A Brief History of Migration and Remittances in Ukraine

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Throughout its history, Ukraine has been caught in the crossfire of clashing civilizations, a phenomenon that has deeply marked the country’s identity. Even its Proto-Slavic name, “Ukraine,” means “borderland”.

At its historical height, Ukraine had become the center of the largest and most powerful European state, Kyvian Rus, which set the foundation for modern-day Ukrainian culture. And although the independent state only lasted from around the year 880 to the early 13th century, Ukraine remains a strategic convergence point in the East.

To honor Ukraine’s birthday, let’s take a look at a bit of its history, the country’s relationship with migration and a few insights about Ukraine’s remittances.

A (very) brief history of Ukraine

Evidence points to today’s territory of Ukraine being inhabited by humans since at least 32,000 BC, with many civilizations having flourished in the area. The Sarmatians and Cimmerians are among some of the cultures that lived in Ukraine in its early days. As time went by, many other tribes and cultures came into contact with the ones in present-day Ukraine: the Bulgars, the Antes, and many others. These and other early Slavic tribes are considered the forebears of Ukraine’s culture.

In the 9th century, Slavic peoples living in the area organized themselves into a political entity known as Kievan Rus’, one of the most important European states at the time, and considered as part of the heritage of not only Ukraine, but also Russia and Belarus to this day. This state and its territories went through many changes after the 13th century, being part of other foreign powers (such as Russia, Austria-Hungary, among others). Then, another state known as the Cossack Republic appeared in the 17th century, which was also subject to conflicts with other powers and states of the region.

After the Russian revolution, Ukraine declared its independence in 1918, but was absorbed by the Soviet Union shortly thereafter. At last, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine gained its permanent independence on August 24, 1991. Today, Ukraine is a member of international organizations such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe. Ukraine’s economy is considered an emerging one, with the Ukrainian hryvnia as its currency. In recent years, Ukraine has also become one of the top remittances receiving countries of its region, receiving an estimated $14 billion in remittances in 2020.

Ukrainian migration

Ukraine’s economy has been growing recently. Even so, many Ukrainians continue to look for opportunities – and a better life – elsewhere. Recent statistics reported that 5.9 million Ukrainians are currently living in other countries.

In 2017, the World Bank observed a 22% jump in remittances from US$9.47 billion in 2016 to US$12 billion, suggesting a parallel increase in Ukrainian expatriates. At the same time, an estimate of 5 million immigrants were residing in Ukraine, the majority hailing from the Russian Federation (nearly 3.5 million), Belarus (258,000) and Kazakhstan (234,000).

Infographic about Ukraine's remittances and Ukraninans living abroad
To expand and download the infographic, click here.

According to the Migration Data Portal, Ukraine has a fair migration governance system. While there is still room for growth regarding crisis-related displacement and university fees for internationals, there are many laws already put in place that preserve the integrity of immigrants from access to social security to affordable primary and secondary education.

Ukraine’s remittances

Ukraine received $14.6 billion in remittances in 2018, equating to 11.4% of the country’s GDP, according to the World Bank. Unsurprisingly, most of these remittances originated in the Russian Federation (over US$4 billion), followed by the United States (US$629 million) and Germany (US$369 million). And, as we mentioned, in 2020, this number is estimated to be close to $14 billion, which still leaves the country as one of the top receivers of remittances of the world.

However, Ukraine is also an important source of remittances for countries like Moldova (US$249 million), Georgia (US$145 million) and Belarus (US$184 million). On top of that, Ukraine residents also managed to send back US$2.5 billion to the Russian Federation and US$259 million to Germany.

This shows how Ukraine’s remittances foster a symbiotic relationship between sending and receiving destinations, which in turn could indicate a larger convergence between Eastern Europeans than the region’s history would have us believe.

This post is part of our History of Remittances series. Check our previous posts that include MalaysiaSenegalGeorgiaColombiaMoroccoPolandCanadaIndiaItaly and Dominican Republic.

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