Going to Poland to pick strawberries? How to calculate Ukrainians abroad | VoxUkraine

Going to Poland to pick strawberries? How to calculate Ukrainians abroad

6 December 2019

Ukrainians are leaving the country en masse, looking for a better life! 13 million have left during the last 5 years! Our labor force is scarce; everybody went to work in Poland! “This is a genocide of Ukrainians; there is no other name for it”. This is what Yulia Tymoshenko, the leader of Batkivshchyna party, said about the Ukrainian emigration.

The news feed recently is filled with such provocative headlines. It comes as no surprise, as nearly all of us have relatives or friends who left Ukraine to live or work abroad. Therefore it is easy to believe that almost one third of Ukrainians have left the country.

However, the real facts paint a different story. No, Ukrainians do not leave the country en masse, despite certain problems with emigration. In the framework of the Truth Percentage, joint project launched by VoxCheck and Ukrainian Radio, we have figured out a way to calculate how many Ukrainians emigrated forever and how many have left as work migrants. We have also disproved the most widespread myths about emigration and found out trustworthy sources dealing with the topic. 

How to count Ukrainian migrants

There are various ways of estimating migration movements of the population. Unfortunately, there is no accurate data about the quantity of Ukrainians who left the country forever. 

For instance, the State Statistics Service data shows that the number of migrants entering Ukraine compared to the ones leaving (migration ratio) increased in 2017 and 2018. Moreover, the difference was growing bigger, as the inflow increased and the outflow decreased.

However, the Statestat method of estimation has certain shortbacks. The Statestat numbers are based on the State Migration Service registration data. Few emigrants go to the Migration Service to sign off their registration. People who do this are mostly those who get another country citizenship and decide to terminate their Ukrainian citizenship. The numbers of migration movement do not include the Ukrainians who live abroad permanently or temporarily without cancelling their registration in the Migration Service. 

According to the UN statistics, 5,9 million Ukrainians lived outside Ukraine in 2017.

The methodology of the UN is not accurate as well. Organisation regards all people who were born in a certain country and live outside it as emigrants. 

In the case of Ukraine, this number includes not only those who left Ukraine after it became independent, but also those who were born here during the Soviet times and stayed to live in other post-Soviet countries after the USSR split in 1991. The UN estimates show, for example, that approximately 3 million Ukrainians stayed in Russia. These are also included in the overall number of Ukrainian migrants. 

International Organization for Migration uses the same approach. According to its estimates, approximately 8 million people left Ukraine since the beginning of the 20th century. 

According to the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service information, during 2002-2017 the number of Ukrainian citizens who left the country was by 6,3 million more than the number of those who entered. At the same time, this very information says that by 9 million more foreigners entered Ukraine than left.    

Summing it up, this data must be researched more thoroughly to estimate the number of migrants.  

How many Ukrainians work abroad?

The same problems arise with the estimates of work migration. There is no uniform approach or generally approved source of information for it. According to the calculations of the Centre for Economic Strategy there may be 2,6-2,7 million Ukrainians working abroad at any given moment. The CES assumes that the overall annual number of work migrants is about 4 million. 

Poland and Russia host the most of work migrants from Ukraine. However, the start of Russian aggression reduced the flow of work migrants from Ukraine to Russia. Ukrainians made a turn to the West, with the increase of migration to Poland in particular.

Poland from its part has often demonstrated the interest in labor force from Ukraine because of its own manpower shortage (many Poles move to work in other EU countries). Moreover, Poland has lifted some administrative barriers in employment for Ukrainians. 

Meanwhile, according to the CES estimates, Ukrainians go to work abroad for shorter terms now, 57% emigrants stay abroad for not longer than 3 months. The most popular jobs are in the fields of construction and housekeeping. 

It is interesting that the motivation of IT specialists to emigrate differs from the motives of the rest of migrants. Whereas most Ukrainians seek work abroad to get higher earnings, the IT professionals search for more security and higher growth prospects. 

However, the expectations of most migrants to earn more money abroad are rather doubtful. Taking into account the taxes, the salary buying capacity and the costs of employment intermediary services, the benefits from work migration do not look so attractive. This concerns, first of all, low-skilled labor.

Moreover, the salaries growth in the EU is much slower than in Ukraine. The payroll difference will be getting smaller with time.

Does migration bring any good?

