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From Kravchuk to Zelenskyy: how Ukraine has changed over the years of independence

How Ukraine has changed over 30 years of independence. Photo: Unsplash

How Ukraine has changed over 30 years of independence. Photo: Unsplash

On August 23, 1991, it took Levko Lukianenko an hour and a half to write a draft of the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine in an ordinary notebook. Since then, six Presidents and 16 Prime Ministers have changed, Ukraine won twice at Eurovision, once became the organizer of the European Football Championship, went through two revolutions and faced Russia's armed aggression one on one.

The Page has analyzed how Ukraine has changed over 30 years of independence, what areas of public life have evolved, and what, on the contrary, have taken a step back, as well as how the foreign policy vector of Ukrainians and the attitude of foreign states towards Ukraine has changed.

Gross domestic product

The gross domestic product (GDP) has grown in different ways over the years of Ukraine's independence. According to the World Bank (WB), in 1992, GDP was $71.9 billion at current prices. At the same time, the GDP of neighboring Poland, for example, was $94.3 billion, and Hungary's—$38.7 billion.

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Olexiy Haran, Professor at National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy (UKMA), Research Director at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, told The Page that Ukraine failed to ensure high growth rates, in particular, due to the lack of radical economic reforms.

«We failed to ensure high growth rates because we did not carry out such radical economic reforms as, say, Balcerowicz in Poland. Therefore, this reforming dragged on very much. Another disadvantage is the establishment of an oligarchic economy. The problem is that, yes, we have a middle class today, but it is still under administrative, tax pressure, under the pressure of the oligarchs' monopolies, etc.»

Olexiy Haran

Olexiy Haran

Professor of Political Science at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

Ukraine entered the new millennium with a 2.3 times lower GDP—$31.26 billion. On the eve of the global economic crisis of 2008, that painfully hit Ukraine, GDP was $179.8 billion, but the next year it sank to $117.1 billion. Another drop in GDP occurred during the turbulent events of 2014: from $183.3 billion in 2013, the gross domestic product decreased to $91.03 billion in 2015. At the end of 2020, GDP amounted to $155.58 billion.

The significant changes in the economy of the state following the results of 30 years were mentioned by the historian, Candidate of Political Sciences Oleksandr Paliy.

"I remember the economic helplessness of people and the whole country in the 1990s. There were no basic goods. Now Ukraine produces almost all essential goods. A considerable middle class made the bucks. Now Ukraine grows grain two and a half times more than in the 1990s. New startups are developing seriously, in particular in the IT sector. Several dozen countries can boast of this, no more."

Oleksandr Paliy

Oleksandr Paliy

Historian and political scientist

At the same time, according to him, the country lost many opportunities, especially where power and enterprises were in the hands of people who were alien to Ukraine.

Inflation rate

Another failure in economic policy at the beginning of Ukraine's independence was the "virus" of high inflation. Initially inherent in all post-Soviet and Eastern European countries, price liberalization during a period of widespread shortages of consumer goods provoked an explosive increase in their value. Subsequently, the expected decline in inflation rates, as happened, for example, in Poland and the Baltic countries, did not come.

According to the State Statistics Service, in 1991 inflation in Ukraine amounted to 390%. A year later, it increased to 2,100%, and in 1993 it reached a maximum in the history of independent Ukraine—10,256%. After that, the consumer price index dropped sharply—to 501% in 1994. Gradually declining further, in 2002 inflation sank to its historical minimum—99.4%.

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Since then, the price index has shown a sharp increase twice more in the crisis years of 2008 and 2014-2015. In the first case, inflation reached 122.3%. In the second, it skyrocketed to 124.9% in 2014 and to 143.3% in 2015. At the end of 2020, it was 105%.

Dollar rate

On January 10, 1992, the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) introduced reusable coupons into circulation. For some time, rubles were also used in Ukraine, however, since November 1992, сoupon-karbovanets remained the only means of payment in cash and non-cash circulation. At that time, to buy $1, it was necessary to give 208 сoupon-karbovanets. By 1995, the value of the dollar had increased to 147,463 сoupon-karbovanets.

The work on the hryvnia began back in 1992. The first banknotes designed by artists Vasyl Lopata and Borys Maksymov were printed in Canada and Great Britain.

The monetary reform, as a result of which the hryvnia became the national currency, was carried out in 1996. Then the value of the dollar, according to the NBU, was 1.82 UAH.

