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Ukraine’s Demographic Losses in the 20th Century

Ukraine’s Demographic Losses in the 20th Century

The Institute of History of Ukraine of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, together with many qualified scientists from other institutions, including foreign ones, has been working on an encyclopedia on national history since 1998. This is a chore and grueling job, but it produces results that are equally beneficial for authors and readers.

Hilda Workman
Last updated: Apr 01, 2021 | Mar 31, 2021

Table of Contents

The Institute of History of Ukraine of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, together with many qualified scientists from other institutions, including foreign ones, has been working on an encyclopedia on national history since 1998. This is a chore and grueling job, but it produces results that are equally beneficial for authors and readers.

I had a chance to work on one of the 11 thousand terms that became the topic of this article. Now there is an opportunity to share facts and conclusions with readers. When analyzing the terrible facts, you should not grab bromine. But we must know everything that happened to us.

On the Eve of Cataclysms

At the beginning of the twentieth century. The Ukrainian state did not exist. But there was a continuous territory in which the Ukrainians made up the majority of the population. There are two independent definitions of the boundaries of ethnographic Ukraine, made at different times on the basis of conflicting sources. One of them is dated 1927 and belongs to the leading figure of the UPR, and in exile – to the talented sociologist and statistician Nikita Shapoval. The second definition was published in 1981 by the renowned Moscow expert on historical demography Vladimir Kabuzan. Scientists define the boundaries of the Ukrainian ethnographic territory in the same way and estimate the population on it as of 1914 at 46 million people, including 32.7 million Ukrainians.

If you do not take into account the two Eurasian empires – the Russian and the Ottoman, then the area of ​​ethnographic Ukraine was larger than the territory of any European country – 739 thousand square meters. km. It significantly exceeded the territory of modern Ukraine (604 thousand sq. Km.). So, under Soviet rule, not all lands inhabited mainly by Ukrainians were reunited, as we were told in the past. Outside of Ukraine, there remained a large array of lands with a then Ukrainian population – the coast of the Azov Sea with Taganrog, the Eastern Donbass from the city of Shakhty, the southern regions of the Kursk, Belgorod and Voronezh regions, and the Kuban. In terms of population, ethnographic Ukraine in 1914 was second only to the German Reich (68 million people) and was almost equal to Great Britain (47 million people).

For two and a half centuries after the Pereyaslav Rada, the Ukrainian people doubled the area of ​​continuous settlement due to the development of the “Wild Field” from the Danube to the Kuban and Don. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian farmers found a second home in the free lands of Kazakhstan, Western Siberia, and the Amur region. The Ukrainians of Austria-Hungary, which had no unpopulated land, were forced to seek a better life in North America. The people of farmers mastered the planet, but remained themselves in the places of their new residence.

War Losses

Interstate, interethnic and civil wars of 1914-1920 on the territory of Ukraine were accompanied by millions of victims. How many people died, we do not know and will never know. Expert estimates of casualties are impossible – population censuses are too far removed from this terrible streak of almost continuous wars. It is believed that during the years of the civil war more than 2 million people left the territory of the former Russian Empire, but this figure is mentioned in Soviet literature only because it was once mentioned by V. Lenin.

The losses of the USSR in World War II changed upward several times (the last figure is 26.6 million people). It is possible to single out the losses of Ukraine only approximately due to the lack of statistics on the Ukrainian SSR on an all-Union scale. The scale of losses is evidenced by the decrease in the population of the Ukrainian SSR from 41,657 thousand people in June 1941 to 27,382 thousand by the beginning of 1945. Irretrievable losses account for the bulk of the appalling difference of 14,275,000. These include: front-line losses – more than 3 million servicemen of the Soviet Army; losses of Soviet and anti-Soviet partisans in the struggle between themselves and against the invaders; losses of civilians during battles and hostilities, due to starvation and epidemic diseases; losses from shares of the occupation regime: the systematic destruction of prisoners of war (1,366 thousand people), absolute extermination of Jews and Roma, selective extermination of the population in most of the territory of Ukraine. Some of the people evacuated to the eastern regions of the USSR (3.5 million people) and the ostarbeiters taken to Germany (2.4 million people) returned to their homeland.

