After fleeing war, Ukrainians struggle to settle in Europe

  • Russian invasion drives out millions of Ukrainians
  • Many refugees struggle to find jobs and housing
  • Welcoming Europeans but also affected by the setbacks of the cost of living
  • “I had a dream life. Now I have no home,” says refugee

MADRID/LISBON, Oct 10 (Reuters) – Ukrainian psychologist Tatyana Bogkova was on a birthday trip to Poland with her mother and four-year-old daughter when Russian troops invaded her native country earlier this year.

As shells rained down on the city of Kharkiv and her policeman husband remained to fight, the 32-year-old chose refuge in Spain, where she quickly translated her CV and took language lessons in hopes a job.

She is still looking.

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“I’m not afraid of any job but I would like to do what I learned,” Bogkova said at a Madrid cafe near a Catholic Church aid center, who, along with a family, offered them a free house until December.

“Every day I look for ideas on how to work while my daughter is in school,” added the Ukrainian, who cleans at least one cafeteria every fortnight with her mother and also volunteers on the social media content for charity.

Bogkova and her family are among 7.6 million Ukrainian refugees scattered across Europe since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops over the border and bombed cities like Kharkiv.

Ukrainians were first welcomed with open arms in shelters and homes across Europe, where authorities jumped bureaucratic hurdles with a speed that raised eyebrows among refugees from Syria, Africa and elsewhere .

Yet as the war enters its eighth month and their hopes for a quick return dim, many feel in limbo and struggle to make ends meet.

The cost of living crisis in Europe, including soaring energy bills as winter approaches, has exacerbated their plight.

“At first, a lot of people came (to Portugal) depressed because of the war… Now their main problem is the situation here,” said Ihor Ostrovskyi, a 57-year-old academic from Lviv who fled. in Portugal shortly after the war. invasion.

He works at the reception of a huge warehouse that is Lisbon’s refugee center and said most of those who come need urgent help to find a job or a house.

“Nobody knew it was going to last this long,” he said of Portuguese families’ waning enthusiasm to open houses for free.


Portugal has taken in more than 52,000 Ukrainians, with authorities running programs to help them pay rent and find homes in a process some have found slow.

Spain has taken in 142,000 people under temporary protection and guaranteed them health and employment services from day one, benefits that other refugee groups do not have as quickly.

But refugees struggle to find decent-paying jobs, especially those that match their skills.

Many do not speak the local language and most are women, many single mothers, as Ukrainian men of fighting age have largely stayed put. Those who find work are often forced into low-wage sectors such as tourism, agriculture and construction.

In Spain, official data shows that only 13% of the 90,000 Ukrainians of working age are employed. Some 61% of arrivals were in higher education, of which 28% had degrees or professional qualifications, most often economists, engineers, software developers and entrepreneurs.

In Portugal, the IEFP employment center has only 5,523 Ukrainian professionals listed available for work.

Ever-welcoming Germany welcomed almost a million Ukrainians between February and September, but less than 10% are employed, according to the Federal Employment Agency, although nearly 340,000 Ukrainians are registered as job seekers.

Agency spokeswoman Susanne Eikemeier said the limiting factors were a lack of childcare, difficulty in recognizing foreign credentials and language issues. Given that many were experiencing “an existential emergency” after fleeing war, she added, finding work was not always a priority.

In Portugal’s first tourist region, the Algarve, Maria Joao de Deus has created a group to help Ukrainian refugees in the municipality of Lagoa. But accommodation has dwindled as accommodations have been handed over to tourists over the summer and now jobs are dwindling anyway at the end of the holiday season.

“There are people returning to Ukraine for lack of opportunities,” she said.


Spain’s International Protection Unit, which deals with migrants, offers language courses and employment programs in a bid to ‘adapt expectations’ to reality and facilitate integration, director says General Amapola Blasco.

But many Ukrainians are skipping classes or turning down jobs because they don’t plan to stay long, she added.

“Many of them are unwilling to work in the catering or care sectors, where it is relatively easy to find a job even if your language skills are limited,” she said. “These jobs do not meet their expectations.”

Although 2,000 Spanish companies have made jobs available to Ukrainians, few have been able to meet the often very specific requirements. “The administration worked well, they quickly got all the permits, but the reality is that there are no suitable positions for them,” said Gonzaga Avello, founder of a consulting firm that tried assist in the hiring process.

Without a job, renting becomes more difficult.

In Portugal, Ukrainian travel agent Oksana Voloshyna, 42, would like to stay until it is safe to return home, but she is intimidated by the country’s bureaucracy.

Refugees were able to register for temporary protection online, but most only received a confirmation email.

“The future is unpredictable in Ukraine, so we would like to have something more predictable here in Portugal,” she said. “I don’t want to be an illegal migrant.”

The Iberian nations granted Ukrainians a one-year protection, although this could be extended.

Katherine, 34, a model and clothing designer, was recovering from breast cancer surgery when Odessa came under attack. She now lives in a refugee center on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria with her 12-year-old son and receives medical assistance.

Despite the depression, she is working on her Spanish and trying to find a job in tourism, so far without success.

“I had a dream life,” she said as she strolled to a nearby beach.

“Now I have no home.”

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Reporting by Corina Pons Rodriguez in Madrid, Catarina Demony in Lisbon and Sarah Marsh in Berlin, Editing by Aislinn Laing and Andrew Cawthorne

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Catarina Demon

Thomson Reuters

Multimedia correspondent based in Portugal for reports on politics, economy, environment and daily news. Previous experience in local journalism in the UK, co-founded a project telling the stories of Portuguese speakers living in London and edited a youth-led news site.


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