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The hryvnia was the most stable from 2000 to 2008: the exchange rate fluctuated within the range of 5.05—5.44 UAH per dollar, and then increased to almost 8 UAH per dollar. In 2014, the American currency cost 11.89 UAH, and the next year the hryvnia dropped sharply—to 21.84 UAH per dollar. In 2018, the value of the dollar reached 27.2 UAH—this is the highest figure in the years of independence.

Demographic situation

According to the World Bank, the population of Ukraine as of 1991 reached 52 million people. During the period of independence this figure increased only in 1992 and 1993 and reached 52,179,200 citizens. After that, the population of Ukraine began to decline. In 2020, the World Bank counted just over 44 million Ukrainians. The percentage of men and women in the structure of the population for 30 years has hardly changed: in 1991, the proportion of men was 46.55%, women—53.45%, and in 2020—46.3 and 53.6%, respectively.

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According to the data of the State Statistics Service, in 1991 the population of Ukraine naturally decreased by 39,100 people, and already in 1992—by 100,300. Subsequently, this figure only increased, ranging from 142,400 to 373,000 citizens. In the pre-pandemic year 2019, the number of Ukrainians decreased by 272,300, while during the crisis of 2020, the population decline accelerated by 18.8%—to 323,400 people.

In addition to natural factors, the migration movement also affects the decrease in the number of Ukrainian citizens. According to estimates of the UN Population Division, the number of Ukrainian emigrants as of 2019 reached almost 6 million people. As Oleksandr Paliy explains, in the 1990s, a massive wave of emigration was driven by the fact that it became possible at all.

«Since 1990, a total of several million people have left Ukraine. This is a lot. This was facilitated primarily by the emergence of the most realistic opportunity to emigrate. And also, especially in the 1990s, the inability of many to make minimum provision for their families. Now people do not emigrate in the way they did in the 1990s—not so much because of the economic disaster as in search of new opportunities.»

Oleksandr Paliy

Oleksandr Paliy

Historian and political scientist

Fare

In 1992, after the start of hyperinflation in Ukraine and the introduction of the сoupon-karbovanets into circulation, fares changed almost every month. For example, the fare in the Kyiv metro jumped from 50 kopecks in 1992 up to 30,000 coupons in 1996.

After the denomination in the same year, the people had to pay 30 kopecks for the metro. This price remained stable until March 2000, when it increased to 50 kopecks.

After that, the cost of the token was increased several times: in 2008—up to 2 UAH, in 2015—up to 4 UAH, in 2017—up to 5 UAH. The last time the cost of one trip was raised in July 2018—up to 8 UAH.

Real estate value

The cost of housing also increased. According to the Blagovest real estate agency, the average cost of a one-room apartment in Kyiv in 1997 was $15,000, and in 1998—1999—$8,000. Since the beginning of the new millennium, the value of real estate began to increase gradually: from $11,800 for a one-room apartment in the capital in 2000 and up to a peak of $135,600 in 2008.

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Over the next five years, housing prices sagged slightly, but the real estate market failed to reach even the pre-crisis 2005 figure of $65,300. In 201032015, prices fluctuated at an average of $89,300. Later, after falling to $73,000 in 2017, new growth began. As of July 2021, the cost of a one-room apartment in Kyiv reached $101,600.

The number of MPs and Ministries

The Constitution establishes that the Verkhovna Rada (VR) should have 450 people's deputies. At the beginning of his tenure, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy proposed to reduce their number, since, in his opinion, this would increase the efficiency of public administration. However, this has not yet happened: Ukraine has 423 people's deputies of the IX convocation, while during the I convocation of the servants of the people there were slightly more—475 people. The maximum number of people's deputies was registered during the VI convocation of the Verkhovna Rada—541 people.

But the number of the Ministries in Ukraine did not fluctuate so significantly. Thus, during the first three governments, there were 20 central executive bodies, while during the next three—19. The smallest number of the Ministries was in 2000-2002 during the times of Prime Ministers Viktor Yushchenko and Anatoliy Kinakh—16 during the times of each.

At one time in Ukraine there were the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Investments and Construction, the Ministry for the Protection of the Population from the Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Labor and others. Some of them did not last long, for example, the Ministry of Revenue and Duties—only from December 2012 to April 2014. Today, Ukraine has 20 Ministries, just like 30 years ago.

Corruption

The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is an indicator that has been calculated by the international organization Transparency International since 1995 based on 13 studies by reputable international organizations and research centers.