Mr. Glib Vyshlinsky, the executive director of the Centre for Economic Strategy, says that the migration trend is getting stronger since 2009.

The good news is that the number of Ukrainians who left their country for good has been reduced by half after 2014. 

Mr. Vyshlinsky also said that the most of Ukrainian migrants go to work in neighbour countries. That means they keep close ties with Ukraine and they will be able to come back if the economic situation improves in the country and high productivity well-paid jobs are created.  

Accordingly, with proper employment politics provided, the state can increase positive effects from migration and create incentives to make the Ukrainian labor market attractive for Ukrainian workers.      

The following effects of migration can be outlined as positive:  

  • the influx of cash (though this trend is temporary; when the number of migrants reduces, the inflow of money from them will be also reduced);
  • the incentives to invest in better education to learn higher skills and get better jobs;
  • poverty reduction and public welfare increase 
  • manpower production capacity increase and higher quality of labor capital gained from acquired skills and work experience
  • the inflow of technologies, investments and innovations; mainly in the case of high-skilled labor force migration

What can be done to reduce work migration and permanent emigration of Ukrainians?

The following steps can be made to improve the state policies to reduce the number of emigrants:

  • Firstly, the approach to migrants records keeping must be changed. There is no sufficient data to estimate migration properly, as we already said earlier. There is no starting point for counting the country’s population, because the last popular census was held in 2001.   
  • Secondly, the state must take measures to increase positive effects from migration. For example, by reducing barriers for short-term and pendular migration, keeping the ties with migrants, giving them incentives for entrepreneurship. 
  • Thirdly, internal migration to various regions of Ukraine can replace migration to other countries. The state must spread the information about the terms of employment in various regions and offer regional vacancies to the unemployed via the employment service.
  • Fourthly, the state must improve international cooperation in the field of migration, i.e. to conduct conscious policy of attracting labor from abroad similarly to the neighboring EU countries.

Why do we believe in myths about emigration?

Almost all of us have acquaintances, friends or relatives who went to work abroad. That is why one might get the impression that everybody wants to live, study of work abroad. 

However, this is the so called confirmation bias. We feel that Ukrainians go abroad en-masse because we hear this statement from politicians. We see our friends emigrants around and think that the statement is true. In this case it is better to rely on statistics and official data instead of one’s own assumptions which are only worsened by provocative news headlines.

Top list of manipulative statements on migration

From 7 to 13 million Ukrainians left the country during 5 years


“We have 13 million loss of population during 5 years. There were 45 million people in Ukraine by December 1, 2013. By April 1 – May 1, 2019 there are 32 million permanent residents in the country”

Ihor Kolomoiskyi, 2 May 2019 (18:43-19:08)

According to the Statestat data 45,2 million people lived in Ukraine in December 2013 and 41,9 million in March 2019. This means that permanent population decreased by 3,3 million, not 13 million. Moreover, the 2019 data does not include the population of AR Crimea and Sevastopol. To obtain more accurate data it is necessary to carry out the population census which was not done since 2001.


“According to the World Bank data, almost 7 million people have left Ukraine to work in other countries. Just imagine this number – 7 million! This is almost one third of the working-age population of Ukraine”

Yulia Tymoshenko on migrants, 5 May, 2018 (7:53 – 8:06)

There is no exact data about the number of Ukrainians who left the country forever. According to the UN statistics and the World Bank data, there were not 7 million but 5,9 million Ukrainians living outside Ukraine. However, their methodology comprises not only those who left independent Ukraine but also those who were born in the Soviet times Ukraine and stayed to live in other post-Soviet countries after the split of the USSR.  

The International Organization for Migration uses the same approach. According to its data, approximately 8 million people left Ukraine since the beginning of the 20th century. The organization keeps regarding all these people as migrants.  

That means really, that there are from 5 to 8 million Ukrainians who left Ukraine or were born in Ukraine and left for other countries. However, they are not work migrants as Yulia Tymoshenko says. These are all people who moved abroad or stayed there permanently, including children and retirees. So the verdict is manipulation. 

3 million Ukrainians work in Russia, and this is during wartime!


“3 million Ukrainians work at the territory of the Russian Federation”

Yevhenii Muraiev, 10 June 2019 (02:51:52-02:52:00)

We haven’t found the exact data on the number of Ukrainian work migrants in Russia but we have the estimates of the overall quantity of Ukrainian work migrants. The newest data is given by IMF in their January country report (article 4) . It says that the overall number of Ukrainians who work abroad is from 2 to 3 million . 

