While many Ukraini­ans leave to work in Europe, far-off Canada is also prov­ing a draw

Kyiv Post Legal Quarterly - - Contents - By Olena Gon­charova gon­[email protected]­post.com

ED­MON­TON, Canada — Ukraine keeps los­ing young and tal­ented peo­ple: ev­ery month some 100,000 Ukraini­ans be­come la­bor mi­grants, ac­cord­ing to Ukrainian For­eign Min­is­ter Pavlo Klimkin.

En­demic cor­rup­tion, Rus­sia’s war in east­ern Ukraine and the im­pact on Ukraine of the global eco­nomic cri­sis have made the peren­nial flow of em­i­grants even more pro­nounced over the last four years.

While many head to Euro­pean coun­tries — es­pe­cially those within the Schen­gen zone, which since 2017 has wel­comed Ukraini­ans for short-term trips with­out a visa — there are oth­ers who pre­fer des­ti­na­tions fur­ther away.

Canada has been on the radar of many tal­ented Ukraini­ans for decades: the coun­try has seen five waves of Ukrainian im­mi­grants over the past 125 years, there are now 1.4 mil­lion eth­nic Ukraini­ans liv­ing in Canada. They con­sti­tute 4 per­cent of Canada’s 35-mil­lion pop­u­la­tion.

The num­ber of Ukraini­ans in Canada grows ev­ery year. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est avail­able cen­sus in­for­ma­tion, nearly 24,000 new per­ma­nent res­i­dents from Ukraine landed in Canada be­tween 2006 and 2015.

Mykyta Gu­lenko is one of them: He left Kyiv and moved to the province of British Columbia in western Canada in 2013. He cur­rently re­sides in Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta where he works as North­east Area Tele­com Team Lead at Al­berta Agri­cul­ture and Forestry Di­vi­sion. He said he couldn’t see him­self liv­ing and do­ing busi­ness in Ukraine un­der the regime of Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych, who ruled from 2010 un­til the Euro­maidan Rev­o­lu­tion ousted him on Feb. 22, 2014.

Even though Yanukovych is gone, Gu­lenko never re­gret­ted his de­ci­sion to leave.

Start­ing anew wasn’t easy. Even though he had the qual­i­fi­ca­tions for the job and a de­gree in telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions en­gi­neer­ing from the Kyiv Mil­i­tary In­sti­tute of Man­age­ment and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Kyiv Polytech­nic Univer­sity, he started with an en­try-level po­si­tion and worked his way up to the man­ager’s role.

He says that all the im­mi­grants need to be pre­pared to work in po­si­tions lower than they are used to at home. “Then it all changes as one gains lo­cal ex­pe­ri­ence,” he ex­plains. Gu­lenko ac­knowl­edges there’s a prob­lem with brain drain in Ukraine. To re­spond to it, he says, salaries need to be in­creased as a first step, and em­ploy­ers need to re­think their ap­proach.

“This thing ‘I’m a boss, you’re an em­ployee and thus a fool’ needs to stop,” Gu­lenko said. “Many peo­ple (in ukraine) are fired just be­cause of bad man­agers. This is very rare here (in canada).”

Stay or go

The top rea­son for hu­man cap­i­tal flight is Ukraine’s low salaries. Ukraine’s of­fi­cial av­er­age wage is nearly $4,000 a year. This makes any de­vel­oped coun­try a more at­trac­tive op­tion for Ukraini­ans.

But even those with good in­come of­ten de­cide to leave when a chance emerges.

Anas­tasiia Bu­gaienko has been liv­ing in Canada for three-and-a-half years. She says her de­ci­sion to leave Ukraine was “a de­lib­er­ated and ma­ture choice.”

“I’d wanted to em­i­grate since 2011, but I didn’t have enough re­sources and in­ter­nal strength to act on my plan,” she ex­plains.

Bu­gaienko worked in one of Kyiv’s banks in a man­age­ment po­si­tion and says she “lived a de­cent life.” She could af­ford to travel and her pur­chas­ing power was above av­er­age.

But Ukraine’s prob­lems out­weighed these com­forts: Among the key rea­sons she names are neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion in the me­dia, bur­den­ing bu­reau­cracy, and cor­rup­tion at all lev­els of the govern­ment.

“All of that caused a lot of anx­i­ety and de­sire to de­part even with­out full un­der­stand­ing of the chal­lenges I would face abroad,” Bu­gaienko told the Kyiv Post.

Her path to land­ing a de­cent job over­seas was hard, as she had visa re­stric­tions in the be­gin­ning and couldn’t work full-time. Af­ter four months of search­ing, she got her first job in a mu­seum, a sea­sonal one.

