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Ukraine: Choosing to Leave

Since becoming independent in 1991, Ukraine has seen several waves of emigration, with the numbers gradually declining after the early 1990s. Nevertheless, according to Migration Information Source, the share of those choosing to leave for the West continues to increase [ENG].

Selling in Yalta, Ukraine, 10 September 2010. Image by Flickr user sugarmelon.com (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Selling in Yalta, Ukraine, 10 September 2010. Image by Flickr user sugarmelon.com (CC BY-NC 2.0).

With the country hit hard by the recent economic crisis and most citizens disillusioned [RUS] with Ukrainian politicians and disappointed with the overall economic and political situation, more and more discussions about emigration alternatives have been appearing online.

About half a year ago, Yevgeniy R. created a website called Party of the Positive Pessimists [RUS], in order to gather and publish stories of those who have recently decided to leave Ukraine. He claims [RUS] that, since its launch, the site has had over 20,000 visitors, about 200 people have sent in their stories, and over 100 of them have been published.

Below is a concise translation of the answers [RUS] that the website users provided to the crucial questions facing future emigrants:

You do realize that there [abroad] you would be a second-rate citizen, right?

Roman L. wrote [RUS]:

The less your lifestyle differs from that of the locals, the less you are perceived as an outsider […]

Twitter user @felenkaa wrote [RUS]:

When exactly has any one of you felt “first rate” in your Motherland? Tell me what features of being “first rate” you are so afraid to lose? I want to see that list very, very (!) much. […]

User Bnorris wrote [RUS]:

I would say that in developed countries [social equality] is present even more, as strange as it may seem. I mean, if a person is very successful in Ukraine and feels above others, there he may feel that his position has gone down :) But if the person has been an average programmer without extraordinary demands, he will stay the same even after moving. […]

User Victor R. wrote [RUS]:

I’ve been living in the USA for five years. I have encountered the police several times, but every time everything went in a very polite and neat manner. At the local passport control I’ve been asked how the flight was and what the weather was like in Ukraine. Nobody has ever pointed out my imperfect English, to say the least. […] During the five years, I’ve practically never been put in a situation that would make me feel as a second-rate person. And I must note that most of that time I’ve spent on a work visa (not as a citizen or a resident, just a temporary worker).

Why have you decided that it would be better for you THERE?

User mxc wrote [RUS]:

…if you are an entrepreneur [who has had enough] of the Ukrainian tax system, you may throw a dart on the world map with your eyes [shut]. Unless you hit the ocean, your chances of getting a country where it is better with the taxes are 98.85%. [The World Bank has recently ranked Ukraine's tax system the third worst out of 183 countries (.pdf, p. 8, fig. 1.3).]

User Roman L. wrote [RUS]:

Decades of informational isolation and the Soviet propaganda claims that THERE [in the West] things were so horrible, have not led to the desired effect, but to the contrary one – a somewhat idealized perception of life [abroad] that combines socialist idleness and western abundance. I remember it as if it were today – in my primary school class everyone thought that every unemployed American had a luxurious car and received about 10,000 dollars per month […]

Twitter user @shaitanich wrote [RUS]:

Some of my friends believe that once you cross the border, all these [cases of financial fraud] and other problems that we had to get used to here would immediately disappear […]. So far, there hasn’t been a chance to check that.

Is it easier and quicker to make money and develop your business in developing countries (including Ukraine) than in the developed ones?

Blogger Victor Ronin (victorronin.com) provided the following list of arguments [RUS]:

It is easier to conduct business in Ukraine because:

You may conduct business in your native language (applies to everyone who has been born on the territory of the ex-USSR);

There are enough acquaintances and/or connections (again, for those born [here]);

Competition in some areas is not as strong as in the developed countries yet, because the market is still quite “raw”;

There are possibilities to get around the law. (Although it helps only those who are willing and ready to breach the law);

Access to cheap labor force.

[Counter] arguments:

Horrible legislative, executive and judiciary authorities (and, as a result, [Ukraine] is one of the least attractive places for business activity);

It is extremely difficult to access start-up capital (investments);

Presence of the off-market competition;

The worst infrastructure;

Long-term investment is difficult (because of the problems with corruption and change of government).

User Ruslan listed [RUS] things he has lost and gained by moving to Sweden:

1. […] I have lost my own, quite successful, business. And exchanged it for an average post of a hired employee. Maybe a top one, but still just an employee.