The late Mikhail Koval, professor at the Institute of the History of Ukraine of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, estimated the total – military and civilian – victims of the war on the territory of Ukraine at 8 million people (1999). Diaspora scholar Vladimir Kosyk (1992, 1993), a professor at the Sorbonne, came to the same figure even earlier, using a slightly different range of sources. Kosyk reduced the number of frontline casualties in comparison with Koval by half a million, but increased – also by half a million – the number of civilian casualties.

The losses of Ukraine in the war have always been dissolved in the all-Union losses. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus bore the brunt of the Second World War and thereby ensured a victory over the enemy, which had a civilizational significance. Recognition of this contribution by the United Nations helped Ukraine and Belarus become members of the UN.

In terms of the absolute and relative number of losses in this war, Ukraine is in second place: 8 million people, 19.1% of the total pre-war population. It is inferior in the absolute number of losses to Russia, and in terms of the relative – to Poland (19.6%). The third place in terms of the absolute number of casualties is occupied by Germany (6.5 million people, 9.1%), the fourth is Poland’s first victim (5 million people within modern state borders). Belarus, Japan, Yugoslavia, France, Italy and Romania are among the top ten countries on the principle of reducing the cumulative losses of military personnel and civilians caused by the war. It was a shame when the organizers of the current celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy invited representatives of Russia, but ignored Ukraine.

Hunger Loss

Particularly bitter is the loss of peacetime. They were applied by their own, “workers ‘and peasants'” state. It arrogated to itself the right to determine who is the friend of the people and who is the enemy, and mercilessly destroyed its enemies. Under the pretext of caring for the interests of the people, the Soviet state imposed an order that came into sharp conflict with these interests. With the same intensity in the Leninist-Stalinist times, two methods of “socialist construction” were used – propaganda and terror.

Paying tribute to the propaganda, the leaders of the CPSU granted the national republics great constitutional rights, but made sure that no one came to mind to use them. The threat of separatism was especially dangerous from the side of the largest national republic in terms of economic and human potential. Therefore, the scale of preventive terror in Ukraine turned out to be extremely large.

It is possible to point to several types of terror that influenced the demographic situation in the republic: terror by famine, deportation of the population from the Ukrainian SSR, mass arrests followed by imprisonment or immediate execution. Let’s consider each of them.

The famine of 1921-1923 caused a great drought and exacerbated the economic devastation as a consequence of the seven-year war. When distributing scanty grain reserves, the Kremlin gave preference to the “red capitals”, and not to the peasants of the starving southern Ukrainian provinces. In order to pump out grain from more or less fruitful central and northern regions of Ukraine, its leadership was forbidden to admit that the situation in the southern provinces is no better than in the Volga region. Foreign aid organizations operating in the starving Volga region since August 1921 were admitted to the southern provinces of Ukraine only from January 1922, when mass mortality had already begun. In 1921, the Kremlin leadership noticed that famine reduced the insurrectionary activity of the peasantry. That is why it gave instructions not to stop grain procurements in the starving regions.

The number of victims of famine in 1921-1923. remains unknown. According to the People’s Commissariat of Health of Ukraine in the winter of 1921-1922. 235 thousand people died of hunger. This assessment was based on the data of a sample survey of peasant farms in the spring of 1922 by the correspondent offices of the Central Statistical Administration of Ukraine, conducted only in some of the southern provinces affected by famine. It should be noted that thanks to the activities of the American Relief Administration (ARA) and other charitable organizations, deployed in 1922, hundreds of thousands of peasants were saved from starvation. By extending the assessment of the republic’s People’s Commissariat of Health to the entire array of affected lands, we will not go beyond 300-350 thousand deaths from hunger.

