In March – in the month of Women’s Day, it is worth discussing Ukrainian women in Poland, specifically those who crossed the border after February 24, 2022. According to UNHCR statistics, a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a third of the country’s population has been forced to flee their homes . Almost 8 million refugees have thus left Ukraine, and nearly 6 million people have been internally displaced.
To begin with, let’s emphasize why we are talking about the difference between the current situation and the previous waves of immigrants and women in this context. Firstly, people are fleeing not for a better economic life and social stability but from war, threats to their lives, and the destruction of their property. From February 24, 2022, which marked the start of the large-scale armed attack by the Russian Federation, to February 26, 2023, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 21,580 civilian casualties in the country: 8,101 killed and 13,479 injured . It is also worth noting that no one can feel safe (Fig. 1), regardless of geography. That is why in the first months, the flow of refugees from the entire territory of Ukraine was enormous.
Secondly, since the Second World War, Europe has not yet been overwhelmed by such a wave of refugees from Eastern Europe, with shared religions, cultures, and traditions. According to the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) over 14 million civilians had been displaced as a result of the war: according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there were 6.5 million internally displaced people in Ukraine, 5 million had fled to European countries, and another 2.8 million went to Russia and Belarus .
Poland hosted the most Ukrainians (Fig. 2). Additionally, due to its geography the country became a logistical hub for communications between Ukraine and the world in light of the impossibility of air travel and severe restrictions on sea transportation.
Thirdly, the gender profile of refugees is specific and cannot be compared with the previous one. According to Eurostat, data from 2010 showed a higher number of male migrants than women in European countries (55% men, 45% women). Even though more recent assessments have shown a shift in gender-based migration patterns, female worker migrants outnumbered males by only 2% (51% against 49%) .
Today Ukraine’s wave of refugees is different, as women and children represent 87% of all family members that left Ukraine, and 13% of family members are older persons. Among those who accompanied them, 5% traveled with unrelated children . The Polish profile is even more gender-imbalanced (fig. 3). Moreover, this time, refugees are primarily well-educated women (46% have higher education compared with the average level of 29% for Ukraine and 33% of the EU population) with a child, who have worked or owned businesses in Ukraine.
Let’s asses what tends to happen to these women with children who crossed the Polish border, look at their expectations, and analyze the consequences of their stay for the Polish economy. At the same time, it is worth noting that all estimates of Ukrainians’ plans to return are approximate due to the instability of the situation in the country. At the same time, we can hope that those assessments reflect the mood, at least for now, because the war in Ukraine is the most documented in history . Daily, social media overflows with videos of air strikes, reports from bloggers embedded with troops, round-ups of shifting front lines, and reflections of those who left on their experience and plans for the future.
The impact of Ukrainian migrants on the host economies
To start with economic issues, one should note that refugees’ well-being has generally decreased, which was to be expected (fig. 4). Notably, 42% have enough money only for sustainment of basic needs such as purchases of food or not enough for food (compared to 12% before the full-scale invasion) . This, on the one hand, motivates people to look for work and, on the other, to spend to ensure a certain level of comfort (albeit minimal)
A full-scale war of Russia against Ukraine, according to the estimates of the European Investment Bank , may reduce real private consumption of the EU by 1.1% due to the channeling of inflation, primarily in the Central Eastern countries and South-Eastern Europe. However, migrant spending supports private consumption in these countries. In particular, in 2022, Ukrainians’ spending abroad will more than triple compared to the previous year – to $2 billion monthly . Spending on Ukrainian migrants stimulates public consumption, particularly in housing infrastructure, health care, and education systems (considering the significant share of children – from 28% to 44% in different countries).
According to Credit Agricole , the influx of migrants from Ukraine was the main driver of the acceleration of retail sales in Poland in March, which offset the negative impact of inflation and the deterioration of consumer sentiment on household spending. This was evidenced, in particular, by a noticeable increase in sales in the categories “clothing and footwear” (41.9% y/y compared to 2.6% YoY in February) and “furniture, electronics, and household appliances” (2.8% y/y compared to -4.4% YoY in February).
