Dramatic Population Drop in Russia, as War, COVID and Emigration Exacerbate Declining Births
Anti-war protest in Germany

As Russia’s war against Ukraine intensifies around Bakhmut, a new report estimates that the invading army has had between 200,000 to 250,000 casualties – dead and wounded – in the past year.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) calculates that the average rate of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine every month is “at least 25 times the number killed per month in Chechnya and 35 times the number killed in Afghanistan”.

Coming on the heels of one of the worst COVID-19 mortality rates in the world and a mass exodus of young men and their families fleeing from conscription, Russia may have lost two million people in the past three years, according to The Economist.

The life expectancy of Russian males aged 15 is currently at the same level as those in Haiti.

The country’s birth rates have been in decline since 1994 when Russia was estimated to have 149 million citizens. By the start of 2022, its population was estimated to be 145,6 million, with 3,358 births a day being more than cancelled out by a daily death rate of 3,663, according to Statistica.

Statistic: Natural population increase in Russia from 1990 to 2021 (in 1,000s) | Statista

Between 1 January 2022 and 1 January this year, the Russian population was estimated to have decreased by approximately 560,000.

Aside from deaths, estimates of people immigrating range from 500,000 to a million people in the past year alone.

Excess deaths during COVID

Using a statistical method based on changes in the population age structure, there were 351,158 excess deaths in 2020 and 678,022 in 2021 in the Russian Federation, according to an article published in the journal, PlosOne last November.

There was significant regional variation, with men and urban residents suffering the greatest mortality.

Meanwhile in 2021, there were approximately 1.04 million more deaths than births recorded in Russia, according to Statistica

Russia recorded one of the biggest excess mortality gaps globally, with  580,000 more deaths than expected between April 2020 and June 2021, although its official COVID-19 toll was only 130,000, according to The Economist.

In one year, the mortality rate leapt from 14.6 deaths per 1000 people (2020) to 16.7 per 1000 in 2021.

Statistic: Mortality rate in Russia from 1950 to 2021 (per 1,000 population) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

In 2021, the most common cause of death in Russia was circulatory system diseases (particularly, heart attacks, strokes and aneurysms), causing an estimated 640 deaths per 100,000 people. COVID-19 was the second-highest cause of death, with 319 deaths per 100,000. Neoplasms, predominantly cancers, caused over 194 deaths per 100,000 and were the third biggest cause of death.

War cancels out government solutions 

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, called for a ban on abortions to reverse the demographic trend.

Meanwhile, in 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government announced a package of tax breaks and welfare benefits aimed at stimulating the country’s birth rate. This follows the lead of Hungary, which has a wide range of tax incentive aimed at stimulating that country’s declining birth rate.

However, the war on Ukraine has effectively cancelled out whatever positive effects this stimulus package had on the country’s birth rate.

Image Credits: Dea Andreea/ Unsplash.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.