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29 October, 2018  ▪  Alla Lazareva

Potential or lost souls?

At least 2.5 million Ukrainians live in the EU. A recent study looks at the motivations and expectations of the latest wave of Ukrainian emigration to France

“I have an impression that half of Prykarpattia’s working-age population is in France,” a friend says while browsing through the contacts on her smartphone. “Tania from Sniatyn picks up my kids from school, Liuda from Kolomyia cleans my windows, Khrystyna from Kalush does hair for my entire family, Oksana from Ivano-Frankivsk makes our birthday cakes…” 

Wealthier or poorer, Ukrainians abroad tend to go to other Ukrainians for services. Shared language, habits and unspoken rules make it easier for them to settle down in a foreign country. While some hardly ever go beyond the Ukrainian community, others try to get rooted abroad. Most Ukrainians of the latest wave of emigrants, the fifth one, never integrated into the French community. Fewer of them have become an equal part of it. 

According to The Challenges of Modern Migration: Ukrainian Community in Paris, a survey conducted by professionals from the Ukrainian Catholic University, at least 2.5 million people from Ukraine reside in the EU today. The estimates of the number of Ukrainians living in France as a result of several waves of emigration range between 150,000 and 250,000. Who are these people — a resource of support and promotion of Ukraine abroad or the “lost contingent” as one diplomat from the Yanukovych Administration put it?  

“The main goal of this survey was to hear people, their pains and hopes, so that we better respond to their needs,” Borys Gudziak, the Eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Paris and President of the Ukrainian Catholic University, commented. “We hope that this pilot study, which we have shared with the President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ukrainian diplomats, will encourage them to develop state policy for the millions of Ukrainian migrants abroad. For this policy to emerge, we need to see, hear and understand then. People are the greatest treasure of our state and of our Church. They are not merely a resource, but something mysteriously greater, because God himself became Man to be closer to people. This survey was a show of solidarity, first and foremost.” 

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UCU’s survey is based on interviews with 600 participants only. Therefore, it does not project its conclusions to the entire Ukrainian community in France. But it does reveal some trends. One is that the main motivation for moving abroad is economic.

“This is no longer immigration but evacuation,” a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church priest jokes bitterly as more and more new people come to the Church in search of accommodation, jobs, people to meet and all kinds of information to help them settle down in the new place. 

There are probably no accurate figures about how many Ukrainians have moved abroad, including to Western Europe. Some are illegal migrants who do not register anywhere. But the most popular reasons for leaving Ukraine are obvious. 73.7% of respondents in UCU’s survey said that they moved to France in search of work. 44.1% are illegal migrants. 31.7% have temporary residence permits, including short and long-term visas. 4.6% have French citizenship while 17.4% hold permanent residence permits. Some labor migrants plan to return to Ukraine where they are building or renovating their homes and sending money to their families. Others often plan to stay in France after three years abroad, the survey shows. 

Emigration for work followed by legalization in the country is a tested strategy that the French authorities tend to tolerate. “You don’t see or hear Ukrainians compared to other communities, such as those from Africa,” says Christof, a retired policeman. “They work like shadows, mostly in semi-legal construction and renovation, and don’t cause any serious trouble for our security. After all, everyone knows that the French would be building much less if construction companies were paying all due taxes required by law. All of these illegal migrants would have nowhere to go work if our industry did not need this grey sector.” 

“We contribute to the economic development of both countries, Ukraine and France,” says Mykhailo proudly. He has been working in the renovations business in the Paris region for five years now. “Both countries get less taxes because of us, but we help both solve many problems for which they lack public money. Ukraine does not lose from us working abroad because we spend the money earned on its territory. I have read somewhere that Ukrainian labor migrants from all over the world transferred home over US $9bn in 2017 officially. And how much more did people bring in cash? Probably as much or more.” 

According to the UCU survey, 40% of Ukrainian migrants in France are men and 60% are women. Over 70% are from Halychyna in Western Ukraine. 63.3% lived in cities before moving to France, and 52% have university degrees, but only 18% have international degrees or are studying abroad. Only 5.1% of the fifth-wave migrants live on their own. Mostly people opt to live with anywhere from one to five flatmates to save on the spending. 

“Given the data on how long it takes people to find a job, the conclusion is that many migrants in France already have one waiting for them — 23.5% began to work as soon as they moved. 37.3% of the polled found a job within a week after moving to Paris. 63.8% spent a month looking for work. Overall, half a year after moving to Paris was enough for 94.7% of the polled to find their first job (this covers the migrants with experience of getting employed). This probably speaks of demand on the labor market and the migrants that are highly motivated to look for a job actively and productively,” the survey says. 

The speed of employment points to another obvious fact which the survey does not look at: there are system of logistics that bring migrants to France, including from Ukraine. While the migrants coming to France to work in construction or French households hardly use any criminal structures, the situation with asylum seekers is worse. “We are seeing pregnant Ukrainian women arriving in France lately, often in the late term of pregnancy, and not at all from the war-affected area,” says a member of the association that helps asylum seekers. “They all expect to get asylum, talk about threats to their life and oppression, although there is no war in their regions, they are not involved in big politics, and their stories of “persecutions” at home don't look credible. France recently stooped automatic financial assistance and accommodation for anyone applying for asylum, so I’ve seen several of such women quite desperate. But I have no desire to help them, even out of compassion. It looked too much like a scheme by those who traffic them in locked trucks without official crossing of the border, without using the visa-free travel regime,” he shares. 

What these women count on is obvious: they expect to give birth in France after which they cannot be deported since the child is born on French soil. This looks like a system where these women lie about Ukraine and give their money to organized criminal groups. And this does not help Ukraine’s image abroad. 

“Despite the different aspects and difficulties in job search and the generally below-average total monthly income, those polled mostly mention higher earnings as one of their key motivations for emigration,” the UCU study says. This is the main difference between the current fifth wave of emigration from Ukraine and the earlier ones, especially the first (emigration of politicians and intelligentsia, as well as other people involved in the struggle for Ukraine’s independence and against the Bolsheviks in the interwar period) and the third (of members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists fleeing the soviets after WWII). 

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“People have come for a piece of bread, but too often they are so obsessed with that piece of bread that they see nothing beyond it,” Vasyl Slipak, the opera singer who left France to defend Ukraine against the Russian aggression in the East and was killed on the frontline in 2016, used to say bitterly. Of course, these people regularly send money home, thus working for the Ukrainian economy in one way or another. But they are almost nowhere to be seen in demonstrations for Ukraine. They are not the most generous donators to the charity projects launched to help their country in the difficult time. It is too early to say how lost this contingent is for Ukraine. But its overall potential is far weaker than that of the generation of Ukrainian political emigres that settled down in France 100 years ago. 

“Ukrainian migrants in Paris are generally not active as citizens,” the study concludes. This is quite obvious. In the best of times, the largest rallies for Ukraine in France have attracted several hundreds of people. Meanwhile, the Paris region is home to at least 15,000 Ukrainians. This trend will hardly change in the future. The new diaspora is losing the structure that was typical in the previous waves and does not rush to get involved in politics. As a result, the function of public diplomacy falls on the shoulders of the 10-15% of activists who do not limit their interests to purely material values. 

Translated by Anna Korbut 

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