In general, numerous studies of the impact of Ukrainian migrants on the economies are very different and based on varied assumptions. Still, all come to the same conclusion that this influence is largely positive. Thus, Strzelecki et al. studied the economic consequences of labor migration of Ukrainians to Poland from 2013 to 2018. Increasing the workforce was about 0.8% per year, and the contribution of Ukrainian migrants to annual GDP growth was 0.5%. Now they assume that the additional contribution to the annual growth rate of Poland’s GDP will be about 1.2 % per year.
A study by Oxford Economics  presents different forecasts. If 650,000 Ukrainian migrants remain in Poland, the labor force will increase by an additional 210,000 (1.2%) by 2030 and potential GDP by 1.2% compared to the basic Oxford Economics forecast. Instead, the influx of 1 million migrants will increase the labor force by 370 thousand (2.1%), and the potential GDP – by 2.0% by 2030.
According to Deloitte data , the integration of Ukrainian forced laborers immigrants in Poland can lead to an additional growth of Poland’s GDP to the tune of 0.2 – 3.5% annually in the first five years. It will however depend on the quality of the country’s integration policy. Favorable factors include increasing the flexibility of the labor market and solving problems with the housing sector.
According to the calculations of the National Bank of Ukraine based on estimates from the IMF study, surveys by the UN and the Razumkov Center, provided that other conditions remain constant, due to the contribution of Ukrainian migrants, the output of goods and services in Poland in 2026 will be 2.2–2.3% higher than in the base scenario without migration .
This tangible positive impact, however, first requires resolution of social issues and integration of Ukrainians, those currently in Poland, and those who plan to stay (now, it is about 20%, Fig. 5), That being said, as we well know, planning the future for Ukrainians is complicated and ambiguous.
Problems in the Ukrainian migrants’ integration
So let’s focus on the prerequisites and problems of such integration, which lie in the social sphere. Thus, although 63% of the surveyed migrants worked in Ukraine before the full-scale invasion, in September, only 28% continued to be employed . At this point, Poland has the most favorable conditions – so 1.2 million migrants received social insurance numbers, and about half of them found work . For comparison, more than 350,000 Ukrainians looking for a job were registered in Germany in June, but less than 10% found work. However, most migrants worked in areas with a lower level of payment – logistics, industry, agriculture, construction, and hotel business – although a significant part of them had higher qualifications. At the same time, 76.9% of newcomers learn Polish independently, in courses, or with tutors , demonstrating the willingness of Ukrainians to adapt to the language environment.
However, the full-scale participation of Ukrainian migrants requires the further development of the legal system. This will not only improve the situation for refugees (and reduce the burden on the budget by reducing social benefits) but will also allow more efficient use of the potential of the labor force to contribute to the Polish GDP.
Among the other possible problems that will intensify is the real estate market in Poland, which showed signs of scarcity and inflated prices even before the pandemic. The forecast shows that increased demand will not be followed by corresponding increase in affordable housing. What is more, the shortage is only likely to worsen.
Here it is worth reminding again about the specific composition of modern migrants – women with children who are in need of educational services. Regarding the Ministry of Education and Science of Poland, Polish Radio stated that 187,900 children and teenagers from Ukraine who came to Poland after full-scale Russian aggression studying in Polish schools and kindergartens. Most of them are in Warsaw, Wroclaw, and Krakow. 36,900 Ukrainian children attend kindergartens (almost 7,000 more attend various preschools), 116,800 participate in primary school, and 27,200 attend secondary schools. These children afterward increase demand for higher education services, which will contribute to the quality of higher education.
At the same time, this structure of migrants makes them vulnerable because children need care and regular services from health institutions. Women, who used to have the opportunity to take care of their children on a daily basis and in case of illness (relatives and partners), now have to solve these issues on their own. This, expectedly, complicates their integration and reduces competitiveness in the labor market. At the same time, the need to combine work and childcare (without the possibility of “asking someone”) provides opportunities for the development of small towns and communities that are more comfortable due to their territorial compactness. And this will also provide a chance to revitalize their economic and social life.
