next, the experts introduce another parameter that is currently underestimated. This is a forecast of a new wave of departures that will inevitably occur at the end of martial law when families will have a chance to reunite due to the departure of men. The average scenario is 300,000, and the pessimistic scenario is that Ukraine may lose 750,000 people. The conclusion is that more than 40% of those who ended up abroad as a result of the war will remain there.

We have not yet taken into account the next level of loss — the decline in birth rates. These are indirect losses that manifest somewhat later, but without a proper forecast of these losses, it is difficult to create an adequate recovery strategy.

Challenges and strategies for Ukraine’s recovery and future integration

We are at risk of obtaining individual integration of millions of people instead of the expected picture of European integration of Ukraine as a state. It may be easier for them to pursue individual integration on their own. They are already there and have the opportunity to seek a better fate in the West rather than waiting for Ukraine to achieve EU membership. This is a challenge.

The risk of depopulation in Ukraine necessitates a review of a whole range of policies: economic, demographic, and migration-related. The arrival of migrants from the east, including from Islamic countries, can compensate for Ukraine’s loss of its own population. This story is not new to humanity, but it may become so for Ukraine. It is not something to be feared, as it has long been part of the realities of developed countries. How can we prepare for this? Studying the experiences of other countries will help us avoid typical mistakes. However, we need to start preparing Ukrainian society now for the fact that in the near future, Ukraine will be less nationally, racially, and culturally homogeneous than it is today.

The quality of recovery is not determined by the speed of rebuilding a particular school or hospital, but by the presence of teachers and students, doctors who will come to that school or hospital. It may seem that it primarily depends on money. However, people are more important. There are things that we cannot buy, things that neither donors nor investors can bring. How we will cope with this challenge will determine the future image of Ukraine.

Originally posted by Oleksandr Sushko on Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: The war for the voice: Ukraine in the awareness of the West

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