Some 1 mil­lion Ukraini­ans now work legally in Poland


When it comes to seek­ing work abroad, more Ukraini­ans are look­ing west rather than east.

With Rus­sia’s war on Ukraine grind­ing on in the Don­bas and eco­nomic prospects in Ukraine still shaky, Poland could soon over­take Rus­sia as the main at­trac­tion for Ukraini­ans look­ing for work abroad.

Apart from cul­tural links and higher salaries, Poland at­tracts Ukraini­ans be­cause of its high de­mand for la­bor: Many Poles, whose nation joined the Euro­pean Union in 2004, have re­lo­cated to the United King­dom, Ger­many and other EU na­tions.

Within the next 20 years, Poland will need an ad­di­tional 5 mil­lion work­ers, the Pol­ish Union of En­trepreneur­s and Em­ploy­ers es­ti­mates.

And while in 2006 just 7 per­cent of Ukraini­ans said they wanted to work in Poland, 30 per­cent were in fa­vor by 2015, ac­cord­ing Anas­tasiia Vyn­ny­chenko, Ukraine’s la­bor mi­gra­tion project man­ager at the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion.

“The flow con­tin­ues and there will be more of them,” Vyn­ny­chenko added.

Ukrainian war vet­eran Volodymyr Skoso­horenko is one such worker. He came to Poland this year for six months. He found work at a su­per­mar­ket chain, where he or­ga­nizes shelves and dec­o­rates the shops, get­ting $25 for a 10-hour night shift.

The job al­lows Skoso­horenko, 31, pay for his ed­u­ca­tion at a univer­sity in Vin­nyt­sia, where he stud­ies psy­chol­ogy. He knows of three other Ukrainian war veter­ans work­ing for the same Pol­ish com­pany that hired him.

He works in a team that con­sists of Poles and Ukraini­ans. While both make the same base pay, the Ukraini­ans have less ben­e­fits, like meal al­lowances.

“The Poles are the main ones here, and we, the Ukraini­ans, help them,” he said.

Hard work

Skoso­horenko is one of an es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion Ukraini­ans work­ing legally in Poland, the EU coun­try that is the most friendly to Ukraini­ans in terms of its mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

That is still less than in Rus­sia, where Ukrainian na­tion­als ex­ceed 2 mil­lion. But given Rus­sia’s hos­til­ity to Ukraine and its own eco­nomic stag­na­tion, Ukraini­ans in­creas­ingly pre­fer EU coun­tries.

An­other is Pavlo Dovhopol, a weld­ing en­gi­neer from Ch­erni­hiv, who trav­eled to work abroad for the first time in 2017, choos­ing Poland in­stead of Rus­sia “for pa­tri­otic rea­sons.”

Now he works six days per week of­ten with 12-hour shifts at a plant pro­duc­ing con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als in the north­ern Pol­ish city of Cho­jnice.

Dovhopol, 25, earns about $3 per hour for as­sem­bling and fix­ing ma­chin­ery. His salary comes to $800 a month, while an av­er­age wage in his home­town of Ch­erni­hiv is just $180.

Dovhopol has to give a share of his salary to the in­ter­me­di­ary com­pany that got him the job, but he is not com­plain­ing.

“For those who came here to make some money, this is ex­actly what we need,” he said.

There are 10 Ukraini­ans work­ing now at his plant and more are on the way. Dovhopol plans to work in Poland at least for a year to save money.

The In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion’s Vyn­ny­chenko said that a one- or two-year work­ing term is most typ­i­cal for Ukrainian la­bor mi­grants in Poland. The Ukraini­ans mostly work in small busi­nesses, con­struc­tion, house­work, small trade and agri­cul­ture, she said.


Agri­cul­tural work is still a ma­jor draw for Ukraini­ans. In spring, many Ukraini­ans — even en­tire fam­i­lies — travel to work on Pol­ish farms, hired via ac­quain­tances or ad­ver­tise­ments.

In one in­ter­net group called “Straw­berry-Poland” on the Vkon­takte so­cial net­work, new job va­can­cies are added al­most ev­ery day. Usu­ally, Pol­ish farm­ers hire Ukraini­ans at a rate of about $2 per hour for work­ing days of up to 16 hours.

