“Nearly four million left Russia in the first three months of 2022,” reads a post on Aljazeera. It is also estimated that over seven million refugees fleeing Ukraine are scattered across Europe. In this post, we discuss the massive exodus affecting both countries as a direct result of the ongoing conflict.
Ukraine’s Brain Drain
Movement from Russia is making the most headlines. Still, we cannot ignore the millions of Ukrainians fleeing the country. As stated at the beginning of this post, the numbers are worse in Ukraine than in Russia. Still, Russia is losing more elites, as you will see towards the end.
An estimated 7.4 million Ukrainian refugees have been recorded in Europe alone. The BBC approximates that 12 million Ukrainians have fled their homes since the invasion. Where are they going? That would be Russia, Poland, Moldova, Slovakia, Romania, Belarus, and Hungary. That’s right: some are crossing the border to Russia, especially from Luhansk and Donetsk regions, dominated by pro-Russian separatist forces at the time of writing.
Understandably, most of the workforce leaving Ukraine is unemployed, with reports showing that almost 5 million jobs have been lost so far. The Ukrainian economy has been severely impacted, too, pushing more people to leave in search of greener pastures.
The IT employee market is one of the most hit, with estimates from the IT Ukraine Association suggesting that at least 16 percent of the workforce, primarily women, have relocated outside the country.
The Ukrainian Government has tried to strengthen the national social protection system by providing benefits through digital technologies. Such efforts may have contributed to border crossings back to the country. Reports show that over 2.5 million Ukrainians have returned to the country since the war started. However, we don’t know if they are returning to stay permanently or whether there is a pendulum effect.
Russia’s Brain Drain
You’d think Ukraine, being invaded, would be the one to lose all the workers as they flee from uncertainty and insecurity. However, Russia is also taking a big hit, with reports suggesting movement by the millions.
Most of the workforce leaving is composed of IT specialists, journalists, researchers, and analysts. The IT industry is the worst hit, probably due to the abundance of a tech-savvy workforce increasingly working remotely. Aljazeera suggests that at least 70,000 IT professionals have bolted the country since the beginning of the “special operation” in Ukraine.
Moreover, it doesn’t help that over 1,000 companies have already boycotted the country, some taking their workers with them, leading to a massive loss of revenue. For instance, the big companies, such as American Express, IKEA, Adidas, PwC and Amazon Web Services, have already left with most of their employees and services previously offered. We’ve also seen top online casinos and other gaming operators terminate their operations in the country and make statements opposing the war on Ukraine.
Understandably, most of these companies left to either show their position concerning the conflict or maintain a good image. The big question, however, is why Russian citizens would ditch their country.
Among the reasons for leaving that have come up so far is the search for better opportunities now that many businesses have shut down operations in Russia. Multiple organisations, such as sports federations, have also banned Russia from participating in international events, which may have further shrunk opportunities of Russian citizens. There are those, too, who have left as a show of rebellion against the invasion of Ukraine.
In a post on BBC, a 23-year-old political science graduate says he emigrated from Russia to act against the regime. He adds that he had a responsibility to show support for Ukrainians. In the same post, BBC reported estimates from a Russian economist that put the number of Russians who had left the country at 200,000, but that was early 2022 — the numbers have grown exponentially since then.
One Country’s Loss Is Another Country’s Gain
You must wonder where all these people are going and who’s benefiting from the new workforce supply. Firstly, we must point out that Europe suffers a considerable shortage of tech specialists, with projections suggesting a skill deficit of about 1 million people up to 2025.
Secondly, Ukraine and Russia are primed for poaching, especially in the tech industry. Coursera’s 2020 Global Skills Index report showed that Russians excelled in technology and data science skills.
Ukraine, too, has been enjoying a flourishing IT sector that boasted the highest salaries in the nation and supplied about 200,000 IT workers that performed critical services to major industries worldwide, including Lyft maps, JP Morgan Chase, and Citigroup, among others.
Therefore, it would make sense that some countries consider losses from these two nations a potential gain and be eager to snap up the new pool of tech exiles. This is especially true for Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, which have received the elite crowd in large numbers.
On the other hand, millions of lesser skilled labourers are making their way to countries that don’t require visas, including Georgia, Armenia, and Central Asia, while others are part of the millions living as refugees in Europe. These are economically unstable regions where people move out under normal circumstances, so you bet job opportunities will only get scarcer.
President Putin has taken notice of the brain drain and is trying to mitigate it with measures such as legislation to exempt tech specialists from income taxes up to 2024. Will that deter further migration? We are still waiting to see.
In the meantime, Zelensky and other supporters of Ukraine are encouraging migration out of Russia. Things are not looking good for Putin, considering that those leaving Russia are highly educated and able to get better jobs abroad, while those leaving Ukraine are mostly doing so because they have run out of options.