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The challenges and issues for Youths in Ukraine
Ukraine is an east European country, currently undergoing a political and social turmoil. It borders Russia and for the past ten months is in the midst of a civil unrest. In the year 2014, the pro-Russian president, Yanukovych, was ousted and was replaced by Poroshenko, a pro-European Union candidate. Today, the future of Ukraine is still murky because of the war with the separatists. This essay attempts to assess the opportunities and threats that are in front of a Ukrainian youth in the present political and economical situation.
Ukraine – An overview
Ukraine today is caught between Europe and Russia, and between its own past and present. To analyze the conditions that are prevalent in Ukraine, it is important to understand the political situation of the country. The present crisis in the country begun when in November 2013, Yanukovych abandoned the EU agreement to forge strong ties with Russia. This resulted in nationwide protests that resulted in the ouster of Yanukovych.
The unrest also resulted led to the annexation of Crimean peninsula, a part of Ukraine, by Russia. There is also an ongoing military tussle in the east of the country between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists. The US and EU blame Russia for escalating the tension by aiding the separatists. Civilians of the country are hugely affected by the increased intensity of the violence. Despite various ceasefire agreements, the east of the country is still troubled by fighting.
Almost two thirds of the country’s population is comprised of ethnic Ukrainians and about one sixth is ethnic Russians. Among the ethnic Ukrainians, most speak Ukrainian language with one-sixth speaking Russian. The ethnic Russians mostly live in South and East of the country, closer to the Russian border. These divisions are behind the ethnic tensions that prevail in the country today, and the country’s stability depends on finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
When Vladimir Putin was elected President of Russia in 2000 and the surge in global oil prices gave a boost to the Russian economy, Russia begun to take active part in the politics of Ukraine. Young Ukrainians, who were eager to break away from their Soviet Union past, rebelled against the Russian involvement resulting in the Orange revolution of 2004. The revolution showed that Ukrainians could reverse the decision of a stolen election by taking to the streets.
Ukraine’s economy is hugely dependent on the cheap oil supplies from Russia, and Russia on its part is keen to maintain this dependence. The rest of the Europe too depends on Russian energy supplies and are reluctant to antagonize Moscow over Ukraine, which is not strong enough to join the EU in the near future. Thus, Ukraine is battling a fragile economy and a volatile political situation simultaneously.
The current government is looking to break away from its past and forge stronger ties with the West, in particular with the EU. It reiterates its commitment to European values and asks the West to interfere in the conflict, so that they would have the freedom to pursue their EU goals. Whatever, the future holds for Ukraine, it all depends on the amount of stability the government can bring in the war-plagued Eastern region.
The Youths of Ukraine
In the year 2011, the population of Ukraine was an estimated 45.6 million people, out of which the youth comprised of 14.5 million people. Young people belonging to the age group of 14 to 35 contribute to almost 31% of the Ukrainian population, which makes it a country with relatively large youth group. However, decrease in birth rates and increase in life expectancy has contributed to projections that in 2030, almost, 28% of the population will be people belonging to the age group of above 60. In addition to the predictions for future, there is already a reduction in population of Ukraine from the levels of 1991.
The UN has forecasted that the population of Ukraine would shrink further by the year 2030. Also, another trend noticed in demographics of the country is that in 2012, 69% of the population lived in urban areas and 31% in rural areas. The rural-urban combination is important for social analysis. These conditions have a huge impact on access to infrastructures, quality of resources and impact on the general well-being of the country’s population.
Most young people, an estimated 9.7 million, in Ukraine live in urban areas, and some 4 million live in rural areas. From the year 2005, there is a significant reduction in youth residing in rural areas because of the mass migration to urban areas. Among the Ukrainian cities, Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, is the city that has most number of youths, with almost 34% of Ukraine’s youth population living there. The ethnicity of the country is diverse and is as follows - 77.8% Ukrainian and 17.3% Russian. Other minority groups include Belarusian, Bulgarian, Crimean Tatar, Hungarian, Moldovan, Jewish, Romanian and Polish.
Apart from ethnic differences, Ukraine is also a country with huge regional differences. Regions differ not only by language and culture but also by economic conditions, political ideologies and access to resources. Western and central Ukraine is mostly agrarian, while eastern and southern regions are industrial economies with Russian speaking population and close ties to Russia. Every election in Ukraine is almost a faceoff between candidates supported by western and central regions against those supported by eastern and southern regions. The regions, which are east to Kyiv, have better economic conditions and average monthly wage than the regions west to it.
Weaknesses and Threats
Though today the economy of Ukraine is in a better shape than yesteryears, the unstable political situation has cause deterioration of living conditions. This, in turn, has impeded the opportunities for growth available for the Ukrainian youths, and has had a negative impact on the quality of life. Though the young people of the country have huge aspirations for their future, it would be difficult to be realized in the present situation the country finds itself in.
The decreasing standard of living has impacted the youth in a huge way, and the risk of higher than average level of poverty among youth is very high in Ukraine. This rate is higher in rural areas than in urban areas, and has blocked the opportunity structures for the youth. The higher quality of livng in other parts of the world is seen by the young people, mainly through the medium of TV, and they aspire to achieve it, but unfortunately the ground reality in the country poses a major roadblock as there is a dearth of financial resources for youth policy.
Ukrainian youths today face a myriad of issues such as unemployment, rise in price of essential commodities, and rising crime rates. They also face health related challenges such as AIDS, environmental issues, poor living conditions, drug addiction and poor medical care. They also lack proper opportunities in sports and there is a general lack of awareness of healthy life style. There is a dearth in youth housing programs and wages are pretty low in Ukraine compared to other European countries.
