Ukrainian migrant workers disgusted with the authorities


Ukrainian workers in Portugal are in no hurry to give up their Ukrainian citizenship. Only about 1500 of the 40,000 Ukrainians working legally in Portugal have joint nationality (illegal under Ukrainian law – translator). Yet even those Ukrainians who have lost their jobs due to the financial crisis are not rushing to return home. They either move to neighbouring Spain or find part-time work in Portugal. The large exodus to Portugal began 10 years ago.

Svitlana from Lviv, a mathematician – programmer by profession, together with her husband and daughter worked for almost 5 years in Portugal. The family responded to President Yushchenko’s appeal to migrant workers and returned to Ukraine, to their native Lviv.

“Yushchenko asked people to return, promised work, we saw how people in Ukraine had united, however when we arrived, we ended up without work. I haven’t got a job. Wherever I go, I’m not suitable because of age and profession. My husband’s working on a construction site. He earns a lot less than in Portugal. We lived well there, rented a flat for 500 Euro. We had enough money for everything and to help our relatives. Now we don’t have anything. We’re absolutely disgusted with the regime that came to power and that we had great expectations of.”

At the moment Svitlana is looking for ways of going back to Portugal however it’s quite difficult and expensive.

Oksana and Oleh Hutsko have been working in Portugal for almost 10 years and do not plan to return to Ukraine until they reach retirement age in Portugal.

According to Oleh, “It’s more stable and comfortable for us in a foreign country. The Portuguese government is organizing things so that migrants take part in local elections. The Portuguese have legalized our position, and we’re investing in the country’s economy. With Ukraine it’s hard to plan anything: they do one thing, smash down another.”

The Ukrainian government doesn’t care about migrant workers

After 10 years of Ukrainians working in Portugal, an agreement has finally been signed between Ukraine and Portugal on social protection for migrant workers. It has yet to be ratified, but when it is, it should make it possible to count one’s work record abroad as part of ones period of work in Ukraine.

An international Ukrainian school has also been opened. In Portugal there are 20 Saturday schools and centres for studying Ukraine; 14 religious communities where the children of migrant workers study, and who are entitled to apply for Ukrainian higher institutes. On the other hand, the most numerous Ukrainian community in Portugal, unlike the Russian community, does not have a single Ukraine media outlet.

In general the migrant workers do not perceive any great interest from the Ukrainian State in their fate.

Legal status in Ukraine for emigrants remains unregulated. For example, Ukrainian nationals who work abroad and come home in their own car can be on Ukrainian territory with this car as “in transit” only up to 10 days.

Migrants are initiating a coordination committee to protect their rights

They want answers to seven questions from the Ukrainian authorities:

Are Ukrainian migrant workers seen as “traitors” or investors?

Do they have the right to impact upon the political situation in Ukraine/

Does the tax department regard them as people with a business?

There are also questions about regulating the crossing of the border; joint citizenship and the status of Ukrainian nationals abroad. These are burning questions of relevance to almost 5 million migrant workers.

Oksana Hutsko recounts: “When my salary as a teacher was lowered from 75 to 26 dollars, my husband said that you can’t work so much for that amount of money. It was basically he who made me leave. We were forced by poverty and unemployment to leave our relatives, our homes and go to a foreign country”.

The community of Ukrainian migrants in Portugal is the fourth in terms of numbers. According to unofficial statistics there are around 100 thousand Ukrainian migrant workers.

Halyna Tereshchuk

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