The expert talked about opportunities for Ukrainian women in Poland

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Expert on Ukrainian women in Poland: we can do more than we think!
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Credit: Jędrzej Nowicki dla Gazety Wyborcze

The expert spoke about the life of Ukrainian refugees in Poland, why many people return to Ukraine, and what non-obvious opportunities the country offers Ukrainian women.



Liudmyla Huliaieva, as a practitioner and teacher at the Academy of Labour, Social Relations, and Tourism, has been helping young people and adult professionals gain up-to-date knowledge in the field of finance, banking, investment, and entrepreneurship for many years. She is also involved in the social direction - helping people with disabilities in the framework of the "Believe in yourself" project. Like many Ukrainian women after February 24, Lyudmila ended up abroad. But even there, in Poland, she decided to engage in research, and scientific activities, relying on her own and her compatriot's abroad experience.

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Liudmyla Huliaieva
Liudmyla Huliaieva

SocPortal: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your initiatives?

My name is Liudmyla Huliaieva. In my life, I try to keep up with everything that interests me and is to my liking. For more than 19 years I have been a teacher at the Academy of Labor, Social Relations, and Tourism, where I help young people and adult professionals acquire relevant knowledge in the field of finance, banking, investment, and entrepreneurship. And since a good teacher must be a practitioner, since my student days I have been working with businesses to attract funding, and business planning. Currently, he is an expert in fundraising and grant financing for businesses and the public sector. At the same time, I am engaged in scientific work, I defended my Ph.D. thesis and received the degree of Candidate of Economic Sciences.

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Since 2016, I have a new direction of activity - social, when I started helping people with disabilities as part of the Believe in Yourself project. In this project, for many years I have been providing advice on career planning and development, career guidance to people with disabilities from all over Ukraine. I help them enter higher educational institutions and receive a grant from the state to pay for education. I provide mentoring and psychological support in the learning process. I help with the preparation of documents accompanying the process of teaching students with disabilities in case of receiving a grant for education from the state.

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It so happens that most of the project participants are women, many of them are internally displaced persons. Every day I come across the difficult life stories of women running away from war, looking for a way out of difficult situations. I keep personal contact with each participant/participant of the project (and there are already hundreds of them!) and conduct individual consultations, so I know very well the difficulties they have to overcome. I would like to note that among the project participants there is always a consistently high demand for educational activities to improve financial literacy, financial education of children, career development consultations, including for grant funds and government programs, and the formation of their financial independence. Indeed, unfortunately, the economic dependence of a woman on a man, parents, relatives, on an unsuccessfully chosen place of work often becomes one of the reasons why a woman cannot break the circle of violent communication and continues to suffer from violence. Yes, in this project there was a financial literacy component for women, and later it became the starting point for my scientific research.

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How research is conducted on the life of Ukrainian women in Poland

What motivated you to do research in Poland?

In April 2022, I came to Poland with my partners for a working meeting of the project team to plan new international social and educational projects. By chance, while already in Poland, I found out about the opportunities for Ukrainian scientists to take part in the scholarship program of the well-known Polish scientific organization Polish Institute of Advanced Studies (PIASt). This organization provided short-term scholarships with the support of scientific organizations around the world to Ukrainian researchers and researchers for current research projects. So I became a fellow at the same time of two scientific organizations with international recognition: the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies and the Polish Institute of Advanced Studies (PIASt), offering for implementation of my small research project on the topic “Problem Aspects of the Economic and Social Status of Women – Forced Migrants Solution: Experience Ukraine and Poland".

The purpose of my mini-project is to conduct a study of the economic and social situation of Ukrainian women - forced migrants in Ukraine and Poland, develop recommendations for increasing the economic independence of such women and conduct a series of events to draw public attention to the socio-economic problems of forced migrants. I note that in the study I rely on the definition of "forced migrants" by the provisions of the European Program for Integration and Migration (EPIM). Forced migrants are persons who are forced to leave their place of permanent residence under the pressure of circumstances beyond their control, including threats to life and lack of livelihood, regardless of the reasons for the existing threats (made by man or nature) and regardless of the territory of migration: movement within the borders of the country permanent residence (internally displaced persons) or move to other countries (refugees and temporary asylum seekers).

Why is the Ukrainian woman the focus of your research interests?

First, I am a woman who, in the early days of full-scale Russian aggression, was forced to temporarily leave home to protect her son from danger. Accordingly, like every Ukrainian, since February 2022, in addition to seeking security for myself and my family, I have faced new economic and social challenges: how to continue a career, how to restore and form new stable sources of income, and how to maintain your social status. Society, how to strengthen financial independence, etc. My research project was an opportunity to analyze my own experience and build effective communication with other women I met during my research.

Secondly, as a social activist and financier, I have long been working with women fleeing war and in need of help. My significant experience in the implementation of social projects in the field of financial literacy, career planning, and social work with women in Ukraine and Poland was needed and became useful.

Thirdly, I ended up in Poland, which means that, while in this country, I could explore how women-forced migrants from Ukraine feel here, what problems they face, and what they strive for.

