Written by Júlia Rovira Munté
Recently, the Ukraine and Russia conflict has exploded after long-standing tensions between both states. Russia launched an attack on its neighbouring country in the last week of February, and it reminded an oftentimes forgetful Europe of the devastating consequences of war. Assessments on the immediate effects of the confrontation are being made daily, but attention should also be paid to what warfare will bring to future Ukrainian generations: precariousness and uncertainty.
This policy brief aims to provide an overview of the Russo-Ukrainian war, expose the effects war has on youth employment, and propose some recommendations to minimise its impact.
Carl von Clausewitz, an influential Prussian general from the 19th century, famously said that war was only a branch of political activity, meaning it was not independent of it (1982). Clausewitz also refers to war as the continuation of politics by other means, in which political aims are the end, and war is the means to get to them (1982).
His war theories are still highly relevant today, and the connections he made propelled other scholars like Peter Wallensteen and Margareta Sollenberg, to attempt to describe what war is by putting a threshold on the casualties: a conflict can be considered a war if there are at least a thousand annual casualties (2001, p. 633).
The Russo-Ukrainian conflict is often referred to as an ongoing war originating with the 2014 Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Although the conflict remained frozen for five years, a Russian military build-up in the Russo-Ukrainian border started in mid-2021, which escalated into a full-blown invasion from Russia by the end of February 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin cited a few causes of the invasion, some of the most popular claiming that neo-Nazism dominates Ukraine, that Russophobia is prominent in Ukraine, and that Ukraine has never been a genuine state (Li et al, 2022; Reuters, 2022). Between 24 February and 15 March, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded that 816 people had been killed in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, but that the actual number was likely higher (United Nations, 2022). Therefore, calling the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian conflict war is not an exaggeration, but an accurate prediction.
This policy brief aims not to focus on the geopolitical aspects of the war, but to shed some light on an aspect that is often forgotten when talking about the non-tangible casualties of war: the effects that such a conflict has on a country’s youth, especially focusing on youth employment and the insecurities derived from it. It will do so by exposing the Ukrainian youth employment figures and situation pre-war and then studying the historical effects that war has had on youth employment using Kosovo as an example. Then, some recommendations will be made on how to attempt to minimise the devastating effects war has on youth’s security and stability, especially at a European Union level. Finally, an overview and conclusions will be provided.
Present Situation and Past Similarities
The International Labour Organisation states that youth unemployment in Ukraine has not ceased being a challenge: the 2019 data showed that 80.1% of the unemployed in the country were young people in the 15 to 24 age group (ILO, n.d). In 2012, 18.1% of men and 16.1% of women aged 15 to 24 years were unemployed, but in 2020, the figures rose to 19.9% of men and 18.5% of women in the previous age group (Eurostat, 2014; Eurostat, n.d.-a). Compared to the European Union data also for the same group, which was 17.4% for males and 17.7% for females (Eurostat, n.d-b), Ukraine’s figures were not very far from it, but they were still higher.
Additionally, studies demonstrate that young people in post-conflict situations tend to have a negative outlook on life. Some scholars even argue that unemployment is often one of the causes for youth to join a conflict: countries in which young adults made up at least 40% of the total adult population were more than twice as likely to experience a civil conflict in the 1990s (Cincotta et al, 2003, p. 13). Kosovo’s case is particularly relevant, as it reflects the tumultuous transition of many Balkans countries. In 2006, Kosovo’s unemployment among youth aged 15 to 24, was 76%, and this was seven years after the war (Stewart, 2015, p. 12). Moreover, twenty percent of all unemployed youth in Kosovo lived in extreme poverty in 2008, making them vulnerable to social exclusion, long-term poverty, and lack of second chances (World Bank, 2008, p. 10).
Recommendations and Responsibilities
Frances Stewart (2015, p. 14), argues that post-conflict employment policies often fail in addressing informal employment demands, and they ignore horizontal inequalities in employment, amongst other shortcomings.
The Ukrainian youth will be divided once the war ends, as many of them will be seeking a new life in neighbouring countries, while others may have stayed behind. The European Union and Ukraine entered an Association Agreement in June 2014, and Ukraine had plans of joining the European Union after the Euromaidan protests, which have only become exacerbated after Russia’s invasion. Therefore, and according to the European Neighbourhood Policy, it is partly Europe’s responsibility to help in the post-conflict building of Ukraine and its social infrastructures, including youth employment.
The European Union should put a special focus on Ukrainian young refugees that have fled their country and protect and foster employment and inclusion policies so that they are not in a situation of social exclusion. By promoting solidarity and the creation of these policies amongst the Member States, emigrated young Ukrainians can have the chance of building a new life. For the young population that will remain in Ukraine, the European Union should follow its European Neighbourhood Policy guidelines and focus on promoting economic development for stabilisation, security and migration and mobility (European External Action Service, 2021). With those objectives in mind, it should be quick to mobilise resources and create employment programs to avoid stagnant situations, help in job-search efforts for the displaced youth, act as a networking agent between the market (employers), and the demand (employees), mend the effects of the interruption of education during the conflict, involve grassroot organisations and other civil society actors in the creation of these programmes.
This policy brief aimed to highlight an often-overlooked consequence of a war, which is the economic and social instability it provokes, especially in already vulnerable groups, like young people. As Francoise Achio and Irma Specht point out (2003), armed conflicts result in young people being the first to be laid off, which results in frustration and may want to channel these emotions into violence or other unconventional means of survival. That is why it is important to involve them in the reconstruction and peacebuilding processes, so that they feel like they have a voice and a future ahead of them (Achio & Specht, 2003, p. 153).
Right now, as of March 2022, there is no end in sight for the Russo-Ukrainian war, and although some peacebuilding efforts are being made, the European Union should also start building a reconstruction and peacekeeping plan that includes provisions on the protection of youth’s rights to education and employment, not only to support the Ukrainian youth that will stay in the country, but to also address the vulnerable situation of the young Ukrainian refugees that are fleeing their homes.