The Centre for Economic Strategy (article 16) says that the number of work migrants is 4 million persons and there may be 2,6-2,7 million Ukrainians staying abroad at any given moment. Similar conclusions are given by Hanna Vakhitova, the lecturer of Kyiv School of Economics. According to her estimates 2,5 million, or one of ten adult Ukrainians, works abroad.  

If we accept the overall number of Ukrainians working abroad as approximately 3 million Ukrainians, it is impossible that all of them work in Russia. Poland, in particular, estimates the number of work migrants as follows

The Ukrainian power of 2014-2018 is to be blamed for mass emigration of Ukrainians


“Because of their politics 2 million people left Ukraine for Poland during just last year”

Oleh Liashko on emigration, 07 June 2018 (38:42-38:48)

In 2017 Poland gave 1,8 million work permits for foreigners, out of which 90% – 1,6 million – went to Ukrainians. Mr. Liashko is at least exaggerating the number of Ukrainians who received the permits to work in Poland. Such permits are given by a simplified procedure for not more than 6 months per year, and after the term is over, it is necessary to prolong the validity of such permits. So, to estimate the real minimum quantity of migrants per year, the quantity of permits must be divided by two, thus obtaining the annual number of Ukrainian migrants from 800 thousand to 1,6 million.   

Is it fair to say that these people “left”? Most probably such workers constantly come back to Ukraine (and may work here as well for some time). Though it is difficult to say how many stay in Poland illegally.

It is worth to take into account 150 thousand residence permits (data for the beginning of 2018), 40 thousand long-term work migrants and 35 thousand students. So the total quantity of Ukrainians in Poland is 1 million persons, which is close to the Polish researchers estimates.

Now that the new power has come, the Ukrainians start to return home


“Let us start from the beginning of your question – about returning people to Ukraine. By the way, my phone power has been off. I wanted to… I can show you the diagram – the return of people has increased. If you look at the real statistics during last 5 years, the number has increased during the last half a year. This is a very interesting information. I don’t think that this… I don’t think that we have done anything special, the only thing is that we are the new people and we have been trusted. Really, very many people, there is the increase, people start to return little by little. Well, in fact, the problem of people leaving still remains”

Volodymyr Zelenskyi, 10 October 2019 (9:16:53-9:17:34)

There are various estimates of migration movements of population.

According to the annual data of the Statestat (based on the State Migration Service data), the migration ratio (the excess number of arrivals to Ukraine over the departures) increased in 2017 and 2018. Moreover, the ratio was growing bigger because of the inflow increase and the outflow decline.

If we check the data for January-July, the migration ratio increased by 3,8 times in January-July 2018 compared to 2017, and decreased by 3% in 2019. 

The Statestat methods of migration movement estimation show in fact the registrations in the State Migration Service only but not the actual changes of residence.

Few emigrants go to the Migration Service to sign off their registration. The people who do this are mostly those who get another country citizenship and decide to terminate their Ukrainian citizenship. The numbers of migration movement do not include Ukrainians who live abroad permanently or temporarily without cancelling their registration in the Migration Service. 

That means that Mr. Zelenskyi manipulates, because:

  1. people arriving to Ukraine can be not only Ukrainians but foreigners as well;
  2. the official immigration number has been increasing for three years in a raw and not just during the last half of a year;
  3. even if we assume that some part of this increase is accounted for the return of the persons who departed earlier, the reasons of their return are not clear. There is no clear evidence that anybody returns because of trusting Mr.Zelenskyi.

How to struggle the emigration myths? Read reliable sources!

One can compare the sources of the Statestat, the UN, International Organization for Migration and State Border Guard Service. Tetiana Tyshchuk, the leader of iMore project, wrote about the differences of their methods in her article “Big migration: why nobody in Ukraine knows the number of our citizens who left abroad”.

It is worth to take into consideration the analytical report of the Centre for Economic Strategy “How many Ukrainians have left abroad and what the state should do about it” This CES research gives detailed explanations on the types of migration with calculation of migrant numbers and description of reasons for immigration.

One can read about the public migration intentions from the Statestat households polls or from the polls of such sociology research entities as ІRI, “Rating Group” and GfK.

There are the following persons within the expert community who write professionally about emigration:


The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations