GERMANY,CZECH REPUBLIC,POLAND: As Russia’s invasion prompts the exodus of more than a million people from Ukraine, a smaller group is moving the other way. Growing in number by the day, they’re off to war.
Whether builders, warehouse workers or truck drivers, a flow of mainly Ukrainian men are headed east from nearby countries where hundreds of thousands of them and their families have settled in recent years. Almost 80,000 have made the trip home since the Kremlin-ordered assault began on February 24, Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service said this week. The returnees are back to join the military or the territorial defence forces, it said, as the country’s cities face the Russian barrage.
Sergey Lunga, who’s worked for three years in a warehouse outside of Prague, said he was returning to his home in western Ukraine near the border with Romania. His employer didn’t protest, he said, and promised him his job back, no matter how long he’s away.
While many employers express sympathy with the urge among Ukrainian fighting-aged men to return, their absence will leave a hole in eastern European nations where they make up a significant chunk of the workforce, especially in industries like transport and construction.
In Poland, the largest economy in eastern Europe, more than a million Ukrainians settled in the country over the eight years since Russia’s occupation of Crimea from Ukraine. Many filled jobs left by Poles who themselves ventured west for work after the country’s 2004 accession into the EU.
Between a quarter and 30 per cent of Ukrainian drivers working in Polish transport companies have requested a leave of absence to return to fight, according to Maciej Wronski, head of the Association of Transport and Logistics company.
In the Czech Republic, some 200,000 Ukrainians are officially registered in the country, according to the Czech Chamber of Commerce. Some firms have already expressed concern about a possible outflow of workers.
Local media has reported buses leaving Polish cities fully booked with young Ukrainians heading back, laden with medicine, food and clothing. Poland’s biggest pharmaceutical distributor, Neuca, already sees elevated demand and requests for medical supplies.- THE STRAITS TIMES