The collapse of the government of Ukrainian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, following violence in the capital city of Kiev, has obviously put a big spotlight on that country. Although the news reports conjure up images not unlike those in cities of developing countries, this situation strikes me as having a very different demographic dynamic. In the first place, the Ukraine was an important part of the former Soviet Union and it is very similar demographically to Russia. It is less populous, of course, but its 45 million residents make it by far the most populous of the former Soviet Republics besides Russia itself. It has low fertility (well below replacement level), and relatively high life expectancy. However, just like in Russia, males in the Ukraine experienced a drop in life expectancy between the 1950s and the beginning of the 21st century, and it is only now starting to climb again, as is true in Russia. There is not a youth bulge--indeed the age structure is not unlike what one would think of as being a demographic dividend, if only the country could get its economic act together. And that, of course, is the problem. The country has excellent agricultural and mining resources, but not a good supply of energy. The latter is what Russia has been blackmailing the Ukraine with, and this has not been popular with a lot of people. Given the long historic linkage, not to mention physical contiguity, with Russia, it is hard to imagine that Russia (by which I mean Putin) is going to let the Ukraine "go" to the west without a struggle.
Part of the problem is spatial. As the Economist points out, the country is divided between the east (closest to Russia and the source of support for Yanukovych), and the west (closest to the rest of Europe and the source of support for Yanukovych's opponent in the 2010 presidential election-former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who was just released from a penitentiary hospital). Unfortunately, this is the kind of issue that can lead to civil war--we can only hope that it will be resolved more amicably than that.