Conclusions – more institutional help needed
To sum up, it is worth to underline that today’s migrant from Ukraine is an educated woman aged 35-45 with a child and a civic position, who is determined to actively participate in social-economic life, but needs help from institutions.
In addition, financial support is not always the core; the most important is help in the preparation and legalization of documents, advice on employment and child care, renting an apartment, etc.
Even though Poland responds quickly to many of these challenges, there is still a long way to go and a lot of work to make these procedures non-discriminatory, transparent, and understandable for all. In fact, such steps will work for the benefit of Poland even when the Ukrainians return home. But for now, it will allow them to be more actively involved in developing their new home – Poland.
- UNHCR – https://donate.unhcr.org/int/en/ukraine-emergency?gclid=CjwKCAiAu5agBhBzEiwAdiR5tP3RYuFBn6da1rJnG_AIAfSCHyFY4RLKMCQYHTfJTQUiJFhc2uQebBoCCWwQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
- OHCHR – https://www.ohchr.org/en/news/2023/02/ukraine-civilian-casualty-update-27-february-2023#_ftn1
- Civilian casualties in Ukraine – https://ukraine.un.org/sites/default/files/2023-02/Civilian%20casualties%20in%20Ukraine%20from%2024%20February%202022%20to%2015%20February%202023%20ENG.pdf
- HRMMU – https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2023/country-chapters/ukraine
- Ukraine Profile UNHCR – https://data.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine
- Annual report on intra-EU labour mobility 2020 – https://ec.europa.eu/migrant-integration/library-document/annual-report-intra-eu-labour-mobility-2020_en
- Refugees from Ukraine in Poland. Updated November 2022 – https://reliefweb.int/report/poland/refugees-ukraine-poland-profiling-update-september-2022-enpl
- The Economist – https://www.economist.com/interactive/briefing/2023/02/23/data-from-satellites-reveal-the-vast-extent-of-fighting-in-ukraine
- Ukrainian refugees: who are they, where did they come from, and how to return them? Analytical research, 2023 – https://ces.org.ua/en/ukrainian-refugees-who-are-they-where-did-they-come-from-and-how-to-return-them/
- How bad is the Ukraine war for European recovery? European Investment Bank, 2022. – https://www.eib.org/attachments/publications/how_bad_is_the_ukraine_war_for_the_european_recovery_en.pdf
- Impact of Ukrainian migrants on the economies of recipient countries, National Bank of Ukraine, December 2022 – https://bank.gov.ua/admin_uploads/article/Migration_impact_2022-12-15.pdf?v=4
- The inflow of refugees from Ukraine supports retail sales – https://www.credit-agricole.pl/przedsiebiorstwa/serwis-ekonomiczny/macropulse/2022/the-inflow-of-refugees-from-ukraine-supports-retail-sales
- Strzelecki, P., Growiec, J. & Wyszyński, R. The contribution of immigration from Ukraine to economic growth in Poland. Rev World Econ 158, 365–399 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10290-021-00437-y
- Refugees will lift economy’s potential, but challenges remain. Oxford Economics, May 2022 – Poland-Refugees-will-lift-economys-potential-but-challenges-remain.pdf (oxfordeconomics.com)
- Uchodźcy z Ukrainy w Polsce. Deloitte, Październik 2022 – https://www2.deloitte.com/pl/pl/pages/zarzadzania-procesami-i-strategiczne/articles/Uchodzcy-z-Ukrainy-w-Polsce.html?nc=42
- How Displaced Ukrainians in Poland Find Work While Benefiting Its Economy – VOA News, October 2022 – https://www.voanews.com/a/how-displaced-ukrainians-in-poland-find-work-while-benefiting-its-economy/6771810.html
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