2. I’ve lost approximately 4,000-5,000 Euro […] per month in exchange for 2,000 after taxes […].

3. I’ve lost an opportunity to “solve [problems]” with money. It’s a questionable loss, since usually you had to pay for something that someone had [a duty] to do anyway […]. In Sweden, I cannot “solve [problems].” I mean, [problems] would be solved as much as they have to. As a rule, not less and not more than that. Plus, I don’t need to solve 90% of those issues I had to deal with in Ukraine. There’s no running around various institutions, collecting papers. […]

4. I’ve lost an opportunity to frequently visit my friends and loved ones in person. Actually, I haven’t been doing it that often in Ukraine, since work took a lot of time, [I] had to work 10-16 hours a day. So, for someone this loss would be more significant, but for me it’s not that big. My mother, an elderly woman, learned to use Skype and we communicate wonderfully via video-calls. This is, of course, not a personal presence, but with frequent communication you stop feeling it. Same with friends.

5. I’ve lost the theoretical possibility of “haltura” [moonlighting], which for many of my fellow countrymen has been a very practical one. While owning a company I did not need to [do work on the side], my employees have been doing it and I used to close my eyes on it. Because, seven years before, I had been just like them […]. In Sweden, [it is] difficult. Possible, but very difficult. And one wouldn’t be able to save up a decent amount of money. Because here the system is transparent. And here they have a right to ask why the amount on your bank account exceeds your official income, and where that money has come from.

In return, I have gained […]:

Peace and confidence in tomorrow.

An opportunity to receive free and high-quality education, as well as reasonably paid higher education for children.

Social security. Truly free medical services in all cases of serious illness, excluding dental problems […]. To social security I add a well-secured retirement. I don’t really worry that when I'm old, I'd have to count small change from my pension money, trying to decide whether to buy buckwheat or bread, because if I buy both things I might not have enough to live till the end of the month. […]

I have gained a guarantee that laws would be followed by both citizens and the authorities. […]

For me the phrase “I pay taxes and therefore have a right” has finally gained its meaning. […]

I have also gained friendly people on the streets […] and smiling salesmen and other personnel […].

[…]

I have gained a feeling that everything is well thought out and made in such a way as to make my life more comfortable […].

I have gained mutual respect from people around me who understand the meaning of such terms as “personal space” and “personal freedom.” I have gained a feeling of being a free man.

I have gained a feeling of being alive, and not just running around all the time trying to solve thousands of issues that irritate with their idiotic origin. […]

That’s about it. How much I have lost and what I have gained everyone can decide for themselves, based on their own priorities and values. But for me, as of now, the things I have gained exceed the things I have lost by far.

Currently, Ukraine “has one of the world’s 30 highest levels of brain drain” [ENG], and the number of its labor migrants [ENG] was around 4.5 million people in 2009.

6 comments

  • Tetyana, thank you for your interest and story about my site. I like your article and I believe that emigration is surely serious thing for Ukrainian people and society.

  • Kim

    Tetyana, I appreciate your translations of what’s going on in my second country…I lived there for almost 9 years and now, I will always be part Ukrainian. Can you tell me your source blogs, so that I can see this in the original language? Blagodaryu…..

  • Kim, just follow the links included before quotes and they will take you to the source blog for this post. I can also share with you some other blogs I follow for GV.

  • Alexander

    Hi Tetyana,

    It’s my pleasure to read your translation.

    I do agree that the topic of immigration/emigration is a hot one nowadays. People abandon their country of origin without a second thought, being driven by a mysterious impetus from within. Sometimes immigrants become successful, sometimes they fail. It’s all depends on a given situation; no generalization should be applied.

    Being grown up in Russia, one day I consciously abandoned my land of birth that had never been mine, however.

    As to me, I am somehow aware that a prerequisite for the smooth integration into any “far away” realities rests on one’s mentality growing up to the level of his or her total dissatisfaction with his or her country of origin, as a whole. Otherwise, the potential immigrants run chances of entering into a long-term battle with their-lovely-selves, desperately looking for a notorious question of why they came here/there in the first place.

  • Hi Alexander,

    Thank you for your insights. Your comment reminded me of a recent debate with a friend, who claimed that in order to integrate successfully you have to “forget where you come from” and adopt the lifestyle of the people in your new “homeland”. With globalization and everything, for many representatives of my friend’s and mine generation this sort of “forgetting” is not so difficult, because when immigrating to the West they soon discover that apart from their memories of growing up elsewhere, they actually have a lot in common with locals.

    You are right that no generalizations should be made, but it seems that integration comes more or less easy to some (perhaps, those, that have grown dissatisfied with their country of origin), while others are plagued by guilt for “abandoning” their roots (hence, the battle with yourself) and fail at becoming “successful” immigrants.

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