A Depopulated Ukraine

They say that the truth is the first casualty of war, but it is likely true that an enormous number of women and children have fled Ukraine for Poland and other adjacent countries. The unchanging armies of Russia have invaded Ukraine and, knowing a siege was coming, the women and children who could leave left.

The kids in the hours of available footage seem remarkably well-behaved and there are fewer tears than one might expect given the situation, but perhaps the young mothers have communicated a sort of acceptance of the situation and the kids know that tears and anguish are futile. Invaders coming from both east and west are part of the long history of Ukraine and so, on some level, everyone accepts that the situation is simply another turn of the wheel of history.

But, there is one thing that is very different this time, which is highly relevant to what is happening in the filled-to-capacity transportation systems of the former Warsaw Pact nations. In those stations is the very limited number of children and young mothers still available to maintain the population of Ukraine. The population of Ukraine had already fallen by 20% since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and now it has fallen further and faster in the past month. As far as ‘the future’ is concerned, Ukraine is demographically dead already.

Many of those kids and mothers will not go home because there will be even less to have once the fighting is over. One of the reasons the Russians invaded Ukraine to begin with was the Ukrainian tendency to look west for identity, and not to the Russian east. But, those young Ukrainian mothers with their children have now crossed into what was the east but is now the west. What makes the west moved east after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and that is a problem the Russians foolishly militarized. Even though they are stateless, many of those women and children will never go back. The Russian army has merely occupied the dying spot on earth called Ukraine.

The fighting men of Ukraine have inflicted an enormous number of casualties on the Russian military. Here, there is far less evidence, but reports indicate the Russians have lost at least 10,000 young men in the first month of fighting. Those 10,000 Russians are highly unlikely to have any siblings available to mourn for them and take up the demographic slack in Russia because the Russians are in deep demographic decline as well. They can scarcely afford another high casualty land war and yet have launched one anyway.

Were there any voices in the Kremlin that said “Hey, comrades, let’s think this through. If we invade, we’ll drive the future citizens of Ukraine west and we’ll lose more of the very few young men we have left. This is a bad idea from a demographic standpoint.” I suspect there were no such voices because demographic decline is a ‘background issue’ as of now. No one is planning around the coming decline. But, population decline won’t stay in the background forever. ALL issues will be turned by a declining population in due course.

Debt is predicated on the assumption that someone will be around to repay it. Public debt that comes due in the following generation will be difficult to handle if that generation is half the size of generation that spent the money. Immigration is framed quite differently in a declining population. Pollution, climate change, the rights of men and women, race relations, abortion, the flow of goods and services, and a host of other issues are changed when the available pool of people goes backward.

There is the tendency to think of a declining population as a good thing since it would, in theory, lower the burden on the environment. In general, as things become scarce, the remaining things become more valuable. Perhaps there might be an actual competition for immigrants in a world where youth is scarce and young laborers have greater power.

But, there is also the possibility that a declining population will bring about many new horrors. Younger populations may decide to conquer older populations to steal their wealth. A shortage of young people to inherit a town, or even a nation, means whole societies will decline, decay, and then be gone. Cultures will come to ruin. Worker shortages will create less of everything, including innovation and scientific breakthroughs. Fewer of us seem more likely to produce chaos than nirvana.

We’ll discover more of what a declining population means in the coming years, and Ukraine will lead the way. What we are seeing now is a Ukraine Diaspora. There will be celebrations around the world of various things Ukrainian, but a thriving Ukraine full of smiling brothers, sisters, and cousins, all going to weddings, baby showers, and visiting maternity wards? That was becoming rare in Ukraine anyway and it would take a demographic miracle to make that happen now. Both sides of that conflict, the Ukraine and Russia, will fall together in the not too distant future.

The AP is reporting on the dying cities and villages of Ukraine. These towns, once depopulated, will not recover.

‘I worry about this place’: A day in Ukraine’s DonetskIn a quiet side room of the Palace of Culture, with sunlight filtering through the drawn pink curtains, the war brings her to tears. It is taking Ukraine’s youth, she says. Once the old die out, “there will be nothing.”

UPDATE: At this writing, the Russian have called for the mobilization of 300,000 troops and so many young men are headed for the borders. The Ukrainians are pushing the desperate Russians back, but there are not mercenaries fighting on both sides. The Russians have declared parts of Ukraine to be Russia and may well but lining up the justification of using nuclear weapons since their use of conventional weapons has proven to be a disaster. Might this be a preview of what a population decline will look like?