They are leaving the country – young, hard-working Ukrainians. Numerous villages in western Ukraine, villages are emptying out. Millions of people move to Poland in search of higher wages. Old people are staying.
Dagens Nyheter has visited the former tourist city in the west of Ukraine. Now its streets are empty.
The view of the Ukrainian Carpathians from the porch of a limed house is just fantastic. Mountains rise in the sky. Garden, sheds, and chicken coop – everything is neat and well maintained.
It is hard to believe that the inhabitants of this house eke out an existence at subsistence levels. But the pension of 63-year-old Yaroslava Susak is not enough even to pay for gas.
That is why there is a mountain of wood behind the house on the lawn. Yaroslava began to cut down trees in the area in order not to use gas.
"In the summer we can stoke wood. So we will save at least some money," she says.
She chops wood quickly and accurately. When Dagens Nyheter photographer Anders Hansson replaces her, he is surprised at how heavy the tools are.
The small idyllic town of Kosiv in western Ukraine with 8,600 inhabitants is conveniently located at the foot of the Carpathians, there are a church and town hall, shops and cafes, fancy houses and gardens on the mountain slopes. Romanian border is 40 kilometers from here, and the Polish border is about a hundred kilometers away.
“I have five hours to get to the factory in the suburb of Krakow, where I work. Next week I will have to go there again. I go there for three months,” says taxi driver Vasyl Rypnovsky. Now he spends his vacation at home, together with his family, but he takes us to Kosiv from Ivano-Frankivsk, taking advantage of the opportunity to earn some money.
Rypnovsky is pleased with his Polish employer but would prefer to be able not to go there.
"Of course, I would rather work in Ukraine to be close to my family. Half of Ukraine works abroad. This is not good for the country."
Initially, Kosiv was a tourist city. Now the streets are empty, there is no one in the cafe. Souvenir shops hang goods on the streets, but not a single tourist can be seen around.
In the private sector, where Yaroslav Susak lives, many houses are boarded up. Most of the rest of the locals are retired. The able-bodied people moved to Poland, many took their children with them.
“My grown-up daughter works in the suburb of Krakow as a dishwasher. She was promised a salary of 10 to 12 USD per hour and was given only 8 USD. The work is physically exhausting; by the end of the day, she can barely move. The Poles do the same work for a higher salary. So Ukrainians are treated like second-rate people in Poland," Yaroslava confessed.
However, she does not believe that her daughter has made a mistake by going to Krakow. She was not allowed to live on her landscape designer’s salary, which was less than 100 USD. Monthly gas bill went for about the same amount.
Since the Ukrainians abolished visas to the EU in 2017, labor emigration has increased. Approximately 3.2 million Ukrainians work abroad, of which between one and two million are in Poland.
The number of Ukrainian migrant laborers in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Italy, and Spain is also growing.
In addition, it is estimated that the number of Ukrainians in Russia still reaches several million, although relations between the countries are terrible since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and began to support separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“As a result, Ukraine lacks professionals. We lack welders and professional builders. It’s good that Ukraine receives currency from the migrant laborers who send money home. But the professionals are leaving us, and this is a problem. All candidates argued how to get people to stay on the eve of the elections,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta Kyiv analytical center.
Emigration is one of the most important issues of the election campaign. In Kosiv, we did not find a single resident who either does not regularly go to work in Poland or does not have such relatives.
"I get about 10 dollars a day for standing in this shop for 11 hours. My boyfriend works as a stage designer in Ivano-Frankivsk, and he hasn’t received any salary for several months. So we decided that he would go to Poland. He will probably be picking strawberries,” says 32-year-old Maria Lukinchuk, a florist at a flower shop in Kosiv.
Maria Lukinchuk finds the EU visa-free regime as a mockery.
“It’s good if you want to travel to the EU. But we don’t have the money for it, so what does it matter?”
She pauses to sell a cup of coffee to the buyer, and continues:
"We have received European prices, while wages and pensions are not European at all. After the revolution on Maidan in 2014, everything became much more expensive."
The association agreement with the EU and the package of reforms that Ukraine conducted, among other things, meant that there would be no more gas subsidies. As a result, gas prices have become European, while wages and pensions remained at the Ukrainian level (In 2014, the size of the subsistence minimum and the minimum pension was 73 USD. In 2019, this figure is 53 USD, - ed.).
For Yaroslava Susak, these new utility tariffs mean an economic disaster.
“I have a pension of 64 USD, my husband has 71 USD per month. After paying the bills, we have money for a loaf of bread and a little more than a pound of meat per week. I am forced to plan all the purchases to the last detail, to the last bit.”
But labor emigration also implies investment in the country. Right next to the town hall, there is a Lysy Nian café. It belongs to Nazar Ostafiychuk.
There is a spacious game room, and the cafe is primarily intended for mothers with children. There are many customers because there are many single moms in Kosiv: they stay at home with their children while their husbands work abroad.
Before the Russian annexation of Crimea, Nazar Ostafiychuk has been working as a cook and bartender in Moscow. After that, he found a job in Poland; he became a recruiter at the enterprise.
“Everything went well. I could stay in Poland. But I love my hometown. I want to live here,” says Nazar.
Two years ago, his daughter Emilia was born. Then it seemed natural to return home.
"All my savings were invested into this cafe. We were hoping for tourists after the New Year, but there was almost no one. Russian tourists do not go here anymore, and Ukrainians can no longer travel as they used to, because people have less money."
Despite all the difficulties, Nazar Ostafiychuk does not hesitate for a second when I ask him whether he continues to support the idea of integration with the EU.
"Of course, the EU is important. Look at Poland: 20 years ago they were at the same level as we are now. Our only course is Europe. The country has no other way of development."
In June 2017, a visa-free regime between Ukraine and the EU came into force. This happened as a result of several years of negotiations, during which the EU demanded economic reforms in exchange for the abolition of visas for Ukrainians in the Schengen countries. The visa-free regime does not apply to the UK and Ireland.
Since the visa-free regime came into force, a year has passed, and about half a million Ukrainians have crossed the border with the EU.
To be able to work in the EU, Ukrainian citizens still need a work permit.
Read the original text at Dagens Nyheter
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.