Now Bu­gaienko is busy at her third job, at Canada’s Rev­enue Agency. She’s con­stantly tak­ing cour­ses to im­prove her knowl­edge as she ad­mits it’s “tough to suc­cess­fully get through a job in­ter­view here.”

How­ever, it pays: In 2017, the av­er­age wage in Canada was $51,000 a year. The min­i­mum wage var­ied be­tween 10–14 Cana­dian dol­lars (U.S. $7–11) per hour.

Bu­gaienko re­called that while in­ter­view­ing, “HR are as­sess­ing not only work­ing knowl­edge, but also es­ti­mates the can­di­dates’ abil­ity to han­dle con­flict in a work­place and how the new em­ployee will fit in an or­ga­ni­za­tion.” She en­joys work­ing un­der Cana­dian em­ploy­ers. “What I loved about Cana­dian em­ploy­ers that in ev­ery po­si­tion they pro­vide train­ing/ori­en­ta­tion nec­es­sary for the em­ployee to suc­cess­fully ful­fill du­ties,” she says. “Self-study­ing and self-mo­ti­va­tion are also very im­por­tant, but you don’t find your­self in a limbo.” Bu­gaienko says she misses Kyiv with its his­tor­i­cal places and fa­vorite spots, but af­ter liv­ing in Canada for more than three years she feels that she “be­longs here.”

Find­ing a cure

To staunch the brain drain, Ukraine should con­sider a num­ber of op­tions, says Olek­sandr Ro­manko, a senior re­search an­a­lyst at Watson Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices di­vi­sion of IBM Canada and ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Toronto.

Ro­manko him­self has been liv­ing in Canada for 14 years af­ter he came to do his Mas­ter’s de­gree in Com­puter Sci­ence at Mcmaster Univer­sity in Hamil­ton, Canada. Later dur­ing his PH.D. stud­ies, he took two four-month re­search in­tern­ships at Al­go­rith­mics Inc. in Toronto, a com­pany that cre­ates fi­nan­cial and risk anal­y­sis soft­ware and ser­vices for banks, in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and other fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, which was ac­quired by IBM in 2011.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he joined IBM full-time, work­ing on R&D projects at Watson Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices di­vi­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to Ro­manko, Ukraine has to cre­ate in­cen­tives for peo­ple to stay and work in the coun­try and mo­ti­vate peo­ple who left Ukraine to come back, as well as to en­gage peo­ple who would not come back to stay en­gaged with Ukraine via do­ing vol­un­tary work for the coun­try.

“Coun­tries that un­der­stand that and cre­ate in­cen­tives for peo­ple to ‘come back’ are win­ning the ‘brain drain’ race now,” Ro­manko told the Kyiv Post. “And ‘com­ing back’ should be un­der­stood in the broad­est sense. For in­stance, for a pro­fes­sor who left Ukraine and be­came a pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of Toronto ‘com­ing back’ can be teach­ing a course at a Ukrainian univer­sity once a year dur­ing his or her va­ca­tion.”

Dur­ing his va­ca­tions in Ukraine, Ro­manko teaches the Mas­ter of Data Sci­ence pro­gram at Ukrainian Catholic Univer­sity in Lviv. This year he’s in­volved in the open­ing of Mas­ter of Busi­ness and Man­age­ment in Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence and Data An­a­lyt­ics pro­gram at Kyiv School of Eco­nomics in Kyiv.

Re­search and de­vel­op­ment at com­pa­nies, col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween com­pa­nies and univer­si­ties, and in­no­va­tion are slowly tak­ing place in Ukraine, but at a much slower rate than in Canada, ac­cord­ing to Ro­manko.

“Help­ing Ukrainian com­pa­nies and univer­si­ties to in­no­vate is part of our vol­un­teer­ing ef­forts,” he says. “This year we man­aged to con­vince the Cana­dian Govern­ment to al­low Ukraine to join Canada's Mi­tacs Glob­alink Re­search In­tern­ship pro­gram, which al­lowed 50 Ukrainian stu­dents to do three-month re­search in­tern­ships at Cana­dian univer­si­ties.”

A he­li­copter-borne fire­fight­ing team cuts a de­fen­sive perime­ter into the brush to halt the spread of a for­est fire in British Columbia in western Canada. Mykyta Gu­lenko, a Ukrainian who moved to Canada from Ukraine in 2013, was a part of the team at that time, and helped it to in­stall ra­dio re­peaters. (Cour­tesy of Mykyta Gu­lenko)

Some 4 mil­lion peo­ple left Ukraine to work abroad in 20152017, ac­cord­ing to Cen­ter for Eco­nomic Strat­egy, and Ukraine's law­mak­ers have few ideas about how to deal with this press­ing prob­lem.

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