It is widely believed among Ukrainians that leap years tend to be unlucky. This notion is reflected in some government demographic data, such as figures showing Ukrainian citizens demonstrably more hesitant to marry in years when February has an extra day.
The annual number of marriages in Ukraine has fallen precipitously since Ukraine gained independence almost three decades ago. In 1991, the year of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Ukraine registered 493,100 marriages; by 2019, the number had declined to about 237,900, according to the government’s statistics agency, Ukrstat. Amid this downward trend, every leap year but one has seen significantly lower marriage numbers than in both the preceding and following years.
In 2016, the most recent leap year for which there are statistics, there were about 229,500 marriages. That represents an approximately 23 percent drop over the 2015 figure. It is also about 8 percent lower than the 249,500 marriages registered in 2017.
Contributing to the steep decline in 2016 was the fact that marriages in the separatist-held regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were starting that year no longer counted in the Ukrainian government statistics.
The largest marriage gap occurred in 1996, a leap year when marriages plunged to 307,500, a 29 percent decline year-on-year. The number rebounded in 1997 to 345,000, an 11 percent increase over the leap-year low.
The lone leap year outlier for independent Ukraine was 2008, when a global banking crisis began. Marriages were down dramatically between 2007 and 2008, as one could expect, but continued to fall slightly in 2009 and 2010 amid the economic fallout.
One can only imagine what Ukraine’s marriage numbers will look like in 2020. This train wreck of a year, of course, has been defined by the COVID-19 pandemic. But let’s not forget: 2020 is also a leap year.
Mariya Chukhnova is a student at Columbia University.