Focus Ukraine: The Key Task for Ukraine Now is Human-Centered Policy and Preservation of Human Capital

Ihor Petrenko, Dmytro Levus, Petro Oleshchuk, Oleksiy Kushch

20 mins - 27 de Febrero de 2024, 07:00

Agenda Pública and United Ukraine Think Tank present Focus Ukraine, a weekly article series analysing how the military conflict in Ukraine and the political and economic situation in the country will evolve. The articles are written by Ihor Petrenko, Dmytro Levus, Petro Oleshchuk and Oleksiy Kushch, experts of the United Ukraine Think Tank.
Two years of war of attrition have resulted in huge losses and put Ukraine on the brink of survival. The experience gained and the support of the international community give us hope. However, Russia's transition to the exhausting format of a long-term conflict and intimidation of the world requires significant efforts not only by Ukraine but also by all its partners. 

Russia's Underestimation of the Enemy Will Be One of the Reasons for its Severe Defeat in the War with Ukraine
The week of the war that ended was marked by symbolism in the dates. February 20 was the tenth anniversary of the beginning of Russian aggression against Ukraine in Crimea, the date engraved on the Russian Ministry of Defense's medal "for the return of Crimea", and the date defined as the beginning of Russian aggression in Ukrainian legislation. February 24 marks two years since the beginning of Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine. Naturally, such dates cannot remain unnoticed by the world. After all, the fact that the aggression has been going on for ten years is evidence of the ineffectiveness of the world's policy of deterring Russia without the use of harsh sanctions and ostracism. For the Kremlin, the passion for "important dates" is part of a mentality that often becomes a value in itself, leading to a loss of a sense of reality and the ability to maneuver. At the same time, in this short period, events occurred that are indicative of certain trends in the war.

After the defense of Avdiivka was completed, the results of the Russian invaders' losses were summarized. They paid for their advance and eventual capture of the ruins of the city with thousands of lives of their military. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted that Russia has only one purely military advantage today, namely the complete devaluation of human life. Russia's constant meat assaults prove this. International condonation of the absence of the rule of law in Russia after 1991 and Putin's managed poverty policy have led to the fact that human life is worthless to the Russian state. According to the commander of the Tavria operational and strategic grouping of troops, Oleksandr Tarnavsky, during the 4 months of the active phase of the Avdiivka defense operation (from October 10, 2023 to February 17, 2024) in the Avdiivka sector, the total losses of Russian troops amounted to: personnel - 47,186; tanks - 364; artillery systems - 248; armored combat vehicles - 748; aircraft - 5. According to one of Oryx's contributors, cited by Ukrainian intern Anton Pavlushko, and accompanied by a photo and video, the figures, although slightly lower, confirm the information provided by Ukraine. The figures for armored vehicle losses are as follows: 666 Russian units against 57 Ukrainian units. That is, the Ukrainian Armed Forces' losses in equipment are minimal, given the intensity of the fighting. According to Osint, the Russians lost 224 tanks alone, which is more than 7 tank battalions within 3 tank regiments. That is, the invaders' tank division was completely destroyed. The video footage shows new tanks: for example, 7 T-90s and 77 T-80s. The losses in armored vehicles are even more impressive: 359 pieces, including 121 MTLBs. The main armored vehicle of the Russians in this battle was the MTLB. That is, the Russians have less equipment, so everything that moves is going into battle. Later, it became known about the suicide of a well-known Russian military Z-correspondent Morozov ("Murz"), who claimed that Russia was significantly underestimating its losses near Avdiivka. He was under pressure from the command and propaganda, which is why the occupier committed suicide. In the Avdiivka sector, Ukrainian defenders destroyed a significant reserve of Russian occupiers, which they planned to use in other parts of the front for offensive actions. Even after the end of the fighting for Avdiivka, the Russians suffer consistently high losses. Every day, more than a thousand manpower units, and several dozen units of tanks, armored vehicles and artillery. This is largely due to the aggressor's continued attempts at active offensives in several areas. One of the main ones is Zaporizhzhya. At the same time, as noted above, due to the devaluation of life in the Russian Federation, the losses do not yet affect the Kremlin's decision to attack. The answer to this should be for Ukraine to receive more effective weapons from its partners and to methodically supply ammunition continuously.