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The key indicator of CPI is the number of points, not the position in the ranking. Until 2012, the corruption index was assessed on a scale of 10 to 1 points, after that Transparency International changed its approach and began to look at corruption in the world through a 100-point prism. The minimum score (0 points) means that corruption actually replaces the state. The maximum (100 points) indicates that corruption is almost absent in the life of society. At the same time, the index assesses corruption only in the public sector.

In 1998, when the CPI was first calculated in Ukraine, the state received 2.8 points and ranked 69th among 85 countries of the world. The lowest score was in 2000—1.5 points and 87/90th position in the rating. In 2006, the country managed to repeat its very first result—2.8 points. Before the change in the calculation methodology, this was the maximum score that Ukraine received.

In 2012, the level of corruption perception in Ukraine was estimated at 26 points—it ranked 144th among 176 countries. For 8 years, the state managed to gain 27 steps in the ranking and rank 117th with 33 points.

According to Olexiy Haran, although the level of corruption has declined since 2014, citizens have a deceptive sense of the opposite.

"After 2014, the areas where there is corruption actually decreased. All experts admit this. But as they started talking more about it, people got the feeling that corruption has increased."

Olexiy Haran

Olexiy Haran

Professor of Political Science at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

Attitude of Ukrainians to NATO membership

According to a sociological study by the Razumkov Center from April 2021, if a referendum on Ukraine's accession to NATO took place in the near future, the overwhelming majority, namely 71% of the Ukrainians surveyed, would have taken part in it, which indicates a high public interest in the country's strategic course. 54% of the polled citizens are ready to vote for joining NATO, 31% are against joining, 15% have not decided on their choice.

Most of the supporters of joining are among young people aged 18—29—64%. The balance between supporters and opponents of the North Atlantic Alliance changes almost linearly with the increase in age of the respondents. However, even among Ukrainians over 60 years old, 48% are ready to vote for joining, 37% are against.

Of course, this was not always the case. The data of long-term monitoring of public opinion by the Razumkov Center indicate that the position of Ukrainian citizens regarding the gaining of NATO membership by a state has changed significantly over the past 20 years. For example, in 2002, public opinion was divided in half—32% "for" and 32% "against". During 2002—2010, the proportion of the supporters decreased by half, and the proportion of the accession opponents doubled.

The Ukrainians chose the opposite vector after 2014. Last but not least, this happened as a result of Russia's military aggression against Ukraine, notes Olexiy Haran.

«We have signed an Association Agreement with the EU, the establishment of a free trade zone, that is, we are a recognized European country. As a result of Russia's actions, it should be said, this process has intensified, and we have begun to get closer to the EU and NATO. Therefore, if earlier there was polarization in public opinion according to the political choice, now the majority of Ukrainians definitely prefer both the European Union and NATO membership. That is, the ideas of the Customs Union have completely fallen off.»

Olexiy Haran

Olexiy Haran

Professor of Political Science at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

Sociologists also confirm his words. In 2012, only 14% of respondents intended to vote for accession, and 62% were against. Already in April 2014, the level of support increased to 37% with 42% of opponents, and in November 2015—up to 48%, exceeding the proportion of opponents—33%. The Razumkov Center notes that slight fluctuations in results over the next five years indicate a stabilization of the level of public support.

International documents

In the early 1990s, it was extremely important for Ukraine to gain international recognition as an independent sovereign state and completely get out of the iron curtain, behind which the Soviet Union was hiding from the world for decades. However, as it turned out, the latter was not at all ready for such a scenario.

"In 1990, when Rukh deputies asked Margaret Thatcher how she felt about Ukraine’s independence, she replied: "Can you imagine the separation of California from the United States?"

Olexiy Haran

Olexiy Haran

Professor of Political Science at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

According to Oleksandr Paliy, Europe and the United States discovered Ukraine not immediately, but very gradually. First of all, because of two revolutions—Orange and Euromaidan. The historian noted that over the years of independence, Ukraine has become an authentic state for the world community with its own history and dignity. And this happened due to the growth of self-esteem, patriotism, and solidarity of the Ukrainians themselves.

However, Ukraine was not ignored even immediately after the declaration of independence. A year later, in 1992, the number of interstate documents with Ukraine's participation reached 665 agreements. On average, from 1991 to 2020, the state concluded about 435 documents with foreign partners. Thus, by August 2021, their number exceeded 15,000.

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