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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 18:23 GMT
Ukraine census sparks fierce debate
Demonstration in Kiev
Many Ukrainians are angry over dismal living conditions
By BBC regional analyst Steven Eke

Ukraine has launched its first national census since the demise of the Soviet Union a decade ago.

Following long delays due to a lack of resources, it is expected to show a sharp drop in the country's population and that Ukrainians are getting older and having fewer children.

The results are likely to provoke a fierce debate about how economic reforms have hit the people of the former Soviet republics.

Ukraine's government has enlisted 250,000 of its citizens to distribute, gather and process the census.

Full results will only be published in two years' time, but preliminary data on the size of Ukraine's population is expected within six months.

Decline

The results are likely to show that Ukraine, one of Europe's largest countries which had a population of more than 50 million a decade ago, has lost a minimum of two-and-a-half million people.

Worst-case predictions go even further, suggesting a decline of four or five million people over a decade, figures unprecedented in peacetime.

Western investigations suggest the drop in population in the former Soviet republics is part of a long-term trend which began in the 1970s.

But in Ukraine, the results will again polarise the debate about how a decade of market reform has affected ordinary people.

Ukraine's Communists say that the precipitous drop in living standards and the collapse of the cradle-to-grave Soviet welfare state are the main causes of the demographic crisis.

Reformists contend that the drop is more about deaths due to accidents, unhealthy lifestyles, particularly alcoholism, new threats such as violent crime and Aids, and mass emigration.

The results of the census will provoke a great deal of soul-searching in Ukraine, but with the country's birthrate remaining stubbornly low, it may take decades to reverse the population decline.

See also:

28 Nov 01 | Europe
Aids races through Eastern Europe
28 Nov 01 | Media reports
Press mourns failure of Ukraine democracy
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