In 2014, the Republic of Karelia lost 1,348 people (7,918 people were born, 9,266 people died). Figures from the republic's official web portal show that, in 2015, the population decline has accelerated: over the past five months (January-May) 4,135 people have died, and only 3,011 babies were born. Thus, in less than half a year, the loss amounted to 1,124 people, which is almost the same number as for the entire 2014.
Some "episodes" of regional statistics are rather shocking: in May 2015, for the first time in many years (or probably over the entire history of collecting statistical data), the death rate exceeded the birth rate in the town of Kostomuksha. Kostomuksha is the youngest town in Karelia, which appeared on the regional map in the late 1970s. The median age of the population is 34, which is well below the average 40 across the region. This is due to the fact that the city was populated about three decades ago by mainly young specialists – employees of mining and processing plant built by the Finnish companies.
Without a doubt, the data retrieved for one month cannot be considered a sustainable trend. It is important also to note that, in the first five months of 2015, the situation - the difference between births and deaths in the town - is quite optimistic (164 births vs. 104 deaths), though not as good as last year (the ratio was more revealing: 160 births vs. 80 deaths). It is, however, worth wondering whether this is a symptom, since the "alarm bell" rings in the most unexpected places.
The same category of “unexpected places” can be attributed to the city of Petrozavodsk. There, in May 2015, the number of deaths far exceeded the number of births (326 vs. 300). Also, over the first five months of this year, the natural population increase amounted to only fourteen (!) people (1,577 births vs. 1,563 deaths). Last year, an increase of 216 people was recorded over the same period.
Why do deaths surpass births with an increasing frequency? This question should, of course, be addressed to specialists. However, some of the causes are rather obvious. The mortality rate increases because the primary care-based medical system has been destroyed (many village first-aid stations and pharmacies have been closed down), especially in the small and remote settlements; and the process of ruining is still continuing. Thus, in the most complicated cases, with the need of immediate medical aid, patients often cannot get the necessary care, and die.
The birth rate decreases for several reasons. One explanation is rather obvious: recently, the quality of life in Karelia, as well as in Russia in general, has decreased, incomes have fallen, people meet difficulties with the purchase of flats and houses. All of this causes uncertainty about the future, heated by the serious deterioration of the overall economic situation in the country.
In addition to that, young women in Karelia currently tend not to have children at all. The number of families giving birth to their first child is declining, and the number of families having a second, third and subsequent child is increasing. For example, last year, first children were born in 3,447 families, while second children - in 3,252 families (for comparison: third children were born in 898 families, while fourth and subsequent - in 321 families). Obviously, the possibility to receive the so-called maternity capital (in 2015, this federal subsidiy for multiple-child families amounts to about 450,000 rubles, which is equivalent to ca. 9,000 US dollars) for the birth of a second child in the family motivates parents, but the Federal Law on Maternity Capital is expected to run only until the end of 2016, and it has not yet been decided whether this program will be extended.
Finally, the generation born in the early 1990s, when a significant decline in the birth rate was observed, is in the best reproductive age today. By the end of 1991, the death rate in Russia/USSR exceeded the birth rate for the first time in several decades, and the latter continued to decline throughout the following years. Russia tried to overcome this "demographic downturn" for many years and by different means. And finally, in 2013 and 2014, the population began to grow naturally. Unfortunately, this year we are witnessing a decline again, and it will most probably continue. The generation of the early 1990s is objectively not able to pull off the birth rate to the required level.
The situation is of course complicated, but not hopeless. In order to be solved, these problems require great attention from federal, regional and local public authorities, and that the sufficient funding of the healthcare system is conditio sine qua non.
Furthermore, it should be emphasized that the Republic of Karelia is a border region with the longest border with the European Union. Thus – using the current political slang of the Russian elite – the population extinction in a border region is a threat to national security, which should be dealt with appropriately and promptly.