But the most disturbing trend is the decline in the importance of vocational education. Many young people today, in Ukraine, are joining the labor force, without completing their education and with no desire of continuing their studies. The educational potential of the Ukrainian youth remains underutilized because of the mismatch between the labor market requirements and the education system.
Also because of the low social prestige associated with teaching profession, the quality of education suffers. According to the State Statistics Committee, the average teacher’s salary is 1,700 hryvnia (approximately 1 Ukrainian Hryvnia equals 0.036 US Dollar). Adding to this, the deterioration of technical base and the slow pace of modernization of educational institutions are rendering the education system to be outdated and lacking in quality.
In the employment front, only young people with right connections are able to land a job, irrelevant of their academic qualifications. For youths who want to start their own business high tax rates, corruption and lack of avenues to raise source capital are the major roadblocks. The recent years have also witnessed a surge in the spread of socio-related health issues such as AIDS and drug addiction. Drug addiction among minors has increased six times, and almost one out every three child born in Ukraine is detected with some kind of abnormalities in nervous system.
Much of the health care expenditure is spent on treatment rather than prevention of diseases. There is no proper system of youth sports such as children training camps or youth sport leagues. The state’s indifference to these problems gives rise to horde of other issues like lack of self-confidence and trust among the youth. Ukrainian youth also are victims of social stratification caused by geographical factors, the disparity in family incomes and the varied political ideologies. Youth alcoholism, suicides and narcomania are other byproducts of these social evils.
Emigration is another huge threat in front of the country. Since 1993, Ukraine has witnessed a huge decrease in population and emigration is one of the major reasons behind this decline. Ukraine is one of the largest donor countries of workers in Europe. Many of the people who leave the country fall between the age group of 20-49 years. Emigration do not just results in population decrease but also leads to ‘brain drain.’ In the last decade, the number Ukrainian immigrants with higher education are 1.5 times more than any other Western countries. Thus, there is a dearth of skilled labor force in the country and there is a steady deterioration of level of education among the youth.
Opportunities and Strengths
With the recent stabilization of economy, between the years 2001 and 2008, there have been some signs of improvement in the standard of living and employment opportunities. This presents an opportunity for high skilled employees to earn more wages inside Ukraine. The trend is reflected in the fact that the number of PhD holders leaving Ukraine has decreased during this period. The improved border controls of Ukraine, during this period, have ensured that the country is no longer a haven for illegal immigrants trying to enter Western Europe.
The visa facilitation agreement entered by EU and Ukraine, allows more Ukrainians to travel to EU for business and pleasure, thus bringing about possible opportunities of business collaborations. In the year 2012, there was an increase of 16%, compared to 2011, in the number of visas granted to Ukrainians. The visa-free travel opportunity for Ukrainians will also pave way for circular migration, whereby Ukrainians who go aboard to work can travel back to Ukraine more frequently.
Ukraine has many key strengths like rich soil, a strategic location in Eastern Europe and a substantial heavy industrial sector. On April 2014, the IMF announced an aid package of $17 billion loan for Ukraine. Including this loan, Ukraine has at its disposal $27 billion in international aid over the next two years. Ukraine is, today, competing very effectively with countries such as China, India and Western European countries in IT outsourcing. There are a large number of startups in Ukraine and some of them are internationally well known companies like Grammarly, InvisibleCRM, Jooble etc. If the enabling environments for startups are created, they can give a considerable boost to the economy.
The current generation of youth has shown the inclination to actively participate in programs and protests to bring about social and political changes. The role of the youth in 2004 Orange revolution is an indication of the dynamism of the Ukrainian youth. Through informal activities and volunteering the young people of the country are contributing meaningfully in the transition that the country is currently undergoing, which is one of the huge strengths of Ukraine.
In political discourse, the young generation of the country is seen as a great hope for the future of Ukraine. The youth are increasingly playing a crucial role in the country’s development and progress. Creative ideas on the part of young people have the potential to influence policy makers’ actions. Ukraine is moving away from its paternalistic institutions to embrace a creative and proactive way of governance.
The principles of conformity and passivity of the Soviet times are being slowly, but surely, replaced by self-agency and accountability. The youth of Ukraine are in the middle of this tremendous political and social change, and it is within their power to nudge this change in the right direction. Projects to empower youth should be the priority of the new government as should be the elimination of corruption in government institutions.
In conclusion, it can be said that Ukraine is currently facing a multitude of problems in all fronts – political, social and economical. There is an urgent need for offering a new role to the youth of the country in state functioning. Not every part of Ukraine is under conflict and peace reigns through most part of the country. The last twelve months have seen some concrete changes than in any time during the previous two decades. Today, the country has perhaps the least corrupt and most competent government than any time in its history. So, it is time to bring in some fresh policies with a vision for the future. There are excellent opportunities ahead, with many foreign investors viewing Ukraine to be a good investment prospect, particularly in the areas of agriculture, real estate and information technology. The Ukraine people will benefit from such foreign investments in many ways, and more importantly they will gain knowledge about Western business practices and competencies, which will tremendously help the youth of the country.
Young people, who are at present are disillusioned by the state politics, should be engaged in various social initiatives. The youth of Ukraine share a deep concern for the state of affairs in their country, and they possess considerable energy to somehow overcome the roadblocks and make something out of their lives. Thus, Ukraine has sufficient manpower resources, if not always political and economic resources, and with active participation from the youth of the country, it can scale new heights both in terms of economic and social development.
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