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What to Do About Ukraine’s Brain Drain

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 fueled migration on a scale unseen since World War II, leaving 15% of the population residing outside the country to this day. When Ukraine eventually gets the chance to start rebuilding, it will need a comprehensive strategy for restoring its lost human capital.

MILAN – In 1916, amid the horror of World War I, the American economist John Bates Clark made an observation that remains all too relevant. “There are effects of war which are more tragic than the economic burden it will place on future generations,” Clark noted, “and there are some that are more morally revolting; but there are none which will last longer or do a greater total amount of harm.”

Fast-forward to Ukraine today. Even if Russia’s war of aggression were to end soon, the economic burden it has created will endure.

According to estimates by the Kyiv School of Economics, the damage done just to Ukraine’s infrastructure, as of September 2023, exceeds $150 billion (at replacement cost), or roughly 85% of annual GDP. The full cost of reconstruction will of course be much higher. In March 2023, a joint assessment by Ukraine’s government, the World Bank Group, the European Commission, and the United Nations estimated that recovery from the first 12 months of the war would cost $411 billion over the next decade. With the war still continuing, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that the figure may end up over $1 trillion.