May 25, 2020 / 1:17 PM / 3 months ago

Ukrainian workers start returning to Poland as lockdown eases

Vadym Diachenko, a 26-year-old Ukrainian worker, poses for a picture before his departure for Poland at the Boryspil International Airport outside Kiev, Ukraine May 24, 2020. Diachenko is among the first Ukrainian seasonal workers to return to Poland as lockdown measures in both countries against the novel coronavirus pandemic begin to ease. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

CHERNYAKHIV, Ukraine (Reuters) - Coronavirus or no, Vadym Diachenko needed no persuading when an employment agency offered to fly him back to Poland from his native Ukraine to work at a meatpacking plant.

Diachenko, 26, is among the first seasonal workers to return to Poland on specially chartered flights as lockdown measures in both countries against the coronavirus pandemic begin to ease.

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the flow of migrants including in Poland, where 1-2 million Ukrainians help plug labour shortages in industries such as construction and farming.

“People are sitting here and don’t know what money to live on and how to survive,” Diachenko told Reuters before his flight back to Poland, where he will return to a meatpacking plant where had previously worked last year.

“For me personally, when I was offered to go abroad, I did not have to think and I did not hesitate, I was ready to accept all their conditions and go for work.”

Workers have their temperatures taken at Kiev’s Boryspil airport before departure, and are issued masks. On arrival, they are put in quarantine for two weeks in hostels or rented apartments provided by the employment agency that recruited them, Gremi Personal.

“We currently work with over 120 companies, every day we have several new requests from companies that need workers,” the agency’s boss, Yevhen Kyrychenko, said.

For Ukraine, such workers have been a valuable source of foreign exchange. Ukrainians earned $12.9 billion in remittances last year, or 7.8% of economic output. But that source of income dried up in March, when tens of thousands of workers streamed home before both countries shut their borders.

Lockdown measures in Ukraine are expected to push the country into a sharp recession, with many businesses either shut or operating with restrictions.

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Peter Graff

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