Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not only wreaked widespread devastation on Ukraine’s infrastructure and production capacities, it has also led to unprecedented losses of the country’s human capital.

Many Ukrainian people have had to leave their jobs and homes since the war began, resulting in a ‘brain drain’, disruption to education and skills-matching, and the suspension or destruction of vital services and infrastructure that enable people to work and build up their human capital, says a new report from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), a multilateral bank that promotes the development of the private sector and entrepreneurial initiative in 36 economies across three continents.

Using sources from the UN and others, the report assesses the extent of the brain drain and suggests ways to persuade many of those displaced by the war to return to Ukraine, once security conditions allow.

The EBRD says that early evidence and estimates of the scale of migration and labour force displacement suggest that 35% of Ukraine’s pre-war population are now living away from home. Of a 2021 population of 41.4 million, an estimated 7.8 million have left Ukraine and another 6.5 million are internally displaced.

Many Ukrainians now live abroad

Almost one in four of the pre-war female population is now abroad, most of whom were employed before leaving the country, versus 13% of males. Most refugees have not found work in the host countries and many face financial difficulties. Many others have also lost their lives or sustained injuries that prevent them from working.

So far, the EBRD response includes significant support for client companies to sustain people’s livelihoods and enhance human capital resilience throughout the war. This ranges from assistance for small and medium-sized enterprises affected by the war through EBRD investments into partner financial institutions and equity funds.

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The EBRD is also providing emergency liquidity support to large employers (particularly in the natural resources, energy and agribusiness sectors) to help sustain workers’ livelihoods, along with financial and technical support to larger corporate clients for managing their human resources and opening up employment avenues for those most affected.

The EBRD is engaging with major state-owned enterprises and private-sector clients to sustain access to vital services for citizens, thus helping to preserve their human capital.

Lastly, the bank is working with policy partners to address the most pressing human capital needs and safeguard equal opportunities. A comprehensive reconstruction of the country, once conditions allow, will be needed to persuade refugees to return and avoid long-term inequalities.