What difficulties do Ukrainian women face in Poland?

You are actively working in the field of financial education among women in Ukraine and Poland. Why is financial literacy important now, and are savings and financial planning still relevant in times of constant change and war?

During my educational activities, I always try to rely on my personal experience as well. I am the founder and leader of the all-Ukrainian initiative Center for Financial Literacy. Personally, for me, the presence of a certain financial cushion, diversification of income (the presence of several sources of income), and investments in my professional development helped me quite easily survive the most painful first months of a full-scale war for the economy. I had some savings to get through the time, while there was a chaos of non-payment of wages, and a drop in income. I had skills and knowledge in various fields of activity, allowing me to be mobile in the labor market and look for new areas of application of my knowledge and professional implementation. So, I believe that the relevance of at least minimal savings and, at the same time, investments in one's development has not been lost. As for financial planning, everything is simple. If a person does not have financial goals, he will not have enough motivation to earn money, acquire a new profession, look for a new job, and overcome barriers to income growth. I'll give you a common example. If you do not plan your life and finances, then you are a ship sailing on a stormy sea without a map, knowing only the final point of your destination. Perhaps a terrible storm will bring you to a deserted island without water. Perhaps, without a map, you will fall on sharp reefs and crash, never reaching your desired destination. You may be lucky and get where you wanted, which, however, is unlikely, given the long journey. But your chances of surviving and reaching your goal increase if you have a map (plan). The more detailed the map (the more accurately you have outlined your financial goals and plans), the higher your chances of completing your lifelong voyage. What advice would you give to women who find themselves in difficult conditions, especially in a foreign country? First, oddly enough, I advise you not to be afraid to admit that there are problems and ask for help. Most migrant women are successful women with jobs, careers, businesses, happy families, beautiful homes… And suddenly it's all gone. Most are not ready to openly declare this and ask for help. Therefore, you need to learn how to do it. Secondly, I advise you to take a broader look at your experience and talents. Sometimes you can't find a job in the field you are used to (for example, writing business marketing plans), but, for example, you could provide one-to-one advice to other women on developing their brand, or run social pages for companies or bloggers. Thirdly, I recommend opening your eyes wider and looking around, there are many opportunities there. During the war, many companies, and international funds offer very interesting offers for training, employment, scholarship financial support, etc., which can help you. But you need to start looking for them and open yourself to these opportunities so that they come into your life. Fourth, connect with other women. When we work on something together, we are stronger than ever. We would have given up already, reading the terrible news and sobbing over the horrors of the war ... but when the team is behind us, we don’t want to let down like-minded people ... and there are strengths. And we are acting! In short, we are strong!

What can you tell about the social and economic situation of Ukrainian women in Ukraine and Poland? What are the main challenges in your experience?

Of course, the problem of migration is not new to the world, but in 2022 it has acquired an unheard-of scope. And the worst thing is that it is Ukrainian women, children, and elderly people make up the majority of forced migrants in Ukraine and from Ukraine. From the first days of Russia's large-scale aggression, it is the woman who bears the main burden of losses as a result of the war. Among Ukrainians who had a job before February 24, 2022, in the first months of Russian aggression, 53% did not work, only 2% found a new job, and 80% of citizens worsened their economic situation as a result of the war. The war separated the families of almost half of the Ukrainians. Most of the men stayed at home to defend themselves. In such a terrible economic situation, women, having moved to other regions of Ukraine or other countries, are often forced to take on the role of the main breadwinner and caregiver for the family: children, and elderly parents who moved with them.

And this rapid drop in the income and financial capacity of Ukrainian families occurred at a time when the need for family funds increased dramatically: renting new housing, purchasing clothes, food, and other necessities (most forced migrants left home unable to take things with them, which now need to be bought).

Some professions during the war generally temporarily lost their relevance, which means that a woman may need to acquire new skills, and professions and her social status is sharply reduced. The loss of work and income for a woman entails powerful negative socio-psychological consequences because work is not only an economy, it is a habitual way of life, communication and interaction with others, structured time, stabilizes, gives confidence, reduces anxiety, and increases self-esteem. So, given the above, a woman must be able to resume work as an employee, freelancer, or entrepreneur as soon as possible and create new sources of income.

At the same time, there is a change in the gender role of women with a sharp decrease in social status. Women who were successful yesterday had homes and plans for the future and suddenly lose everything. Often foreigners abroad are surprised that Ukrainian migrant women have expensive branded clothes, and good-quality mobile phones or laptops. But this only confirms that Ukrainian women are fleeing to safe countries to save their lives. They are not running for financial aid or high salaries in the EU or US/Canada. Ukrainians run away from the war to save their lives and health and their loved ones.

In a new place, a migrant woman has many pressing problems, even if she is in countries with a high level of economic development. It is important to talk about this and raise this problem, destroying the myth that migrant women abroad only walk, travel, and enjoy life, sitting on the neck of foreigners. Of course, among migrants from any country, there are always representatives who have the “learned helplessness” syndrome, who are not ready to be a productive members of society, earn money by their labor and expect full social security from the host country. However, these are only individual representatives of the migrant community, for which it is impossible to conclude all Ukrainians or any other migrants.