The famine of 1932-1933, rightly called the pestilence – by analogy with the medieval plague, was observed in many regions of the USSR, but only in the Ukrainian SSR and in the Kuban did it become a famine. In the Ukrainian regions, under the guise of blanks, all the food found during searches at the peasant farmstead was confiscated. The Kremlin warned of the outbreak of Ukrainian separatism in a situation of socio-political crisis that gripped the USSR due to the unbearable pace of industrialization.

On November 23, 2002, ZN published the article “How many of us died from the Holodomor of 1933?”. I wrote it under the influence of irritation: the conclusion about the number of victims, based on an analysis of demographic statistics, was first published back in 1990. He was ignored for years, although opponents were unable to argue on the merits. The publication was also ignored, because the number of famine victims is too “small” – no more than 3.5 million people within the borders of the Ukrainian SSR in 1933. And the number of victims “should” reach up to 7, or even up to 14 million people. There is something infernally incomprehensible in such a position.

Estimates of losses from the 1946-1947 famine. no less fantastic – from 1 to 2 million people. It must be borne in mind that this famine, like the famine of 1921-1923, was caused by a terrible drought, the consequences of which were superimposed on the difficulties of the post-war devastation. The Kremlin carried out grain procurements in the starving village in order to provide food aid to the “fraternal countries.” But the Stalinist state did not show any intentions for the purposeful destruction of collective farmers, because there was no political need for that at that time. At the request of the Soviet government, the United Nations Relief and Reconstruction Administration (UNRRA) provided $ 250 million for the purchase of food and equipment for the Ukrainian countryside. The state also did not prevent the flow of aid from the Ukrainian diaspora in North America. All this minimized mortality. The number of victims of the famine of 1946-1947

In November 1998, the President of Ukraine established by his decree the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holodomor. Later, victims of political repression and forced evictions were added to the victims of the Holodomor, which is quite understandable. However, it is difficult to understand the following addition of the decree: now it is the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Holodomors, political repressions and forced evictions. The notion of “Holodomor” is plural. Who needs his inflation?

Losses From Deportations and Other Reprisals

It is impossible to list in one article the deportations carried out on the territory of Ukraine in the twentieth century. Let’s dwell only on the most significant ones.

One of the large-scale deportations is dispossession of kulaks with the subsequent eviction of peasants to remote, unsuitable for life regions of the USSR. The total number of those deported is up to 300 thousand people. In connection with the liquidation in 1934 of two border national regions – Markhlevsky (Polish) and Pulinsky (German), as well as with the liquidation of Polish village councils in Vinnitsa region in 1935, deportations on ethnic grounds were initiated. At first, individual families were expelled on standard charges of a social-class nature (nationalist element, former gendarmes, church activists, etc.). In 1936, a large-scale deportation of Germans and Poles from Ukraine to Kazakhstan was carried out – about 70 thousand people.

During the Sovietization of Western Ukraine in 1940-1941. the state security authorities carried out four deportation actions. The campaign began on February 10, 1940 with the deportation of 89 thousand Polish military siegemen and civilian colonists to the eastern regions of the USSR. In April 1940, another consignment was sent to Kazakhstan, which became the main “receiving point” of Stalin’s deportations. It consisted of family members of persons arrested by the state security authorities, as well as family members of Polish officers who were shot by the decision of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks on April 5, 1940 in Katyn, Kharkov and Tver. In June 1940, 58 thousand people were deported, who fled to the territory of Western Ukraine from the part of Poland that was under German occupation. 85% of these refugees were Jews. Finally, the largest deportation action began on May 22, 1941 and did not end due to the German attack on the USSR. It was planned to evict “suspicious” Poles to the east from all over the western region – from the Baltic to Moldova. 11,093 people were evicted from the territory of Western Ukraine. In total, up to 230 thousand people, who were considered an “undesirable element”, fell under the deportation accompanying the Sovietization of the western regions of Ukraine. They were mainly Poles and Jews.

