‘Kharkiv desperately needs to recover its economy’

Saltivka neighborhood, Kharkiv. April 2022 (Credit: S. Woeldgen)

Over the last month, the war inched close to Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine. Active fighting is currently 20 kilometres from the city and the economy is in shambles. While those that have fled earlier are considering coming back to their city, residents are also debating whether to stay or leave. Ban for men leaving the country might be lifted by mid-autumn. 

Before the war, finding a job in Kharkiv, a city of 1.5 million citizens, was difficult. But today, the job market is virtually non-existent in the city. While the city’s mood was summerlike in the past few weeks, it has now shifted to heated discussions about whether to stay or leave, and whether it is safe to return.

There is no exact data on the number of people currently living in Kharkiv. The regional military administration’s estimate is about 700,000 people, while the mayor is more optimistic at 1 to 1.1 million. The number of residents looks like it doubled from around April and May, when it was seemingly at its lowest. But either way, hundreds of thousands of those who left have now returned.

It is also difficult to measure the level of unemployment. Most of the residents don’t want to register as unemployed but according to the regional Association of Private Employers, 54 per cent of businesses had to fully or partially close due to the Russian aggression. One-fifth of the members lost production facilities due to one-third of the region being occupied by Russia.

Men leaving the country

These statistics echo the opinion poll run by the sociological group Rating, according to which 53 per cent of eastern Ukrainians who lost their jobs since 24 February are still unemployed (across Ukraine, it’s 35 per cent). Recent, re-opening of some cafes and stores have put a small number of people back to work but for a megapolis like Kharkiv, those jobs are a drop in the ocean.

Regions are struggling to provide state aids. These are now mostly handled by humanitarian organisations. However, they haven't increased since spring.

Kharkiv desperately needs to recover its  economy. The return of active citizens who can relaunch old enterprises or create new ones would be the best. But this has been quite uncommon. The people who return are by large in need of care themselves. Most of them are jobless or have spent all their savings.

According to some,  if men of military age in regions most affected by the war could leave the country - an action which is currently banned - there would be less unemployment and mouths to feed. Instead, officials are drafting men in the Armed Forces to reduce unemployment. Meanwhile, volunteers are complaining about long wait times to join the fighting.

A source close to a local office of the presidential party said that the ban for men leaving the country might be lifted by mid-autumn. But that might be a little too late as war-torn Kharkiv could see a full-blown humanitarian crisis by then.