Years after the war, refugee Ukrainians are divided about their future in the Netherlands

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Ukrainians in the Netherlands during a ‘March of Gratitude’ in September
NOS News
  • Rolinde Hoorntje

    Interior Editor

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than 8 million Ukrainians fled their homeland. Barely a year after the outbreak of the war, about 90,000 are registered in Dutch municipalities. They are divided about a future in the Netherlands, according to a non-representative tour of the NOS among 247 people in collaboration with Opora Foundation.

More than a third of the Ukrainians surveyed want to return to their homeland. A third does not. These are often Ukrainians from heavily affected cities such as Kharkiv, or with children who attend a Dutch primary school.

The other Ukrainians in the Netherlands, also a third, do not know yet. In addition to concerns about safety in Ukraine, the possibilities for work and owning a home in the Netherlands also play a role in their consideration. There is also a great need for Dutch and English language education.

This map shows which municipalities receive the most Ukrainian refugees per 1000 inhabitants:

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    Number of Ukrainian refugees per Dutch municipality
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    The municipalities with the most Ukrainian refugees per 1000 inhabitants

Many of the 247 Ukrainians who responded to the NOS questionnaire say they are grateful for the warm welcome in the Netherlands. “The Dutch are extremely friendly and nice people, ready to help with any matter,” says 37-year-old Olena Boichyenko from Odesa.

She does suffer from the Dutch bureaucracy and queues for care and education for her eldest son (9), who has autism and ADHD. He cannot receive special education in the Netherlands.

For that reason, the pianist, who used to teach at a conservatory, does not work. Still, she wants to stay in the Netherlands. “Going back is not good for my children. After a war, the people and the country are damaged, it is much more difficult growing up in such a country.”

Own house

The tour also shows that many Ukrainians need their own home. For example, the 6-year-old daughter of Irina Sureieva still sleeps in bed with her parents, because the family has no extra room.

Sureieva currently works in a supermarket and bakery. She and her husband, both highly educated, do not earn enough to own a home.

Sureieva: “Most Ukrainians do not earn more than the minimum wage, because they have no work experience in the Netherlands. It is therefore not possible to rent a private house yourself, because in the private sector the income must be three to four times higher than the rent.”

Most Ukrainian refugees in the Netherlands work in the temporary employment sector and the hospitality industry. Many work below their level. Anna Synenko (38), who used to be a pharmacist and researcher in Ukraine, now works three to four days a week for a catering company.

She says it is “not possible” to get a job in medicine. Synenko wants it to be easier to have her pharmacy diploma recognized in the Netherlands. “The government should develop special programs for Ukrainians,” she says.

“I have fifteen years of work experience in the pharmaceutical industry and now I can only do low-skilled work at a pharmacy, for the minimum wage.” She and her daughter say they are just getting by. Synenko: “But if I have to rent a house, it won’t work.”

The majority of Ukrainians in the Netherlands work part-time, according to previous figures from Statistics Netherlands: 58 percent worked less than 25 hours a week in November; 13 percent worked full-time.

“I want to know why employers do not offer us the opportunity to work 8 hours a day. If you rent a house in the future, a salary of 1200 euros per month will not be enough,” says Alina Bohuslavska (54), who lives in Vlaardingen lives. The Ukrainian was an HR manager in a hotel in Kharkiv. She now cleans with families.

More money for language lessons

Almost all Ukrainians who responded to the survey also say they need better access to language education. In this area, help will come from The Hague. Yesterday, Minister Van Gennip of Social Affairs announced that the cabinet is making 15 million euros available for language lessons for Ukrainians.

That money goes to the municipalities. Van Gennip acknowledges that many Ukrainians encounter the language problem: “They often speak a little English, but no Dutch, and you need that as a basis for a lot of jobs.”

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