Vienna, April 19 – Even though Russian politicians have denounced Ukraine’s arguments that the famine in that republic in 1932-33 was a genocide as politically motivated, scholars at the Russian Academy of Sciences have now released a remarkable new study on “extraordinary mortality rates” there both then and more recently.
In the current issue of Demoscope Weekly, Russian demographers provide comprehensive data not only on four periods of extraordinarily high mortality in Ukraine in the 20th century but describe in detail declining life expectancies among Ukrainian men and women now (http://www.polit.ru/research/2008/04/15/demoscope327.html).
According to this Russian study, Ukraine lost 13.5 million people during the crisis periods of 1918-22, 1932-34, 1937-38, and 1941-47, of whom 6.6 million were of working age, 25 to 64. During the Terror Famine of 1933 alone, 3.8 million people in Ukraine died, of whom 1.5 million were of working age.
Whether one calls it a genocide or not, the Terror Famine in 1933 killed more people in Ukraine than did World War I, the Russian demographers say, an indication that this event was one of the most horrible of its kind in the history of humanity in the 20th century.
And the Moscow scholars underscore just how much Ukraine suffered in the course of that century by pointing out that “if Ukraine in the first half of the 20th century had avoided these massive demographic crises, then its population would have from 30 million in 1900 to 75 to 80 million at the beginning of the current century.”
Unfortunately, these same scholars point out, Ukraine continues to suffer from extraordinarily high mortality among its working age population, something that is preventing that country from achieving many of its goals and that is especially tragic because more than half of these premature deaths could be prevented.
Not only is Ukraine lagging further behind life expectancies in Western Europe, but its women as well as its men are suffering the kind of premature deaths from alcohol, tobacco, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS that could be delayed if people their changed their way of life or had access to better medical care.
One indication of just how serious this problem is – and the report provides statistics and documentation on a wide variety of demographic issues – is the following. At present, Ukrainian men aged 25 have the same life expectancy as their ancestors did in 1912, and Ukrainian women aged 25 have the same as theirs in the mid-1950s.
These declines, which have occurred since the 1960s, appear likely to intensify in the future, the scholars suggest. Alcoholism is on the rise. Tuberculosis is spreading and now infects between one and two percent of the adult population. And HIV/AIDS is increasing as well, with more than 1.6 percent of Ukrainians aged 15-49 now infected.
That figure is quickly approaching the two percent level that scholars say puts a country on the road to demographic collapse, and the Russian scholars argue that the worst is still ahead for Ukraine, something that will put enormous strains on that country’s already hard-pressed social and health support systems.
And the Russian demographers provide yet another global measure of the impact of these premature deaths among working age adults on Ukraine: If that country had been able to maintain the pattern of deaths even at 1989 levels – and the situation then was not good – then Ukraine would have 2.8 million more people today than it does.
On the one hand, this pattern of demographic decline driven less by falling birthrates than by extraordinarily high mortality rates among working age adults is shared by the Russian Federation, thus making many of the scholars’ observations relevant for that country as well.
But on the other, Kyiv has significantly fewer resources to draw on to address this decline than does Moscow, and consequently, the impact of a pattern of premature deaths found virtually nowhere outside the Slavic world is likely to be far greater there than even in the demographically declining Russian Federation.