Suspect Separatist Birth Rates

How the “official” birth rate in non-government controlled areas became a source of disinformation

Press announcements of the weekly number of births. (Source: so-called Donetsk City Administration and so-called Luhansk City Administration)

Birth rate is a good indicator of many development statistics in a given area, including stability and quality of life. In Ukraine, fertility rates have been declining since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the non-government-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, reported birth rates indicate disinformation and a likely propaganda campaign.

(Source: Google/World Bank)

Official Population?

Reliable population numbers in the non-government-controlled areas of Ukraine are nonexistent as “official” information from the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (LNR and DNR or L/DNR) cannot be verified due to lack of access and potential interference from “governing” bodies. However, reports of “official” data are useful to keep in mind when looking at the areas as well as a potential indicator of something other than birth rate.

Numbers of births in Luhansk and Donetsk cities. Data from press announcements of the weekly number of births from the so-called Donetsk City Administration and so-called Luhansk City Administration.

The so-called Luhansk and Donetsk city administrations each respectively publish weekly announcements of the number of babies born in their cities, dispersed among other news such as shelling incidents, critical infrastructure status, and local events. Again, these numbers themselves should be taken with a degree of skepticism as they are “official” numbers from the so-called L/DNR, and cannot be verified. The charts above show the reported weekly births from August 28-October 29, 2017.

The announcements are always presented positively, portraying happy and healthy family life in the Russian-led separatist areas.

For example, in a “Luhansk City Administration” press announcement, the chief doctor of a children’s hospital in Luhansk reported that the birth rate for the first half of 2017 “increased by more than 6% compared to the previous year.” Narratives about population and birth rate deriving from the non-government-controlled areas all take a similar “positive” approach, consistently speaking towards an increase and improvement.

In an English language interview by “official” Russian-led separatist “state media” DONi Donbass News Agency, the “head” of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Aleksandr Zakharchenko reported the so-called DNR’s “growing” birth rate is an indication of the so-called DNR’s population belief in the “country and future in the conditions of war, daily shellings, and military operations.” The DONi Donbass News Agency is self-described “to collect and share trusted and confirmed information from Donbass people’s republics” — as “official state media” of the Russian-led separatist area the interview should be considered as propaganda.

Social Media

Looking into social media groups, comments on a post about a fire in the maternity ward of a city hospital in Donetsk indicate that hospital conditions are expectedly worse than the L/DNR make them out to be.

VKontakte post (English Google Translate left, original right) about a fire in the maternity ward on October 13 at Hospital №17 in Donetsk city. (Source: Typical Donetsk VKontakte groupArchive)

Comments discuss the possible cause of the fire, with many members speculating it could be related to the heating system. Following discussions about heating systems in the hospitals, many women reported that, while the maternity ward that caught fire had year-round heating, other hospitals are “disgusting, cold horrible.”

After the outbreak of the conflict, medical institutions near the contact line and in non-government-controlled areas faced serious operational impediments and many ceased operations entirely.

In a report drafted by the Luhansk Regional State Administration, Regional Military-Civil Administration with the support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Recovery Peacebuilding Programme entitled, “The Luhansk Region Development Strategy for the Period until 2020,” one of the objectives includes the rehabilitation and development of regional healthcare infrastructure after the conflict in eastern Ukraine relocated facilities to government-controlled areas and overloaded underfunded and understaffed regional clinics.

In the Donetsk Regional State Administration and UNDP’s “Donetsk Region Development Strategy until 2020” report, a total of 48 healthcare facilities were recorded as destroyed or damaged, with only 23 of those facilities restored, as of May 1, 2016.

Conclusion

Healthcare and other infrastructure were problematic prior to the outbreak of the conflict and only became more dysfunctional since. Along several other critical infrastructure priorities, health services continues to be a focus for humanitarian and development actors in the region. Reports emerging from the Russian-led separatist information space about the functionality of their health care facilities should be taken with a degree of skepticism given the observed situation on the ground by international actors.


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