We can expect a change in Russia's air terror campaign against Ukraine. Iran has probably provided Russia with about 400 powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles. These could be Fateh-110 or Zolfaghar missiles with a range of 300 to 700 kilometers. This is serious, as massive strikes will definitely deplete Ukraine's air defense. We do not have many anti-aircraft missiles. Even shot down ballistic missiles can explode on the ground, their debris and burning fuel causing grief. There is reason to believe that the accuracy of Iranian missiles is not very high. The same information has emerged about North Korean ballistic missiles, of which Russia has already fired 24 and hit only 2. But even missiles that miss their targets can destroy entire neighborhoods in cities. Russia is spending a huge amount of its missiles, obviously not getting the full intended result, and there are difficulties with their production. The hopes placed on the Kinzhali, which were claimed to be indestructible to air defense, did not materialize, but it turned out to be an unreasonable bluff. Now history is repeating itself with the Zircon, which in 2019 was touted by Putin as a miracle weapon, but on February 7, this particular missile was shot down over Kyiv. After Ukrainian experts examined its wreckage, it became obvious that it did not meet the characteristics claimed. So, in these circumstances, the Kremlin's reliance on massive ballistic missile strikes against Ukraine looks like a logical cannibalistic act. And decisions are needed to promptly strengthen Ukraine's air defense.

Within a short period of time, the Ukrainian Defense Forces have successfully used two "Hybrids" MLRSs. And we can talk about a certain style. In both cases, the strikes were aimed at the accumulation of Russian troops at training grounds. In the first case, in the Volnovakha district, where about 70 occupants were killed. The situation was repeated in Kherson region, where a strike was launched against the formation of Russian invaders in Podo-Kalynivka at a training ground. Several dozen occupants were killed who were preparing to act against the Ukrainian Defense Forces bridgehead on the left bank of the Dnipro River in Krynky.

The Russian occupiers' terror against Ukrainian prisoners of war is systematic. In particular, we are talking about the shooting of Ukrainian prisoners of war by the Russian military in Avdiivka. Several wounded who were captured at the Zenit position were killed there. Moreover, an agreement had been reached with the Russian side to evacuate them and provide them with medical assistance. The victims were identified by their relatives in a video released by the Russians. The Zaporizhzhia Regional Prosecutor's Office also launched an investigation into the shooting of three Ukrainian prisoners of war in the Robotyno area on February 18. The investigation is being conducted under an article of the Criminal Code on violation of the laws and customs of war related to premeditated murder. There is a video of the shooting. In addition, the Russians continue to use systematic terror against civilians in the frontline areas. In the Kupiansk district of Kharkiv region, a kamikaze drone strike on a civilian car killed three local farm workers. A family of five was killed after shelling from Russia and a house fire in Konotop district of Sumy region.

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It is clear that Ukraine has now managed to ensure that Russian warplanes are being defeated on a systematic basis. During the week, 9 combat aircraft of the Russian invaders were destroyed. Of these, 8 were Su-34 and Su-35 strike aircraft and 1 was an A-50 airborne surveillance aircraft. Most of the strike aircraft were destroyed while they were supporting the offensive actions of Russian ground forces, using guided bombs and being forced to enter the air defense zone. Although some of the aircraft were shot down far from the front. The situation with the A-50 is different. It operates at a considerable distance from the front line. The A-50 is an aircraft that covers the situation in the air and on the ground hundreds of kilometers away, it is the eyes of the invasion aviation, which ensures the actions of Russian warplanes, detects the work of Ukraine's air defense, guides aircraft and performs other tasks. There are valuable highly qualified specialists on board, with a crew of five and about ten operators. The number of such combat-ready aircraft in the Russian Federation can be counted on one hand. The cost of the downed A-50U is about 350 million dollars. It should be noted that this is the second A-50 downed by the Ukrainian Air Force. The first such aircraft was downed over the Sea of Azov on January 14. It was the first time in history that a airborne surveillance aircraft was destroyed in a combat situation. After that, the Russians were forced to move the flight zone of the next A-50s from the Azov Sea to the Kuban coast. This limited the area of detection by the radar aircraft, but, as we can see, did not save it from the Ukrainian Defense Forces. The distance from the target to the front line is more than 200 kilometers. This is a lot for the air defense systems available in Ukraine and in the world. It is possible that this is the work of Petriot, or the Soviet "long arm" system modernized by Ukrainians С-200. The position of Russian propaganda is also revealing. Once again, the idea that the Ukrainian Defense Forces are unable to carry out such a strike is being raised. Therefore, the main version in Russia is "friendly fire." For Russians who do not recognize Ukraine's right to exist, it is easier to invent their own incapacity and negligence as the reason for their defeat than to realize and admit that it is the result of Ukrainian actions. And such Russian disdain for Ukraine and Ukrainians will be one of the reasons for Russia's severe defeat.