On the eve of the Great Patriotic War, tens of thousands of people were arrested on political charges in prisons in the western regions of Ukraine, awaiting trial. By order from the Kremlin, all political prisoners in border prisons were to be shot. In Western Ukraine, from 40 to 50 thousand people were shot.

The demographic losses of the population of the Crimean region during the Second World War are taken into account in the above general estimates for the Ukrainian SSR. Separately, I note that the ethnic composition of the Crimean population at that time radically changed as a result of deportations and the Holocaust. According to the 1939 all-Union census, Russians accounted for 49.6% of the population of Crimea, Crimean Tatars – 19.4, Ukrainians – 13.7, Jews – 5.8, Germans – 4.6%. During the war, the population declined sharply.

In August 1941, the Chekists carried out the first deportation based on ethnicity. They took out from the Crimea up to 50 thousand Germans, who settled here mainly during the time of Catherine II. There was only one accusation formula: “aiding the Hitlerite invaders.” During the occupation, the Nazis killed 25,000 Jews. Together with the Jews, people of a unique small nationality – the Krymchaks – were also exterminated. The Nazis attributed them to the “Jewish race”, since they had professed Judaism for a long time. By decisions of the State Defense Committee of May 11 and June 2, 1944, Crimean Tatars, as well as Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians were evicted from Crimea. The number of people deported for special settlement in Uzbekistan under these two resolutions was 228 thousand people.

In 1944-1945. Stalin carried out the deportation of 13 million Germans from the territories that were retreating to Poland, Czechoslovakia and the USSR. The ease with which the demographic picture of a large region outside the USSR was radically changed, prompted him to think not to limit himself in domestic politics to the deportation of a few peoples or national minorities. At the XX Congress of the CPSU N. Khrushchev touched upon his plans for the Ukrainians in two sentences. Two sentences – this is the end of the paragraph, which told about Stalin’s eviction of small peoples from the North Caucasus: “The Ukrainians escaped this fate because there were too many of them and there was nowhere to be sent. Otherwise he would have evicted them too. ”

Khrushchev’s testimony is confirmed by another source. Apparently, the idea of ​​the eviction of Ukrainians in 1944 was discussed in a fairly wide circle. It became known to the Nazis, who used it for a provocative purpose: they made up an order for eviction signed by L. Beria and G. Zhukov, scattering leaflets from the air at the location of Soviet units. Data on plans to evict Ukrainians in 1944 are not documented or documents have not yet been found. It seems to me that after all, it was not about the whole of Ukraine, but about the western regions. In the last year of the war and in the post-war period, these areas became the arena of tough confrontation between the Soviet authorities and the UPA soldiers and the OUN underground.

The losses of the underground during the period of confrontation amounted to 153.3 thousand, and the Soviet side – 30.7 thousand people. According to the verdicts of the courts, 87756 “bandits” were imprisoned. The number of “bandits” deported to Siberia for the period from 1944 to 1952 reached 203 thousand, almost a third of them died in the special settlement.

The political situation changed, and people returned to their homeland. In particular, already in the second five-year plan, dispossessed peasants returned, after the XX Congress of the CPSU – “bandits” and “bandits”, from 1989 – 1990. Crimean Tatars began to return. Unlike deportations, the majority of mass arrests had the property of reverse repression. Even if the victim was not shot immediately, she disappeared into the Gulag forever. If the sentence ended, the victim was given a new sentence.

When dispossession of kulaks was unfolding in the countryside, mass arrests intensified among the urban population. They reached their peak during an acute socio-economic crisis, when Stalin used terror by famine against the Ukrainian peasants. Another, higher wave of arrests covered the entire Soviet Union in 1937-1938. This terrorist act in the West is known as the Great Terror.

According to Donetsk University professor Volodymyr Nikolsky (2003), the state security bodies in Ukraine arrested: in 1929 – 29,916 people, in 1930 – 33,373, in 1933 – 124,463, in 1937 – 159573, in 1938 – 106,096 people. The total number of victims of the Chekists for ten years (from 1929 to 1938) exceeded 650 thousand people.

