Moon of Alabama yesterday described at length Ukraine’s pre-existing demographic bust in men in their late teens through thirties, the result of the catastrophic collapse in living conditions in the 1990s after the USSR broke up. The post described how the war has turned what is left of Ukraine into a demographic disaster, It keys a statement by the former British Minister of Defence, Ben Wallace, that the average age of soldiers at the front line in Ukraine is 40.
We’ll soon explain how this factoid is the tip of the iceberg of disastrous conditions in Ukraine, not just for its military but also for its economy and society. But first, let’s finish the demographic overview. From Moon of Alabama:
Bad economic times and low expectations of betterment had influenced the desire of its people to procreate. Two more downturns followed during the global recession around 2008 and due to the 2014 Maidan coup and the civil war following it.
The article adds that Ukraine now is at its lowest birthrate ever and continues:
In 1990 Ukraine had a population of more than 50 million people. Twenty years from now the country will have less than maybe 25 million inhabitants. This even if all refugees return.
As bad as this is, Ukraine is not facing a future internal crisis. It’s in the midst of one right now. War watchers look for the signs of a possible Ukraine military breakdown, but that may well come as a result of an internal collapse, that the effort to keep manning the war produces what amount to breakdowns in critical systems that transmit quickly to the (in)ability to wage war.
A recent article in AlMayadeen, Living conditions in Ukraine are resembling a new slavery, a triumph of Western ‘democracy’ in the 21st century, paints a vivid and disturbing picture of the extreme measures being taken now in Ukraine to keep things functioning. It’s hard to find any information about day-to-day functioning in Ukraine, due among other things the shuttering of all opposition media in Ukraine, and the apparent capture of the members of the press who go there. Most seem to stay in Kiev, which is a sprawling city and whose center and diplo/big money haunts seem to have been spared. A brave few do go to or near the front lines, but that again means they are spared seeing how ordinary people live now.
Similarly, Twitter fare consists of battle-related news, Zelensky and visiting official shots, partying in Kiev (with disapproving comments), and men being impressed into service. So there is a genuine information gap.
Even discounting for the article potentially painting in overly-bright colors, thing are unquestionably bad, and in ways some might not have anticipated, like harsh work requirements. From Almayadeen:
In Western media, the current conflict in Ukraine is often presented as a war between Western-
style ‘freedom and democracy’ and Russian-style ‘authoritarianism and dictatorship’. We are told, furthermore, that such ‘freedom and democracy’ are represented by the governing regime in Kiev.
But this is a regime that has banned all men between the ages of 18 and 60 as well as women in certain professions from leaving the country. There is no free internal movement of citizens. The main exceptions to the prohibition on leaving the country are those unfit for military service, those fathers who have three or more minor children (all below the age of 16), and persons caring for people with disabilities. (The latter exemption only applies if there is no other family member to provide care.)
The article, from August 20, describes a proposed bill from August 8 for using mobilized men on public works if they don’t want to fight. Given that the source article is in Ukrainian, I can’t search to see if it became law. I would appreciate it if any readers with the needed language expertise can find any updates.
Now the article depicts the intent of the law as, erm, responsive to the desires of some conscripts not to fight. Perhaps the idea actually is well intentioned, to increase success in “recruitment” and get more men working productively, instead of hiding in basements.
But it is also possible that work relief could be made even more harsh than a fast death on the front lines. This fictionalized example, extreme by design, does make that point:
In fairness, as the article explains, the government has tried to find resources for hard labor, which is likely the sort of thing the proposed legislation is intended to address:
Ukrainian authorities tried to solve their labor shortage problems by tapping into the large pool of the unemployed. The unemployed who were officially registered were sent into military zones to clear rubble, cut down trees, build shelters, etc. This is hard physical work, often located near the front lines. This initiative was labeled an ‘Army of Reconstruction’, but many people responded by simply stopping to register as unemployed. After all, unemployment benefits have also been cut in Ukraine. Today, the average benefit hovers around the equivalent of US$27 per month. The maximum benefit rate is $180 per month, but this is only good for three months.
Other wage reductions:
There is also already a serious shortage of trained personnel in Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of factory workers, skilled tradespeople, railway workers, drivers, and other equipment operators in agricultural industries, and on and on have been conscripted into the army. Many of them have died or been seriously injured in the futile attempts of Ukraine’s leaders and their Western patrons to storm the well fortified defensive lines of the Russian armed forces.
Help wanted notices go begging because the conscription office has first dibs on anyone who turns up.
The article also describes wage cuts in the face of inflation running at an estimated 30% (Statista puts it at 21%). Teacher pay is down 15% to 50%.
Author Dmitri Kovalevich argues that the labor mobilization scheme illustrates that the government is moving towards a system of forced labor to keep Ukraine operating:
Ukraine is gradually introducing a system of slave labor – people must work to meet basic food needs, but they work for steadily shrinking salaries and benefits. Western media is silent about all this but is happy to continue preaching about the ‘Gulag Archipelago’ of the former Soviet Union where millions toiled without receiving wages or financial benefits in return.
The new draft law on the mobilization of workers is intended to “ensure the functioning of the national economy under martial law”, in the words of those drafting the law. It is noteworthy that in early August, Ukraine began to talk about a likely ban against military conscripts leaving the country for three years following an eventual end to military hostilities and martial law…
This idea of prohibiting Ukrainian citizens from leaving the country even after the end of hostilities stems, in part, from the fact that Ukraine is now heavily indebted to Western governments and financial institutions..
Bloomberg News reported on July 24 that Ukraine needs to bring back 2.8 million of its women citizens from abroad in order to have a chance at economic recovery following the end of military hostilities. According to one expert Bloomberg interviewed, if only half of the women return, this would cost Ukraine 10% of its GDP by 2032, on the order of $20 billion per year. Such losses will far outweigh the EU’s proposed four-year aid package to Ukraine in the amount of $14 billion per year.
Ukraine is also considering changes in labor laws to allow for 60 hour work weeks and only one 24 hour period off, with the plan first to be implemented in areas deemed to be critical infrastructure. The article notes that at least one employer has been accused of imposing an even more taxing work schedule, with martial law the justification.
And mind you, this is before getting to what happens when the US and EU cut financial support for the Ukraine government, which is bound to happen given rising voter antipathy for the spending, lack of a prospect of a win or even a clean exit soon, and competing priorities (for the US, China). The article estimates the current workforce at 9.5 million versus a population. The manpower loss plus physical destruction means a big reduction in productive capacity. That in combination with deficit spending as the foreign aid shrinks is a prescription for hyperinflation.
We have been speculating what Russia might do to make sure rump Ukraine is neutralized as a threat. If this article is correct, the baked in economic trajectory will do most of the job.