Ukraine Expects More Decisive Steps of Support from its Partners
The key topics of Ukrainian politics were related to the foreign policy challenges that Ukraine faced in the second half of February. The resumption of the blockade of the border with Poland was very painfully perceived by the Ukrainian public as a "stab in the back." Moreover, all this was accompanied by the destruction of Ukrainian grain, which has always been a sign of the highest hostility for the agrarian Ukrainian consciousness. The denial of military cargo from Poland, as well as numerous pro-Russian slogans in the hands of protesters, did not add to the optimism.

The Polish government publicly distanced itself from the protests, while some government officials and the president of the country made statements about the "fairness of the demands" of Polish farmers, which meant actual support for the actions, as evidenced by the involvement of police to support the blockers.

In response, President of Ukraine V. Zelenskyy proposed a meeting at the Ukrainian-Polish border at the level of government delegations, but the Polish side ignored it. Prime Minister D. Tusk merely announced the creation of a special regime at the border to ensure the free passage of military supplies and humanitarian aid. However, the issue of all other cargo moving through Poland remains open until government talks in a month.

All of this is superimposed on the failure of the European project to supply one million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine over the course of the year, and the lack of progress in allocating aid to Ukraine from the United States. All in all, this makes a negative impression on Ukrainians, who perceive all this as an attempted betrayal by the Western partners.

The continuation of signing security agreements with Western countries, in particular with Denmark, has had some impact on the overall perception of the situation. Earlier, the relevant agreements were signed with Germany and France. At the same time, it should be understood that any security guarantees and agreements with Western states are also perceived ambiguously in Ukrainian society, as they are automatically associated with the Budapest Memorandum, a document according to which Ukraine gave up its nuclear potential in exchange for "security guarantees" from the world's leading nuclear powers.

Obviously, two years after the outbreak of the war, Ukraine expects more serious assistance from the states that declared themselves its partners, not only in words but also in the form of concrete actions, as Ukraine clearly lacks weapons and missiles. Accordingly, from a political point of view, the idea of unity between Ukraine and the West, which was declared at various levels after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion, is now being tested and requires concrete steps.

Ukraine is on the Verge of a Severe Demographic Crisis
The war has exacerbated one of Ukraine's key problems - in fact, the Ukrainian nation is on the verge of a national catastrophe and on the eve of a deep demographic crisis. If we define a nation as a certain living organism that extends over time, then now, for the first time in the history of the Ukrainian people, the key parameters of this organism's vital activity are being threatened in the form of life expectancy and, mainly, birth rates.

Of course, Ukraine has faced catastrophic population losses before: World War I and World War II, the era of the Liberation Movement in the 20th century, and the Holodomor. But all of these crises occurred against a backdrop of high birth rates, meaning that despite the huge population losses, positive demographic dynamics were restored. 

But will Ukraine be able to repeat such a resurrection from the ashes now?

Since 2017, the birth rate in Ukraine has decreased from 364 thousand children per year to 187 thousand in 2023. That is, by 177 thousand or 48%. If we take the pre-war level (2021), the drop over the two years of the war was 33% (a reduction in the birth rate by 92 thousand children annually). It is quite possible that by the end of the war, the birth rate will drop to 150 thousand children a year. By the way, in 1991, the year Ukraine gained independence, the birth rate in Ukraine exceeded 500 thousand children annually. 

What do these dry figures mean? Over the next thirty years, only 4.5 million new Ukrainians will be born in Ukraine. That is, if the birth rate does not continue to fall (which is not the case) and all children live to adulthood or do not go abroad (which is also, unfortunately, impossible). In other words, in thirty years, the country's backbone will be less than 4 million young citizens. In fact, this figure will be more like 2-3 million. 

