LVIV – While Ukraine’s politicians dither about development, Poland’s politicians are moving aggressively to speed Ukraine’s brain and brawn drain.
Moving ahead of any EU visa-free moves by Brussels, Warsaw is about to enact measures for Ukrainians that would include longer visas, simplified processing, and easier access to permanent residence and citizenship.
“The country lacks manpower,” Poland’s Minister of Family, Labor, and Social Policy, Elżbieta Rafalska, told Ukrinform news agency. “This policy will encourage foreigners to come from the East.”
Traditionally, Ukrainians escaped unemployment by traveling to Russia to work. Russian President Vladimir Putin once boasted – falsely -- that one in three Ukrainian adults worked in his country. The number was closer to 1 in 7. In 2013, 2.9 million Ukrainians were working in Russia.
But, with Russia's recession, its proxy war with Ukraine and the freeze in two-way trade, that number plunged. Last year, remittances from Ukrainians working in Russia are believed to have fallen to $1 billion, barely one third the $2.9 billion recorded in 2013.
In contrast, the number of Ukrainians working in Poland has soared. Last year, it topped one million – seven times the level of a decade ago. In addition, 30,589 Ukrainians study in Polish universities, according to Poland’s embassy in Kyiv.
In 2014, a study indicated that a yearly average of $4,438 was sent back to Ukraine by each worker in Poland, almost twice the average Ukrainian salary at the time. The study was conducted by the Government of Canada and the International Organization for Migration, a UN-related group.
LOT Polish Airlines has moved aggressively to take advantage of Ukrainians’ need to work. Last year, of the 10 biggest airlines serving Ukraine, LOT recorded the fastest growth in flights -- 40.7 percent.
LOT now has direct flights to Warsaw five days a week from Kharkiv, daily from Odesa, and twice a day from Lviv and Kyiv Boryspil. On Feb. 27, LOT starts a flight six days a week to Warsaw from Kyiv Zhuliany.
Ukraine International Airlines has lagged far behind, offering only two flights a day from Boryspil to Warsaw. Meanwhile, Wizz Air and Sprint now fly from Ukraine to Polish destinations unimaginable two years ago: Gdansk, Katowice, Radom and Wroclaw.
On the push-pull of the Poland-Ukraine labor relationship, the pull is a strong economy in Poland, an aging population, and an exodus of its own youth for better paying jobs further West.
Poland faces, “a demographic crisis,” according to Jerzy Kwieciński, the nation’s Deputy Minister of Regional Development. With unemployment at a post-Cold War low of 8.2 percent, Polish officials say foreign workers are needed if the country is to remain one of the EU’s high GDP economic growth nations.
As Slavic Eastern European Christians, Ukrainians blend in easily in Poland.
“The growth of the Ukrainian community is essentially a success story,” Slawomir Matuszak, head of the Economic Section at Poland’s Kyiv embassy, told the UBJ.
While Ukraine’s Polish-speaking minority has dwindled to about 150,000 people, the language barrier is surmountable for most Ukrainians. Linguistically, Ukrainian language is closer to Polish than to Russian.
Jan Pieklo, Poland’s Ambassador to Ukraine, praised the work migration, noting Polish employers already “appreciate the role of their Ukrainian employees.”
Poland’s moves are preempting the EU’s long promised extension of visa free status to Ukrainians.
Last week, Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko told Reuters he expects the process to be competed in “a very few weeks.”
News reports from Brussels speculate that it will happen this spring.
But EU officials may be waiting to see which way the wind blows in two key elections -- in Holland in March and in France in April. If nationalist, anti-immigrant parties perform strongly, Brussels may back away from extending visa free status to Ukraine, a nation of 42 million people.
For comments or news tips, please contact UBJ reporter Lee Reaney at email@example.com
Photo: Polish folklore group Kalina made a goodwill visit last year to Lviv, a city that was part of Poland until 1939. (UNIAN/Yevhenii Kravs)
Photo: On his fourth visit to Poland during his 2.5 year presidency, Petro Poroshenko talks in Warsaw with his Polish counterpart, President Andrzej Duda. (UNIAN/Nikolay Lazarenko)
Photo: Polish strongmen compete in sports competition in Lviv last July. (Credit: UNIAN:Yevhenii Kravs)