Where are Ukrainian brains “drained” to, and how? | VoxUkraine

Where are Ukrainian brains “drained” to, and how?

Photo: depositphotos / kasto
19 August 2019

The loss of human resources and skilled employees has been an essential challenge for the Ukrainian state and its economy ever since the declaration of independence. Ukraine has been steadily losing its best “brains”, which strengthen the labor markets of other countries. At the same time, it is hard to compensate human resources by using migrant labor force coming to the country.

The hard economic situation, corruption, insufficient pace of reforms, limited opportunities in the sphere of education and professional self-fulfillment, healthcare problems, and since 2014, loss of control over a part of the territory because of the annexation of the Crimea and the military conflict in the Donbas prompt Ukrainians to look for a better life abroad. A factor contributing to a more active emigration was the visa-free regime with the EU countries, which made it easier for thousands of Ukrainians to go abroad and find employment there. According to the current estimate by the Ministry of Social Policy, about 3.2 million Ukrainians work abroad on a permanent basis. Data from the Ukrainian border guards contains information only on the number of border crossings; it is impossible to use such data for drawing any other serious conclusions.

At present, Ukraine faces considerable challenges. The Population Division of the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs estimated the population of Ukraine in 2015 at 44.8 million people. According to the UN forecast, by 2050 the population of Ukraine will shrink by nearly 22 percent, to 35 million people (third-worst figure in the world). By 2100, Ukraine is expected to lose 41% of its population, which will go down to just 26.4 million residents. The U.S. State Department has already described the loss of Ukrainian employees as a serious challenge for the future of Ukraine.

A series of articles and studies (e.g. from VoxUkraine, Center for Economic Strategy, National Academy of Sciences, etc.) analyzed certain aspects of migration and its possible impact on the Ukrainian economy. The most interesting recent example of work with data on this issue in the Ukrainian context was the results published by the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza, which quotes research by the local company Selectivv. That company, which focuses on research into the habits and behavior of cellular phone owners, analyzed information on the number of smartphone users who have their phone language set to Ukrainian or Russian and who connected to a Ukrainian mobile network at least once a year. At the time of the study, there were about 1.27 million SIM cards with such parameters in Poland.

Analysts would have provided many more answers (instead of political manipulations) if any real data on the issue had been available. Traditionally, in the Global West (especially in the United States), such data is possessed by large technological companies, which were described by American futurist Amy Webb in her book The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity as G-MAFIA (Google – Microsoft – Amazon – Facebook – IBM – Apple). There are examples of such companies interacting with various scientists, analysts, research organizations. For instance, the World Bank Group has been trying to analyze huge bulks of data in collaboration with Facebook and LinkedIn to promote economic development and combat poverty.

In this article, we review available open data on Ukrainian labor migration in 2015-2018 for revealing trends and gaining an understanding of the real extent of loss of the Ukrainian economy’s human resources in the past few years. The data is described in detail at the end of the article.

LinkedIn users in Ukraine and their migration

The profile of an average Ukrainian user of LinkedIn is unknown. It might be assumed that this is a citizen of Ukraine with higher education, command of foreign languages, and a higher-than-medium income level. In the United States, data from the Pew Research Center and generalized information from other sources allow drawing certain conclusions about the portrait of an average user of the network. Unfortunately, surveys of this sort have not been conducted in Ukraine.

Migration of Ukrainians in LinkedIn (2015-2018): where to and where from?

Among LinkedIn users, migration trends that are mostly negative for Ukraine are associated with Poland and the United States (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

The vertical axis represents the negative coefficient of the migration balance by countries, based on the number of LinkedIn users in Ukraine calculated as described in the methodological insert.

Breaking down data by years reveals an interesting picture. Emigration to Poland (2015-2016) was society’s fast reaction to the essential deterioration of the economic situation in the country. At the same time, substantial migration to the United States began later, in 2017-2018 (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

The vertical axis represents the negative coefficient of the migration balance by countries, based on the number of LinkedIn users in Ukraine calculated as described in the methodological insert.

