Poland, far from being overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians seeking refuge from Russia’s invasion of their country, is seeing its economy grow, according to economists.
The latest available figures from early August show about half of the working-age people who fled Ukraine for Poland are now employed.
In an interview with VOA, World Bank economist Reena Badiani-Magnusson, who specializes in the region, called the employment statistics for the temporarily displaced people, or TDPs, released by the Polish government “impressive.”
Badiani-Magnusson quotes a National Bank of Poland study that found between 2013 and 2018, during the first wave of Ukrainian migration, the presence of Ukrainian migrants in the country had a .5% positive impact on growth.
“On top of that, we’ve done some analysis of the current crisis, and we find that should 500,000 Ukrainian displaced people be integrated into the labor market successfully, we anticipate a medium-term impact on the growth of 1.5%,” she said.
Experts interviewed by VOA said there are three main reasons why the “refugee crisis” quickly filled the Polish market with needed labor. First, Ukrainians who arrived in Poland, including many mothers with children, had high professional qualifications and wanted to work. Second, Polish authorities quickly removed most barriers to Ukrainian TDP employment. And third, the sizeable Ukrainian diaspora facilitated the adjustment and labor engagement of the newly arrived compatriots fleeing the war.
Ukrainians working below their qualifications
For many newly arrived Ukrainian women, says Ludmila Dymitrow, a coordinator at the Information Center for Foreigners in Krakow, low-skilled work is only the first step.
“We explain that even if you had a good job and a high status in your homeland, you could find it here, too, but start with something simpler. A good start can begin in different ways, even from the checkout in a store. Learn the language, and life will give you other opportunities.”
One of many Ukrainian TDPs in Krakow, Olena Kurta, a mother of two, cleans hotel rooms. She used to teach law in the city of Horlivka, in the Russia-supported so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in 2014, and later opened and ran a daycare in Kryvyi Rih.
“I want to learn the language and find another job. I haven’t decided what I want to do. I have to start everything from the beginning,” said Kurta.
Tatyana Potapova, another Ukrainian woman, came to Krakow from the village of Lyptsi near Kharkiv, captured by Russians in the early days of the invasion. In her 60s and a chemist by education and employment, she enrolled in Polish-language classes as soon as she arrived.
“I imagine that I can work as a concierge in some institution. It is my dream. I am willing even to work in a store, but preferably not in a grocery store,” said Potapova in an interview with VOA.
Polish authorities provide immediate job assistance
On March 12, 2022, the Polish parliament passed a law on assistance to Ukrainian citizens, which gave the TDPs from Ukraine the right to stay legally in Poland for 18 months and access its health care system, education, social services and labor market.
The government and local authorities assist Ukrainian TDPs in finding employment. For example, the provincial Employment Administration helps connect job seekers with employers. It also began some programs, available only to Polish citizens and Ukrainian TDPs, that included financing 85% of the cost of job training, said its director.
The administration sent their representative to the Center for Foreigners, located in the Krakow shopping mall, to help job seekers find opportunities and apply for vacancies.
Badiani-Magnusson points to a comprehensive approach to facilitating access of Ukrainian women to the labor market.
“The Polish government and society need to be recognized and commended for their generous and open-armed support to the populations arriving, the speed and rapidity at which populations that wanted to work were able to have registered temporary protection” that provided services that allowed to integrate them into the labor market, said the economist.
Ukrainian diaspora helps new arrivals find jobs
Maciej Bukowski, president of the Warsaw-based research institute Wise-Europa, draws attention to another aspect – before the arrival of a new wave of TDPs after February 24, Ukrainians were already in Poland, arriving especially after 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, and instigated and supported aggression in Donbas.
The presence of Ukrainians helped absorb the sudden and significant wave of new refugees from Ukraine.
Barriers for Ukrainians in the Polish labor market
Still, obstacles to the employment of the Ukrainian TDPs remain. The language barrier is one of them. Even though Ukrainian and Polish are linguistically close, it still takes time and effort to be able to speak Polish fluently.
The Zustricz Foundation, an organization of Ukrainians in Krakow, offers classes for Polish-language learners, one of the popular ways to assist Ukrainian TDPs.
A second barrier is the need to care for children. Almost half of those who arrived from Ukraine after February 24 and remained in Poland (600,000) are children.
Badiani-Magnusson of the World Bank points to the need to find employment that matches the qualifications of the Ukrainian job seekers. Zustricz Foundation founder Aleksandra Zapolska agrees – there is still a need to connect employers and job seekers, especially among the most qualified.
“In the medical field, there is a great need for nurses and doctors; for example, there is a shortage of psychiatrists. On the other hand, doctors do not fully know where to turn because not every hospital is interested at that moment; there is no such path for them to meet,” she explained.
The World Bank also says that Ukrainian entrepreneurs need help with adaptation to Polish legislation and access to finance. “You can imagine that you can have a very successful business in Ukraine, and you’d like to be able to bring those same skills into the Polish labor market,” says Badiani-Magnusson.
An uncertain outcome
Zapolska points to another problem – uncertainty about the future.
Will these people return to Ukraine? Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Ukrainians will return with the liberation of Ukrainian territories; the critical moment here will be the liberation of Kherson. That is why, he said, it is essential to end the war in such a way that Russia cannot continue posing a threat to Ukrainian territories.
“Many Ukrainians do not know whether they will return, and their decision often changes,” said Zapolska.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 7 million Ukrainian TDPs remain in European countries – 1.3 million in Poland. Since the start of the full-scale offensive, more than 6 million people have crossed the border from Ukraine to Poland.
VOA’s Georgian Service contributed to this report.