Refusing Muslims, Poland Welcomes Ukrainians

WARSAW — Four and a half years ago, Maryna Karalop packed her bags and left Ukraine for Poland. Since then, some two million more Ukrainians have followed suit, the biggest wave of migration to the European Union in recent times.

The Polish government has resisted EU quotas to welcome asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea whose arrival has reshaped European politics, fueling populist parties across the continent. At the same time, Warsaw rolled out the welcome mat for Ukrainians seeking a better life after the 2014 Russian invasion precipitated an economic crisis.

“I see my future here. It’s calm, it’s comfortable, I like everything, ”said Ms Karalop, 40, who now runs an employment agency in Warsaw with her husband, which caters mainly to her Ukrainian compatriots. Her 14-year-old daughter has learned to speak Polish fluently and is enrolled in a local school.

Maryna Karalop runs an employment agency in Warsaw which mainly caters to her Ukrainian compatriots. “I see my future here,” she said.


Karolina Jonderko for the Wall Street Journal

“The main reason we are here is our child’s future,” Ms. Karalop said. “In Poland, all roads would be open to him.

Poland first issued more residence permits to third-country nationals than any other EU country in 2017, with 86% of them going to Ukrainians, according to the latest available European migration statistics. These Ukrainians represented 18.7% of all newcomers across the EU.

The influx, which continues unabated, is bringing about a demographic transformation with long-term implications for Poland. The country of 38 million people had virtually no ethnic minorities since World War II, when its huge Jewish community was largely wiped out by the Nazis and its borders were moved west, leaving areas ethnically mixed oriental in Soviet Ukraine and Belarus.

The exodus also poses challenges for Ukraine, where mass emigration has become a campaign issue ahead of the March 31 presidential elections. Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister defying President Petro Poroshenko, called the leak the second greatest danger Ukraine faces after the Russian military attack.

“How long do we have to close our eyes to the fact that a million Ukrainians leave the country every year? Three, two, five years? How much creative class do we have left before we let them all go? She said at a security conference in Munich in February.

Most of the other candidates agree on the need to bring Ukrainian workers home, which will not happen until the country’s economy begins to recover.

Poland faces a labor shortage, and the country’s conservative government has favored Ukrainians because most are Christians, unlike Muslim immigrants from Syria or Afghanistan.

“In Poland there is a general consensus that we don’t want the postcolonial type of Western immigration,” said Radoslaw Sikorski, former speaker of parliament and foreign minister who backs the more liberal opposition. “People think Christians are doing well, and non-Christians are not doing well, Christians will assimilate and non-Christians will not. It’s that simple. “

The booming Polish economy needs these workers because millions of working-age Poles, like millions of other Eastern Europeans, have taken advantage of EU rules on free movement in the country. over the past decade to seek higher paying jobs in the UK, Germany and other Western countries. European nations. The Ukrainians come to fill the resulting void, part of the tectonic changes in the demographic makeup of Europe.

“In Poland, you are not looking for work, work is looking for you,” said Artem Zozulia, director of the Ukraine Foundation, an organization that helps Ukrainian migrants to integrate, in the city of Wroclaw, in the south. Where is. “In Ukraine, finding work is work.

In Wroclaw, a city of 630,000 that Poland acquired from Germany after World War II, some 90,000 Ukrainians have arrived in recent years, local officials said, with jobs ranging from Uber drivers and laborers to building to software developers.

Warsaw is the largest city in Poland. The Polish government favored Ukrainian immigrants to help alleviate the labor shortage in the country.


Karolina Jonderko for The Wall Street Journal

Ukrainians make up one-tenth of the employees of the city’s 200 information technology companies, said Ewa Kaucz, president of the Wroclaw Agglomeration Development Agency. “Without the Ukrainians, the labor market situation in Wroclaw would be considerably worse,” she said.

Ukrainian officials highlight the contribution of their citizens to the growth of Poland, one of the fastest in Europe with 5.1% last year. “This is a large-scale phenomenon because the Polish economy today in many ways not only functions, but also develops precisely thanks to the Ukrainians,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said.

While the common history of Ukraine and Poland has had many dark pages, so far the influx has been remarkably uncontroversial in Poland, with only a few fringe groups protesting.

Polish government officials said there had been no significant increase in crime due to Ukrainian immigration, and few incidents of hate crimes. According to an opinion poll released this month, 52% of Poles have favorable feelings towards Ukrainian migrants, 36% are neutral and 12% are hostile.

Maryna Karalop’s employment agency in Warsaw takes care of her Ukrainian compatriots.


Karolina Jonderko for The Wall Street Journal

“I have nothing against Ukrainians who come here, we do the same, we go to other countries,” said Krzysztof Lematowicz, a logistics specialist from the Wroclaw region who was walking through the main square. medieval town during a break from his current job in the Netherlands. “In the Netherlands I see the difference between the Poles and the Dutch. But here I can’t even spot who is Ukrainian until they start talking.

Many Polish politicians and officials like to highlight the common history and the close relationship between the cultures, languages ​​and cuisines of the two countries. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth encompassed much of Ukraine and Belarus until the late 18th century, and the interwar Polish Republic included present-day Western Ukraine.

“There is a tradition in Poland of living with Ukrainians and Belarusians,” said Slawomir Debski, director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs. “The tradition of a mono-ethnic Poland is relatively new and it has two main contributors: Hitler and Stalin. The Poles instinctively understand that these cultures can coexist in peace without upheaval. “

Polish lawmaker Tomasz Rzymkowski agreed: “Our cultural differences are very small and the roots of our nations are intertwined. “

In Ms. Karalop’s office, a guide for Ukrainian citizens living in Poland.


Karolina Jonderko for the Wall Street Journal

This story also had its share of bloodshed. Uprisings against Polish feudal lords figure prominently in Ukrainian literature. Ukrainian nationalists assassinated the Polish interior minister in 1934. The worst came during World War II, when anti-Communist Ukrainian nationalists and Polish resistance fighters clashed and massacres abounded.

Former Polish lawmaker Krzysztof Bosak, who is now vice-president of the National Movement, a far-right anti-immigrant party, said the legacy was one of the reasons why Ukrainian immigration should be curtailed.

“It is a historical fact that we had a large Ukrainian minority, and even a majority in some areas. But there was no common tradition, and the tensions were very high. This is why we have two distinct nations, ”said Bosak.

While ties between the two governments are generally good today, different interpretations of that painful past can still plague the relationship. This is all the more true as Kiev and Warsaw promote historical narratives that whitewash embarrassing facts and as Russia seeks to drive a wedge between its two neighbors.

“The number of people in Poland with positive feelings towards Ukraine has decreased in recent years,” warned historian Piotr Tyma, who heads the Union of Ukrainians in Poland, an association that represents the minority. Ukrainian country. “It may very well be that this acceptance of the Ukrainian influx is temporary. If Poland’s economic conditions change, anti-Ukrainian voices will become louder.

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at [email protected]

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