The Spiritual and Physical Health of Ukrainian Society

 

Academic conference: “The Ukrainian cooperative movement”

June, 13

 

The Spiritual and Physical Health of Ukrainian Society

 

Generally, life and the development of society in Ukraine, just as with any other society, is marked by the process of searching out ways to expand the number of available opportunities and choices. This process can yield an extraordinarily wide range of results and carries with it a predisposition to constant change. That being said, in every one of the many stages important for social development, there are three fundamental parameters:

- good life and health for everyone;

- the means to attain a necessary minimal level of education;

- access to means to an appropriate standard of living.

It is generally accepted that the extent to which a country is developed, measured by the welfare of its entire population, depends on the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual potential of a society that grounds itself in the health of its citizens. Albert Einstein once said that the future of the human race depends not only on technological achievements, but also on a certain degree of healthy moral firmness (spirituality).

Unfortunately, overarching processes lowering the state of the country’s health ensue. Accompanying a decrease in the Ukrainian population by almost 10% since 1985 is an increase in the number of visits to hospitals and clinics by 30%.

The strength of people’s immune systems is deteriorating. Every year 10-12 million people contract some form of infectious disease; that is to say, practically every fourth inhabitant of Ukraine. The rate of growth of deaths from these surpasses normal mortality rates by 1.2 times. This attests to a sharp decline in the health of a population that will continue along this negative path according to all indications.

Statistically, child sickness rates have become egregious. The ailing nation can no longer bring up future healthy generations. Experts stress that the state of a child’s health in the future is formed even before birth. According to statistics, over the past 10 years, circulation-related illnesses amidst pregnant women have become twice as common, the frequency of kidney problems is 5 times greater, and cases of anemia have multiplied by 9 times. These maladies have a negative impact on the health of the unborn child. Furthermore, every fifth woman of child-bearing age is incapable of giving birth.

Today in Ukraine, more than 40% of children are born with some sort of health problem. And being born into an unfavorable social situation, without being adequately fed, without appropriate medical attention, without sports or the means to an active lifestyle, children cannot avoid the continuation of weak health. A mere 10-15% of school-aged children are healthy.

Within medical contexts, the term “deceleration,” the decline of the rate of growth and development of younger generations, has been used more frequently as of late. The number of healthy children between grades 1 and 8 has decreased by four times. And after school, no more than 5% of graduates remain healthy. No better is the situation for university students, the future elite of the nation. While they get their degrees, the number of sick students is increasing three times.

Clearly, the destructive nature of the development of Ukrainian society affects even the nation’s education system, a fundamental stepping stone for future global development. In the early 1990s, the level of education in Ukraine was in the top ten percent of countries in the world, according to UNESCO; today, Ukraine finds itself only in the top 50% according to the same parameters. The principal reason for this decline is governmental inattention to this problem on the social level.

Our problems in education start with day-care centers. This point seems self-evident, but more than 5000 day-care centers have been closed since the time of existence of our young state, their premises given to many different private firms and government organizations. This means that more than half a million kids, more than half of day-care-age children, were displaced from the system of pre-school education, forgoing important socialization situations that incorporate collective rearing.

Today, many villages and towns lack not only day-care centers but also schools. Generally there are close to 5500 villages across Ukraine, with a child to adult ratio of 1 to 20. Since there is a dearth of schools, children are forced to travel considerable distances in search of obtaining even a primary level of education.

Insofar as close to 40% of Ukraine’s inhabitants live in poverty, difficult material circumstances don’t allow many children to go to school. During the 1980s practically all youth got a mid-level education, but today no more than 70% of school-aged children receive a graduation certificate. That means that almost a third of young people are deprived of the possibility of becoming accredited specialists, academics, engineers, doctors, teachers, cultural workers, and so on. In this light, the intellectual potential of the nation is declining by one third (!); the driving force of the 21st century is deteriorating.

The deterioration of the educational system inevitably brings about the weakening of the sphere of academic research. A poor attitude towards education fittingly places research on the periphery of government interests. It is not unrealistic to assert that our research at home is in a state of deep decline. One of the main reasons for this sharp decline is funding. In 1990 in the USSR, of which Ukraine was a part, costs that were set aside for education accounted for 5% of the state budget; today the combined expenses for academic research and development does not exceed 0.5 % (the level of funding for research in lagging African countries).