This is a measure of a potential national catastrophe. 

It is no longer possible to restore the nation, as it was in past historical periods.

For example, the fertility rate of the USSR before the war was 4.3, and after the war it recovered only to the level of 3. At the same time, a fertility rate of about 2.1 births per woman during her lifetime is the minimum permissible for the simple reproduction of a nation at the same level of population. 

The total fertility rate or fertility rate is a coefficient that shows how many children one woman would give birth to on average over the entire reproductive period (i.e., from 15 to 50 years). 

In Ukraine, before the war, this figure dropped to 1.2, and now it has fallen to 0.7. And there are no prerequisites for its restoration to at least the level of 2.

And how many Ukrainians are left in their country now?

Unfortunately, we do not know the basis for comparison, because the last census was held in Ukraine more than 20 years ago.

Of course, we can use the data from the conditional census conducted in 2020.

Back then, using extrapolation of data and the number of cellular subscribers, the population of Ukraine was estimated at 37.29 million people as of December 1, 2019.

However, the factor of labor migration was not fully taken into account, and according to various estimates, it ranged from 3 to 7 million people. The problem with this calculation was whether to take into account pendulum migration (when a person stays abroad for up to three months) or only permanent migration (staying abroad for more than a year).

According to various estimates, the population of Ukraine before the full-scale war was 35 million permanent residents. The war factor (refugees and occupation) was supposed to reduce this figure to at least 27 million people, and taking into account the excess of mortality over births, to 26 million people by the end of 2023.

Why can't Ukraine repeat the postwar baby boom of the past, when the nation was recovering from another war? One of the authors of the concept of demographic transitions, Van de Kaa, considers the following reasons for the transformation in fertility rates: 
  1. The transition from the "golden age" of marriage to other, legally unregistered forms of cohabitation and alternative forms of family. 
  2. The transition from a child-centered family model to an individualistic, mature couple with or without one child. 
  3. Transition from preventive contraception, designed to prevent early childbearing, to conscious planning of each child's birth. 
  4. Transition from a unified patriarchal model to pluralistic family models. 

In our opinion, the key reason for the above processes is the emancipation of women, their personal growth, reduction of gender discrimination by men, destruction of archaic values and dominance of post-modern concepts of human development. 

In other words, to bring the birth rate back to the previous level, we will have to enslave women again, make them stay at home to give birth to children and take away their right to work and self-development. Today, even financial incentives in the form of maternity capital no longer work as they used to. 

Young families need to be helped to socialize their children: to compensate for the costs of nannies, tutors, rent and mortgage, children's education, school supplies, summer vacations for children so that young couples can take care of their personal affairs, etc. 

Extraordinary efforts are needed to revive the country's demographic base and prevent the nation from becoming extinct. This is a combination of factors: 
  1. Maternal capital. 
  2. State assistance in the socialization of children. 
  3. Repatriation of Ukrainians and attraction of migrants. 
All three points require a dynamic development model. The economy must literally take off. But here we find ourselves in a vicious circle: to grow the economy, we need people, and to attract people, we need to ensure economic growth. 

Why is the economic growth model so important? 

Effective demographic policy requires resources: maternity capital, assistance in the socialization of children - all of these are very large budget expenditures.

In order to repatriate Ukrainians and attract migrants, it is necessary to solve the complex problem of the country's development. 

This includes salaries, business conditions, security, strategic growth, and institutional development (pension system, healthcare, education). 

All these programs take a long time to implement. 

Therefore, the key task for Ukraine now is to protect its human capital. Human-centered policy. 

People and their interests are above all. Otherwise, we will simply lose people, and this will be a loss a priori, regardless of the outcome of the war.

And one more thing. Ukraine needs its own "aliyah," as the program for the return of immigrants to Israel was called.

So we conclude that the main victory in the war is a civilizational one. The main policy is human-centered. 

The future of Ukraine lies in building a society of free people and an economy of free entrepreneurs.

And remember, even if Ukraine does everything right and on time, the "demographic footprint" of the cumulative impact of the pandemic and the war will haunt the Ukrainian nation until the end of this century. But this should further motivate and encourage the authorities to take effective action to cushion the demographic crisis, which is becoming the greatest challenge to the existence of the Ukrainian nation in its history.

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