Wik­tor Swin­ci­cki, who works at the City Coun­cil of Lublin, the city in east­ern Poland close to Ukrainian bor­der, said he knows some farm­ers in the mostly agri­cul­tural Lublin re­gion who have hired some Ukraini­ans for sea­sonal work for a decade al­ready.

At some $1.80 for a basket of rasp­ber­ries, the pay in Lublin prov­ince is lower than in the rest of Poland. That’s why Ukraini­ans are so wel­come there.

Swin­ci­cki said that Ukraini­ans some­times used to be paid less than Poles for do­ing the same job, but the new la­bor law adopted in Poland in 2016 re­moved this dis­crim­i­na­tion, oblig­ing all em­ploy­ers to pay an equal min­i­mal salary to all work­ers, re­gard­less of their na­tion­al­ity.

There are some 75,000 Ukraini­ans now work­ing in Lublin re­gion, the provin­cial la­bor of­fice es­ti­mates.

But the real num­bers of Ukrainian work­ers are cer­tainly higher, since up to 50 per­cent of those em­ployed in farm­ing, clean­ing and look­ing af­ter the el­derly are work­ing un­of­fi­cially, Swin­ci­cki said.

Skilled la­bor

While un­skilled la­bor is still the pre­dom­i­nant sec­tor of the Pol­ish mar­ket that is draw­ing in Ukraini­ans, more and more semi-skilled and skilled jobs are be­com­ing avail­able.

Danil Ka­trich trav­eled from Dnipro to Krakow, a city in south­ern Poland, some 18 months ago to­gether with his wife. Ka­trich, 27, said they de­cided to move be­cause his wife had found a good job in the IT in­dus­try, where Ukraini­ans are now in de­mand.

Other Ukraini­ans who have some sav­ings open busi­nesses in Krakow, he said, with pop­u­lar fields be­ing cater­ing and em­ploy­ment ser­vices for other Ukraini­ans. Ka­trich added that the Ukrainian ac­coun­tants are also on de­mand in Poland.

Swin­ci­cki agrees, say­ing that while some five years ago most Ukraini­ans in Lublin re­gion worked as sea­sonal agri­cul­tural work­ers, now many Ukraini­ans work as man­agers in in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies, ac­coun­tants, teach­ers and IT spe­cial­ists.

While Ukrainian man­ual work­ers usu­ally earn $500–700 per month in Poland, the monthly salary of Ukrainian pro­gram­mers there would be $1,000–4,000. The av­er­age salary in Ukraine, mean­while, is $230 per month.

Vyn­ny­chenko says that Poland needs skilled work­ers along with a sea­sonal la­bor force.

Ben­e­fits and risks

With more Ukraini­ans trav­el­ing for work abroad, more of them risk to be mis­treated, cheated or even hu­man-traf­ficked there.

Vyn­ny­chenko said there were 173 reg­is­tered cases of hu­man traf­fick­ing of Ukrainian la­bor mi­grants in 2016. And Poland was in se­cond place among the coun­tries where Ukraini­ans were ex­ploited the most.

At the same time, Ukrainian la­bor mi­grants are the big­gest in­vestors in Ukraine’s econ­omy. In 2014 alone, they trans­ferred to Ukraine more than $7.5 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the re­port by the In­ter­na­tional Fund for Agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment. Pol­ish la­bor mi­grants were the se­cond in this rank­ing, send­ing $7.4 mil­lion in re­mit­tances back home.

Vyn­ny­chenko said that Ukrainian fam­i­lies save about 40 per­cent of the cash re­ceived from la­bor mi­grants — money that po­ten­tially could be in­vested in Ukraine’s econ­omy when peo­ple be­come con­fi­dent in do­ing so.

“His­tor­i­cally, mi­gra­tion is al­ways ben­e­fi­cial, as mi­grants bring new knowl­edge and skills back to their home coun­try,” Vyn­ny­chenko said.

Skoso­horenko, the war vet­eran, agrees. Al­though he ad­mits that some­times it’s phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally hard for him to work in Poland, as he still feels pain from his war wounds, he is glad of his ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing abroad.

“I saw how it is all or­ga­nized here, and I will use some of my skills (back home) for sure,” he said.

Kyiv Post ed­i­tor Aly­ona Zhuk con­trib­uted re­port­ing to the story

Sea­sonal Ukrainian work­ers gather ap­ples at an or­chard near Leczyszyce, Poland, on Sept. 3, 2014. (AFP)

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