With the rapid outbreak of the Covid-19 in our city, many businesses had to shut down as the government released the law to close schools, universities, malls and limited working hours on a number of industries and businesses. As Wrocław is one of the Polish cities that encounters quite a few communities of foreigners, we wanted to take a look into how their lives have changed within the beginning of the announced epidemic. We will take a look into the Ukrainian community, as it is the largest one in our city.
From the time that the pandemic was officially declared, many foreigners had to leave Poland, as the majority of European countries increased border controls, with many being closed entirely. Moreover, one important factor here is that there are many legal ways that Ukrainians are able to work in Poland: Residency Permits and visas (those are usually issued with the authorization of universities, schools or employers) or visa-free workers. Poland is one of the countries in Europe that officially allows Ukrainian citizens to work for 30 days without requiring visa or special work permits. Every document is unique to the holder and the length of time that they can legally stay in Poland differs and is dependent on the length of their employment.
On 17 March the Embassy of Ukraine in Poland announced that Polish border control officials will not enforce any fines or sanctions on any Ukrainians citizens whose legal right to stay in the country has passed on the date or after the date of the borders lockdown. However, as of 13 April 2020, over one hundred thousand Ukrainians had gone back home from Poland, according to BBC Ukraine.
As Ukrainians are the biggest minority not only in Wrocław, but in the whole of Poland, we wanted to see how people living and working in Wrocław have been affected. Just as we have assumed before, a lot is dependent on what job they are currently employed in.
The Honorary Consulate of Ukraine stated that the number of Ukrainian citizens returning with different problems decreased significantly, as people who were here mostly for work chose to go back to Ukraine. The concerns that people have now are mostly connected either with losing work and that status of their residency application. Many are currently in the process of getting residency permits (karta pobytu) and going back to Ukraine would influence the process and will cause difficulties in coming back, as well as for those who were here for academic purposes.
“Another one of the biggest concerns we have are those who had to leave Poland before the borders got shut down, but were not able to come back because only those who have temporary or permanent residency permits were allowed to cross the border”- mentioned one of the representatives supporting Ukrainian Community in the Honorary Consulate of Ukraine in Wrocław. “Another big issue touched those who have lost their jobs and are staying in Wrocław with the residency permit that has been issued to a certain company. According to the law they are obliged to report that to the Voivodship office, however they are not able to do so as the Voivodship office postponed their work; even if they find a new job, they cannot report that to the government, new employer cannot issue new documents that are prepared though the Voivoship Office and eventually they can be the ones to get deported as they did not report they employment or lack of it according to the law.”
Julia, from the information department in Fundacia Ukraina said: “Per official data reported in “Ukrinform.com” almost 170 thousand of the Ukrainian work immigrants left the Republic of Poland by 22 April 2020. Moreover, hundreds of people are still crossing the borders every day and situations sometimes get so complicated that Diplomatic representatives have to be present on the border control check points of the two countries. Also when it comes to students living in Wrocław the situation has also got especially complicated as the dormitories got evacuated and the civic agreements got dismissed which lead to a lot of students having to quickly find places to live. Those who are under 18 must have Guardians In Poland, according to the Polish law, who were supposed to help and assist in this troubling situation, but those who are alone had to face this quick change by themselves. “
We have spoken to Anastasia. She has been living in a nearby town, Oława, and working in one of the local factories. In Ukraine she was studying to be a Geography teacher, but two years ago she moved to Poland and is building her life here together with her husband. Anastasia said that with the start of the pandemic, the amount of work has dropped down significantly and as there were quite a few people from Ukraine in her work place employed through an agency, all of them had to resign. “With the start of the pandemic we lost all the stability we had before. We don’t know any details. Some days they say we will need to come in for work and then we can get a call and hear that we have a day or a week off.” I also asked Anastasia if the closing of borders ever made her think of going back to Ukraine as that is what many od her fellow citizens did. Nastia said that they were not considering that option, despite the fact that she also mentioned that neither her nor her husband feel any kind of support from their employers.
To get another perspective on the situation, we have contacted Natalia. Due to confidentiality reasons, Natalia wished to keep her surname and workplace confidential. Natalia has been living in Poland for over 3 years now. She graduated from one of Wrocław’s Universities and is employed in the headquarters of an American company in Wrocław. “I moved to Poland 3 years ago to get my MA. Later on I found a job in a financial company. I made amazing friends in the city and found excellent opportunities for my career and professional development. Honestly, I do not feel as if the situation has affected me much as we had the option to work from home before. I still maintain my daily routine, just without going out. Before the pandemic started I had the chance to work from home 3 days per week, so I am already used to it. I feel like the company is also taking all the needed precautionary measures and there is a lot of support from them. I do miss going out with people and meeting my colleagues in person, rather than over a webcam, but other than that there was no big shock or change.”
Both Natalia and Anastasia are quite dedicated to their lives here and neither of them were considering going back because of the pandemic. There are hundreds of people like them who had to leave because of personal reasons or even because of the simple fear of being “locked” in a foreign country. One way or another, the Ukrainian community still remains the largest in Wrocław and as we see from the past, the Ukrainian workforce will probably remain the biggest one here for now.