Russian propagandist media such as Times.com.ua, Glavnovosti and Informburo have lately been publishing more and more stories about Ukraine’s alleged shrinking population. The latest version of this story appeared recently on the internet newspaper Pravda.ru with the blaring headline Purging the superfluous: Ukrainians fleeing their homeland with families.
The article is an opinion piece by Ruslan Vesnianko, a fervent supporter of the official Kremlin line and a prolific critic of all things Ukrainian. He cites dubious experts who claim that Ukraine’s population has shrunk to 24 million.
One of the so-called experts cited is Larysa Shesler, who is presented as an economist. Shesler is a former Mykolayiv (port in southeastern Ukraine) city council member from the Progressive Socialist Party, a radical pro-Russian leftist party and the leader of the Mykolayiv Antimaidan organization. (Antimaidan groups actively worked against the 2013-2014 protests in Ukraine, attacking, kidnapping and sometimes murdering activists). Shesler fled Ukraine in 2014 and currently resides in Russia. She is wanted by Ukrainian authorities on charges of advocating Ukraine’s breakup.
Shesler claims that reduced consumption of bread and flour products in Ukraine is proof of the country’s shrinking population. The article uses an official graphic documenting bread production prepared by Ukraine’s Statistical Service, a federal agency that tracks food production, manufacturing, demographics and other economic metrics. A recent study on bread consumption, from which the graphic was taken, does not draw any correlation between bread consumption and population numbers. The study concludes that Ukrainians are likely eating less bread because their diet has become more varied and healthier.
Another expert that Vesnianko cites is Ukrainian political analyst Taras Berezovets, who in a Facebook post last month wrote that 3.5 million Ukrainians are currently working in Europe, another 3-3.5 million in Russia.
The International Organization for Migration meanwhile presents a much lower number, reporting that in 2014-2015 688 thousand Ukrainians worked in Europe.
The third cited expert is Alexander Okhrymenko, director of the Ukrainian Analytic Center, a center that has no other presence aside from a Facebook page. Okhrymenko claims that according to official Russian statistics, 2.2 million Ukrainians work in the Russian Federation. However, Russia’s official State Statistics Service reports that the number of Ukrainians working in Russia is only 458 thousand, a figure much smaller than that cited by both Okhrymenko and Berezovets.According to Ukraine’s Statistical Service, between 2001 and 2017 Ukraine’s population decreased by 6 million. Ukraine held its last census in 2001; its next census is scheduled to be held in 2020.