Local governments in southern Poland are thinking of options to accommodate large numbers of potential Ukrainian migrants fleeing their country in the event of a Russian invasion. Kraków alone is expecting the arrival of some 17,000 refugees.
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The Małopolska province in southern Poland has long been a place where a growing number of Ukrainians have settled either temporarily or permanently. So far, their incentives have largely been economic, but this may soon change given the looming threat of a Russian invasion.

17,000 war refugees in Kraków?

Province governors across Poland are reaching out to mayors asking for a list of accommodation facilities for refugees, information about the number of people possible to accommodate, the costs involved, etc.

"Wyborcza" has learned that the Małopolska province governor asked the Kraków city council to look into options of providing temporary accommodation for possible refugees from Ukraine. - The city received a question whether the Tauron Arena (Poland’s largest indoor entertainment venue) could be used for this purpose - Andrzej Kulig, Kraków’s deputy mayor, told us.

- I don't know if it's the best place. Using it would entail huge costs. A lot of mass events are contracted there and the governor would have to pay compensation to their organizers if we’d have to cancel them - says deputy mayor Kulig, adding that Kraków will of course do everything to help those in need. Mayor Kulig reveals that preliminary talks between the city and province authorities concerned Kraków's hosting of some 17,000 potential war refugees fleeing Ukraine.

The Polish labor market needs Ukrainian workers

Temporary help for refugees is one thing, but integrating those willing to stay and work in Poland is another. According to Representatives of Gremi Personal (an international employment agency specializing in recruiting workers from Eastern Europe), the Polish labor market can receive far more Ukrainian workers than there are currently employed. – Compared to last year, the interest in working in Poland in February is 50% higher, while the needs of the market have increased even more because they are now five times greater than a year ago - says Tomas Bogdevic, CEO of Gremi Personal.

The agency has 12 regional offices in Poland, including one in Kraków. Last year, it recruited over 18,000 employees for Polish companies. How is the tense situation in Ukraine reflected in recruitment? - People call and ask how quickly we can arrange documents, work permits, they ask about wages, but these calls are still of economic nature - adds Tomas Bogdevic. He recalls that in 2014 the number of Ukrainian labor migrants in Poland increased as well- earlier, it was about 200,000 people per year, in 2015 it was 800,000 people. Now it may be similar.

Ukrainian migrants often work in low-skill jobs in logistics and production, but qualified corporate employees also make up a large group in Kraków.

A sudden surge of seasonal workers in the Polish Highlands

The number of Ukrainian workers in the Podhale region (a popular tourist destination located in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains) is growing at a record pace. Here, each winter season brings a huge demand for additional labor: cooks, waiters, hotel workers, ski lift operators, etc., but this year, according to some local business owners - something surprising is happening. Since the beginning of the year, ever more Ukrainian citizens are coming to the Tatra Mountains.  "Something is going on. As a result of the lack of Polish workforce - and I'm not only talking about the labor force in the Podhale region, which has been exhausted for a long time - we started to look for workers from beyond the eastern border much more intensively. This trend became more and more visible at the beginning of the winter holidays" - Karol Wagner from the Tatra Chamber of Commerce tells "Wyborcza".

Officials dealing with the labor market emphasize that the demand for labor force in the Tatra Mountains is constantly growing. This is a result of, among other factors, the ongoing tourist boom in Poland and the recovering economy after the pandemic-related restrictions.

While in 2020 the Tatra district issued 1806 work permits for foreigners, in 2021, the District Labor Office in Zakopane issued 2206 such documents.

The vast majority - more than 95% - concerned seasonal workers from Ukraine.

Women find employment much easier, men return to undergo military training

Currently, almost four in five Ukrainian migrants in the Podhale region are women. Their work is in the greatest demand - they easily find employment in hotels, private boarding houses, or restaurants.

 - Sometimes they are single women sending the money immediately to their families back in Ukraine. However, to a large extent, women come to Podhale without their partners, but together with their children who attend Polish schools throughout the season. There are very few full families - adds Karol Wagner.                                                                                                                   

There is also another aspect - the patriotism of many Ukrainian men.

 - In large cities, some Ukrainian men eligible for conscription ask about the possibility of taking unpaid leave and then returning home to undergo military training. And we are not exclusively talking about construction workers here. Many of them work in office jobs, in the IT sector.

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