The rate of loss of human resources can be reduced by engaging skilled immigrants. Unfortunately, in this respect, the situation in the country has not been too promising in the past several years. Just a few countries have a positive balance of LinkedIn users in Ukraine (Figure 3).

Figure 3.

The vertical axis represents the negative coefficient of the migration balance by countries, based on the number of LinkedIn users in Ukraine calculated as described in the methodological insert.

Losses and gains of individual branches

Let us see what sectors suffered the greatest loss of skilled employees on LinkedIn in the past four years. In 2015-2018, workforce outflow was observed in 38 branches of the economy. Figure 4 presents data on 20 branches with the highest negative workforce outflow coefficient in 2015-2018.

Figure 4.

The vertical axis represents the negative coefficient of the migration balance by countries, based on the number of LinkedIn users in Ukraine calculated as described in the methodological insert.

Practically all branches of the economy kept losing skilled human resources in recent years. Only two areas showed a positive LinkedIn balance in the past four years: international relations and sea industry (Figure 5). In these spheres, there are many foreign employees who were provided with additional opportunities in Ukraine.

Figure 5.

The vertical axis represents the negative coefficient of the migration balance by countries, based on the number of LinkedIn users in Ukraine calculated as described in the methodological insert.

Skills: losses and gains

The last element of the analysis is a comparison of the losses and gains of qualified employees having certain skills. Unfortunately, in this respect, the situation is also disappointing for the Ukrainian economy. In the past four years, Ukraine lost specialists possessing 175 skills groups specified in the LinkedIn classification. The rate of departure was highest among specialists with software development and testing skills and artificial intelligence skills (Figure 6).

Figure 6.

The vertical axis represents the negative coefficient of the migration balance by countries, based on the number of LinkedIn users in Ukraine calculated as described in the methodological insert.

None of the 175 skill groups demonstrated a positive balance during 2015-2017. It was only in 2018 that the number of qualified specialists began to increase in certain activity areas (Figure 7). The considerable increase in the “Army” section reflects the arrival in Ukraine of foreign military instructors under international assistance projects.

Figure 7.

The vertical axis represents the negative coefficient of the migration balance by countries, based on the number of LinkedIn users in Ukraine calculated as described in the methodological insert.


We have reviewed changes in place of employment of Ukrainian LinkedIn users and can draw the following conclusions.

  • In 2015-2018 the Ukrainian economy has been steadily losing considerable numbers of skilled employees, most of whom went to Western countries (Ukraine’s highest negative trend of loss of LinkedIn users relates to Poland and the United States).
  • These losses were only partially compensated for by the arrival of specialists from countries of the East and ex-USSR states (only 5 countries – India, Moldova, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Turkey – have a positive balance of LinkedIn users in Ukraine – Figure 4).
  • Judging by LinkedIn data, practically all sectors of the economy have lost a lot of skilled employees, with minimal positive trends. Just a few branches, in particular, international relations and maritime industry, managed to engage more qualified specialists than they lost.
  • Ukraine kept losing LinkedIn users having all types of skills; this indicates that it is not a case of certain branches having been hit by a crisis – instead, there is a negative trend for the entire economy.
  • It was only in 2018 that Ukraine saw an increase in the number of specialists with certain skills – primarily in the military and security spheres.

Unfortunately, at present the situation looks disappointing for Ukraine. The country continues to lose its best brains, which are “drained” abroad. In recent years, the situation has been getting even worse. This especially pertains to experts with high-tech skills. Regrettably, Ukraine has not been able to compensate these losses so far.

Insert – Data and Methodology

Interesting conclusions in the context of the Ukrainian situation are proposed in the World Bank’s unique study World Bank Group-LinkedIn Data Insights: Jobs, Skills and Migration Trends Methodology and Validation Results. This study relies on data from the technological giant and social network LinkedIn, which is focused on business and employment on the global labor market. In fact, it is the world’s largest human resource database, having about 610 million profiles of users from more than 200 countries.

The research uses anonymized data from the company LinkedIn to analyze employment, professional skills, migration trends, global and national labor market tendencies in more than 100 countries of the world (which have no less than 100,000 users of the network). A total of 148 branches and more than 50,000 professional skills of users were analyzed. The migration aspect was just one of many elements of the study. The author of this article used its materials to explore the migration trends in Ukraine.