In a new region of Ukraine or a new country, a migrant woman sometimes has to overcome several powerful challenges: where to find a job, how to restore income, how to place children in kindergartens and schools, and combine the role of a mother with the opportunity to work, how to learn a new language, how to find rent / pay for housing, how to get medical services, how to confirm the existing qualifications and diplomas received in Ukraine? And this list can be continued indefinitely...

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How many Ukrainian refugee women return home?

Women are returning en masse to Ukraine with their children, often in difficult living conditions. Why is this happening, because the threat to life has not disappeared?

Yes, statistics confirm that some women, even though it is dangerous in Ukraine, are returning. There are many reasons, but as an economist, I will note the influence of economic factors on the decision to return home. According to one of the surveys, every 20 people (5%) who cross the border and travel to Ukraine return due to a lack of housing in the place of forced migration.

Many Ukrainians lived for a long time in families in other countries. And after a certain period, the host families get tired and ask the Ukrainians to vacate the housing. Some people have been placed in temporary shelters (dormitories, hotels, gyms, temporary towns, exhibition centers), which are not convenient housing for long-term living, online work, or teaching children online. In some countries/societies, migrants can be accommodated in social housing, but this is small compared to the demand. Due to the mass movement of people, the amount available for rent in the most popular cities among migrants abroad, for example, in Warsaw, has decreased. In addition, not all migrants have sufficient financial resources to rent housing in the long term. Of course, renting a house in small towns and villages is easier and cheaper. However, there is often no work in such places, educational institutions, medicine, and social services are geographically remote, which makes it difficult to access their services and makes it impossible to find a job.

Mothers are in no hurry to return their children to Ukraine because of the safety factor, and the desire to create a favorable social environment for children: conditions for learning, communication with peers, and cultural and sports development. But if there is no longer an opportunity to live free of charge or the means to rent a house abroad, women with children are forced to go home, even if there are terrible living conditions.

Women are constantly faced with a lack of their financial resources and the impossibility or limited access to social security offered by cities and countries that host migrants abroad. Social payments may not be enough to provide a minimum decent standard of living. Therefore, women are actively looking for work. And in Poland, they do it well. But some are forced to return home if they could not find themselves in the labor market in Poland or organize their work in Ukraine online.

What opportunities can open up for Ukrainian women in Poland

You are actively working in the field of financial education among women in Ukraine and Poland. Why is financial literacy important now, and are savings and financial planning still relevant in times of constant change and war?

During my educational activities, I always try to rely on my personal experience as well. I am the founder and leader of the all-Ukrainian initiative Center for Financial Literacy. Personally, for me, the presence of a certain financial cushion, diversification of income (the presence of several sources of income), and investments in my professional development helped me quite easily survive the most painful first months of a full-scale war for the economy. I had some savings to get through the time, while there was a chaos of non-payment of wages, and a drop in income. I had skills and knowledge in various fields of activity, allowing me to be mobile in the labor market and look for new areas of application of my knowledge and professional implementation. So, I believe that the relevance of at least minimal savings and, at the same time, investments in one's development has not been lost. As for financial planning, everything is simple. If a person does not have financial goals, he will not have enough motivation to earn money, acquire a new profession, look for a new job, and overcome barriers to income growth. I'll give you a common example. If you do not plan your life and finances, then you are a ship sailing on a stormy sea without a map, knowing only the final point of your destination. Perhaps a terrible storm will bring you to a deserted island without water. Perhaps, without a map, you will fall on sharp reefs and crash, never reaching your desired destination. You may be lucky and get where you wanted, which, however, is unlikely, given the long journey. But your chances of surviving and reaching your goal increase if you have a map (plan). The more detailed the map (the more accurately you have outlined your financial goals and plans), the higher your chances of completing your lifelong voyage. What advice would you give to women who find themselves in difficult conditions, especially in a foreign country? First, oddly enough, I advise you not to be afraid to admit that there are problems and ask for help. Most migrant women are successful women with jobs, careers, businesses, happy families, beautiful homes… And suddenly it's all gone. Most are not ready to openly declare this and ask for help. Therefore, you need to learn how to do it. Secondly, I advise you to take a broader look at your experience and talents. Sometimes you can't find a job in the field you are used to (for example, writing business marketing plans), but, for example, you could provide one-to-one advice to other women on developing their brands, or run social pages for companies or bloggers. Thirdly, I recommend opening your eyes wider and looking around, there are many opportunities there. During the war, many companies, and international funds offer very interesting offers for training, employment, scholarship financial support, etc., which can help you. But you need to start looking for them and open yourself to these opportunities so that they come into your life. Fourth, connect with other women. When we work on something together, we are stronger than ever. We would have given up already, reading the terrible news and sobbing over the horrors of the war ... but when the team is behind us, we don’t want to let down like-minded people ... and there are strengths. And we are acting! Together - we are a force!

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