We analysed migratory connectivity between different winter quarters and breeding sectors in the circumpolar tundra region for arctic shorebirds, in relation to migratory distances and ecological barriers. Total distances and barriers were calculated and measured for all potential migratory orthodrome links between 10 selected winter regions and 12 breeding sectors. The migratory segment between the northernmost stopover site and the breeding area, associated with the entry to and exit from the tundra during spring and autumn migration, respectively, was also identified and measured for each potential link. The analysis indicated that the evolution of migratory links among arctic shorebirds is constrained not by distance as such but by distance across ecological barriers, possibly because of the complex adaptations required for barrier crossing and extensive detour migration (and in a few cases because barrier distances exceed the birds' theoretical flight range capacity). A particularly pronounced barrier effect of the Arctic Ocean, as apparent from a sharp decline in migratory connectivity between the opposite sides of the Arctic Ocean, may reflect a crucial importance of favourable entry and exit conditions for successfully occupying different sectors of the tundra breeding area by shorebirds from winter regions situated at widely different total distances in both the southern and northern hemispheres.