Amidst lowered funding and deteriorating academic conditions, there has been an increasing lack of interest in youth, the most insightful researchers finding themselves beyond our borders. According to unofficial statistics, in the past 10 years more than 6000 PhD’s and PhD candidates, leading specialists in a diverse range of academic branches, have left Ukraine permanently for various developed countries. With them, they took their most current research work, what amounts to a huge unrealized academic potential worth trillions of dollars in the intellectual economy.

In the 15 years since Ukraine became independent, the population has decreased from 52 to 47 million people, by five million! No country in Europe has experienced such (or even much less significant) loses during times of peace during the 20th century! Ukrainian academics stress that if Ukraine continues to follow this tendency until 2050, it will be left with no more than 25 million people. Understood is the fact that such a path will bring Ukrainian society to full degradation and will effectively remove Ukraine from the international arena as a country that has created and maintained its own government.

This total population decrease seriously blocks the road to our future development. According to various Ukrainian legal organizations, no less than five million Ukrainian citizens searching for stable work were forced to search elsewhere, abroad. Today in Ukraine, there are more than 13 million pensioners and close to 12 million children under eighteen years old. In addition, there are close to 2.6 million registered invalids of working age. Add to this one million “people in uniform,” military personnel and manual laborers, almost half a million government officials of various grades and almost 4 million educational, medical, and cultural workers. Of the 40 million permanent Ukrainian inhabitants who have not left the country for work, only 7 million work in the spheres of industrial and agricultural production, work vital to sustain society in its entirety. For every one worker in the production sphere are 6 people that need to be fed, clothed, given proper medication, and all that is necessary to lead a normal life. This kind of loading is concrete proof of the type of stalled development that has become the norm. The situation is complicated by the fact that a significant portion of these 7 million are practically unemployed and don’t have the means to support even themselves.

Logically, a whole slew of questions appear, the most prominent of which is: What caused these destructive transformations? Clearly the answer must be sought out in and with the help of Ukrainian social organizations. The individual is a social being whose full developmental potential is unrealizable without a collective perspective that reaches beyond the boundaries of individual human interaction. In modern times, the social organization of a person can be marked by development through several stages:

- the individual;

- children (immediate family);

- extended family;

- territorial community;

- societal organization;

- the people within this society;

- the nation;

- international relations;

- universal civilization.

The harmonious and fully realized development of the individual in the third millennium is possible only in satisfying the requirements of all these levels of modern human social organization. The individual starts to recognize the world through his immediate family. Accordingly, grandfathers and grandmothers, aunts and uncles rejoice when a new child is born, spoil it, play with it, and attempt to expand the boundaries of the immediate family so that the child has a conception of a larger extended family. Soon after the young individual establishes himself as a citizen of a village or city, starts going to school, meets neighbors, and in the process falls in love with the place of his birth. Thus the individual becomes a member of a territorial community.

As he constantly gathers more and more new knowledge, the individual contemplates future professions and ascends a new level of social organization as an active member of society. Further, his attitudes develop under consideration of certain “universal” questions: Who are we? Where did we come from? What were we? Where are we going? In attempting to answer these incredibly important questions, the individual begins to feel himself a part of a community – an ethnos with a common language, traditions, culture, religion, and historical past. Alongside this attachment is also formed a sense of responsibility for that community’s land, the fate of the people, and its future on a global scale.

A higher form of social organization is the political organization of a community – the formation of a central government. A community doesn’t become a nation until its desire for political self-definition manifests itself in the form of government. This government becomes the principal instrument for the nation’s political functions, the main goal of which is to ensure the full development of its members.

Modern history convincingly attests to the fact that the countries that develop constantly, consistently, and smoothly are those which maintain a high level of national self-awareness with respect to national traditions, culture, and historical inheritance. The achievements of Japan, China, France, Germany, Indonesia, Korea, India, and Malaysia in recent history support this thesis.

Countries recognized and respected by and within themselves also collaborate most smoothly with international organizations. The realization of national individuality is conducive to the growth of international authority and global recognition.

It goes without saying that the most important thing is to change societal orientations, to strengthen national self-awareness, and to create and realize a new national idea capable of uniting separate citizens in an indefatigable nation.

The best example of this can be taken from right here, on our own home front. After World War II, when the country lay in ruins, only the faith of the people in their own strength and ability to build a better future for their children allowed our grandfathers and grandmothers to a rebuild the ruined national economy over the next quarter century before it finally returned to a global level.

For Ukraine such an axiom is absolutely realistic. Spirituality is a universal marker of political, moral, and intellectual health in every human being, every community, and humanity in its entirety. The reach of spirituality marks the bounds of individual, national, and ethnic self-realization; the level of development on this front will decide the fate of every individual, every country, and all of humanity across the globe.