Terror was directed primarily against the intelligentsia. All active participants in the Ukrainian revolution of 1917-1920 were practically exterminated as well. Discovered terrible evidence of the Stalinist terror of the pre-war period – mass graves near Vinnitsa, in Bykovna (Kiev), Tatarka (Odessa), etc.


Demographic losses in the first half of the twentieth century. are estimated as a final and, of course, too approximate figure of 15 million people. We are talking about people killed or forcibly deported from their homeland. For the population of Ukraine, which by 1914 did not exceed 40 million people within modern borders, losses of this magnitude were truly catastrophic. Only in 1959, the census showed that there are 41.9 million citizens in Ukraine, that is, the level of the population that existed before the First World War was finally exceeded. Consequently, it took 45 years to recover the population.

According to the 1989 census, the population of Ukraine reached 51.7 million. The increase is up to 10 million people in 30 years, although the birth rate has halved compared to the pre-war level. Now Ukraine lags behind in terms of population not only from Germany and Great Britain, but also from Italy and France.

If a person dies in the prime of life, then his children and the children of his children are not born. Consequently, direct and indirect demographic losses of the twentieth century. you cannot count less than 45 million people. In the conditions of normal demo reproduction in the twentieth century. we could be a hundred million people.

Causes of Modern Depopulation

The end of the twentieth century. characterized by a significant reduction in the population of Ukraine: by 3.3 million people. The depopulation, which was predicted back in the 1980s, has come true. How can it be explained? First of all, it is necessary to study the dynamics of the population for each year (by the end of the year) in comparison with the overall increase (decrease) for the year and its migration component; in thousands (see table).

The difference between births and deaths became negative in 1991. But for another two years, there was an increase in the population due to the positive balance of the migration balance. The migration balance turned negative in 1994. Almost immediately, the combined effect of the two factors led to half a million annual population decline.

Unfavorable tendencies in demo reproduction are primarily associated with the deformation of marriage and family processes. It is not necessary to draw such a deformation only with black paints. After all, we are talking primarily about changing the social status of a woman, expanding the sphere of her extrafamilial interests, and increasing the level of employment. One way or another, but now it is common practice to postpone marriage and the birth of a child – especially the second and third. Meanwhile, only the third child guarantees extended demo reproduction.

The postponement of the birth of a child from a temporary phenomenon turns into a permanent one. Now two thirds of families with children under 18 have only one child. The economic basis of unfavorable processes is the gradual release of the family from performing production functions. Such economic factors of large families as the need for workers’ hands for peasant farms or relying on material security in old age (the latter due to a sharp decrease in child mortality and the establishment of state pensions) no longer operate.

Demo reproduction is negatively affected by migration. Representatives of the most productive age groups in terms of childbearing and economic relations prevail among migrants. If a family migrates in its entirety, most of it refrains from having children in a foreign land, and the break with families negatively affects the birth rate.

Fertility also decreases due to an increase in life expectancy. Demographic aging in Ukraine has been growing gradually since the second half of the 20th century. Between the censuses of 1959 and 2001, the proportion of people aged 60 and over increased from 12.3% to 25.5%. Accordingly, the proportion of women of productive age is decreasing.

Fertility rates are not directly related to material living standards. This can be seen by studying the problem of demo reproduction in most countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, the improvement in the economic situation in Ukraine had an immediate effect on the increase in the birth rate. The negative migration balance also dropped to 34,000 in 2002 and to 24,000 in 2003. The overall decline in population reached its peak in 2001 (522 thousand); in 2002 it was 398 thousand, in 2003 – 381 thousand people.

With an active demographic policy, the problem of depopulation could be solved. Nevertheless, according to the structure of demo reproduction, Ukraine already belongs to the developed countries. Therefore, its demographic development will obey the corresponding laws.

Hilda Workman | Hilda likes to write about news and fashion.


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