It should be noted that the authors of the study (and additionally the author of this article) made several important assumptions, namely:

  1. Users of the network have the highest representation in intellect-intensive and competitive branches, namely, financial services, professional services, information and communication technologies, art and creative industry, manufacturing, mining and extractive industry. The network’s predominant groups are specialists with a high level of technical skills, professionals, young people, and women. That is, most LinkedIn users are qualified and highly qualified professionals.
  2. Most of the employees under review are Ukrainian citizens – the data contains no information on the user’s nationality.
  3. Use of the network is much less intense among employees that moved from Ukraine to Russia, compared to those that departed for the West. Firstly, LinkedIn is officially blocked in Russia. Secondly, this network is much more popular in the West. For example, 190 million persons in the United States have their own profile (at the same time, the U.S. Labor Department counts only 162-163 million employees as labor force members). In Russia, only 1.4 million had an own profile in 2017 (less than 2% of the RF’s total number of employees, which is 74.9 million).

It is important to bear in mind that the following reservations are made about using data:

  1. Some employees moved from Ukraine to countries not covered by the study (those with less than 100,000 LinkedIn users).
  2. Some employees changed their physical location in the profiles while actually remaining in Ukraine and working as a remote employee (e.g. some Ukrainian IT specialists may have begun to work for foreign companies and indicated those companies in their profile while continuing to live in Ukraine). We assign such employees to the group of emigrants.
  3. Some employees made no change in their profiles after migrating and so LinkedIn regards them as remaining in Ukraine.
  4. Some persons were employed abroad by companies having no corporate profiles. We are unable to take them into account in this research.
  5. Employees with rare skills were not included in the analysis (they are too few in number).
  6. Some employees changed the country of residence temporarily (by going away on business, etc.). In our research, we assign them to the category of migrants.

Important: How to interpret data and diagrams in the study and the article

The researchers analyzed changes in the profiles of network users (for example from Ukraine to Poland), regarding this as a physical change of the workplace. If the number of specialists that left Ukraine is larger than the number of those who arrived, that is considered to be a negative trend (for the country, branch, or skill). To take into account the variance of the level of using LinkedIn, the difference between the number of users that came to the country and the number of those that left it was divided by the number of LinkedIn users in that country (and the result was multiplied by 10,000). For example, there were 2.1 million LinkedIn users in Ukraine in 2017. If (hypothetically) 10,000 users came from Ukraine to Canada in 2017 (indicating the respective change of workplace in LinkedIn) and 200 users returned to Ukraine from Canada (based on similar indication), then Ukraine’s negative balance for 2017 is 9,800 LinkedIn users.

[(200 – 10,000)/2,100,000]*10,000 = -46.6 (negative coefficient)

The higher the negative coefficient, the larger is the difference between the numbers of specialists that the country lost and gained.

The coefficients for branches and skills are calculated analogously. For example, if 5,000 IT specialists went from Ukraine to Poland and 500 came back, while the total number of Ukrainian IT specialists registered on LinkedIn is 300,000 (the figures are hypothetical), the respective coefficient is:

[(500 – 5,000)/300,000]*10,000 = -150 (negative coefficient)

That is, the higher the branch’s coefficient, the larger is the difference between the numbers of lost and engaged specialists, with consideration for the total labor force in the branch. The same formula was used in skill-related calculations.

The results, interpretations and conclusions presented in the text of the article are the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Bank Group, its Executive Board of Directors, or the governments they represent. Certain links in this article will redirect you to websites operated by third parties. Neither the World Bank Group nor the author of this article have reviewed all the information on those websites; nor have they checked the clarity and accuracy of any information, data, opinions, advice, or statements on those websites. The World Bank Group does not recommend these sites, their opinions, or any products they may propose. These links to websites of third parties are proposed to stimulate discussion and thoughts on topics concerning international development and combating poverty. The entire content of this article was created for personal, noncommercial use by readers.

  • Oleksiy Anokhin, data analyst (International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group, Washington, DC, USA)


The author doesn`t 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