Ukrainian psychologist Tatyana Bogkova was on a birthday trip to Poland with her mother and four-year-old daughter when Russian troops invaded her homeland.
- Ukrainian refugees struggle to find employment and accommodation after fleeing their country when the invasion began.
- Spain has welcomed 142,000 Ukrainians under temporary protection
- The data shows that only 13 percent of the 90,000 Ukrainians of working age in Spain have a job
With shells raining down on the city of Kharkiv and her policeman husband staying behind to fight, the 32-year-old took refuge in Spain, where she quickly translated her resume and took language lessons in the hope of landing a job.
However, months later, he is still looking.
“I am not afraid of any job, but I would like to do what I learned,” Ms. Bogkova said.
“Every day I look for ideas on how to work while my daughter is at school.”
A help center of the Catholic Church and a family offered them a free house until December.
Ms. Bogkova cleans a coffee shop fortnightly with her mother and also volunteers on social media for a charity.
His family is among the 7.6 million Ukrainian refugees scattered across Europe since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border and heavily bombed cities.
Ukrainians were initially welcomed with open arms in shelters and homes across Europe, where authorities bypassed bureaucratic hurdles.
As the war moves into its eighth month and their hopes for a quick comeback fade, many feel in limbo and struggle to make ends meet.
Europe’s cost-of-living crisis, including rising energy bills as winter approaches, has exacerbated their plight, as explained by Ihor Ostrovskyi, a 57-year-old academic from Lviv who fled to Portugal after the invasion.
“Initially, a lot of people came. [to Portugal] feeling depressed about the war…now their main problem is the situation here,” Ostrovskyi said.
She works at the reception of a warehouse that is the Lisbon refugee center and said that most of those who arrive need urgent help to find a job or a house.
“Nobody knew this was going to last this long,” he said of the waning enthusiasm of Portuguese families to open houses for free.
Struggle to find work, language barrier
Portugal has taken in more than 52,000 Ukrainians, and authorities are running programs to help them pay rent and find homes in a process some say is slow.
Spain has welcomed 142,000 under a temporary protection regime and has guaranteed them health and employment services from the first day, advantages that other groups of refugees do not obtain so quickly.
However, Ukrainian refugees have had a hard time finding jobs with decent wages, especially those that match their skills.
Many lack local language skills and most are women, many single mothers, because Ukrainian men of fighting age have largely been left behind.
Those who do find work are often forced to work in low-wage sectors such as tourism, agriculture, and construction.
In Spain, official data shows that only 13 percent of the 90,000 Ukrainians of working age have a job.
Some 61 per cent of the arrivals had been in higher education, and 28 per cent held professional degrees or qualifications, typically economists, engineers, software developers and entrepreneurs.
In Portugal, the IEFP job center has 5,523 Ukrainian professionals listed available for work.
Germany welcomed almost 1 million Ukrainians between February and September; however, less than 10 percent have jobs, according to the Federal Employment Agency, although almost 340,000 Ukrainians are registered looking for work.
Agency spokeswoman Susanne Eikemeier said limiting factors were lack of childcare, difficulty recognizing foreign diplomas and language problems.
With many experiencing “an existential emergency” after fleeing war, he added, finding work was not always a priority.
In Portugal’s main tourist region, the Algarve, Maria Joao de Deus created a group to help Ukrainian refugees.
However, accommodation is down as homes were given over to tourists over the summer and jobs are now shrinking as the holiday season ends.
“There are people who return to Ukraine because of [the] lack of opportunities,” he said.
‘I don’t want to be an illegal immigrant’
Spain’s International Protection Unit, which cares for migrants, offers language courses and employment programs with the aim of “adjusting expectations” to reality and facilitating integration.
However, CEO Amapola Blasco said many Ukrainians skipped classes or turned down jobs because they didn’t intend to stay long.
“Many of them are not willing to work in the catering or care services sectors, which is where it is relatively easy to find work, even if their language skills are limited,” he said.
“These jobs do not meet their expectations.”
Without a job, renting becomes more difficult.
In Portugal, Ukrainian travel agent Oksana Voloshyna 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 have an email confirmation.
“The future is unpredictable in Ukraine, so we would like to have something more predictable here in Portugal,” he said.
“I don’t want to be an illegal immigrant.”
Iberian nations have given Ukrainians a year of protection, although that can be extended.
Katherine, 34, who is a model and clothing designer, was recovering from breast cancer surgery when Odessa was attacked.
Now she lives in a refugee center on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria with her 12-year-old son and receives medical assistance.
Despite suffering from depression, she is improving her Spanish and trying to find a job in tourism, so far without success.
“I had a dream life,” he said. “Now I don’t have a home.”