On June 11th, Ukraine triumphantly and pompously celebrated the introduction of visa-free travel to European Union countries. This event was presented by the Kiev government as, without exaggeration, the opening of a new historic era in the country’s history and a “farewell” to the Soviet legacy. Is this really so? And what will visa-free travel give the ordinary citizen of Ukraine?
Let us briefly review the content of the document in question. The visa-free regime allows Ukrainian citizens to stay in EU member states (excluding the UK and Ireland) for up to 90 days within a 180-day period. In order to stay in the EU for a longer period of time, Ukrainians still need to apply for visas. Moreover, the visa-free regime does not entail the right to reside or be employed in the European Union. Upon entering the Schengen Area, Ukrainian citizens need to have documents indicating the purposes of their trip, their place of residence, sufficient financial resources for the period of stay, and a proven intention to return to their place of permanent residence (i.e., a return ticket). Also necessary is a medical insurance policy.
The first few days of “visa-free” have already demonstrated the attractiveness of this opportunity in the eyes of ordinary Ukrainian citizens, the greatest demand being in the direction of Poland. Ukrainian media have published the statistics of the Polish border guard service, according to which around 10,000 Ukrainian citizens had entered Poland within only a few days of “visa-free”. As is becoming well known, Poland is the single most attractive destination for Ukrainian migrant workers in the EU, so these numbers should be no surprise. One can confidently predict that the number of Ukrainian migrant workers coming to Poland, and subsequently other EU countries, will only rise.
Experts in the Czech Republic with whom I’ve discussed this issue are altogether concerned by the news of the visa-free regime. Unlike many Russian experts who are inclined to underestimate Ukraine and the consequences of the visa-free deal, in these experts’ opinion, a vast number of Ukrainian citizens will not miss out on taking advantage of visa-free as a relief measure. The experts I surveyed even say that the approximate statistics of potential migrants is too large to even estimate. According to Alexandr Gegalchiy, whom I interviewed on this issue in mid-May, we are dealing with a minimum of hundreds of thousands of new migrants from Ukraine. Any success on the part of the first migration wave could lead to an even larger increase of this number. Millions of Ukrainians could come to Europe in search of a livelihood.
Although the visa-free legislation does not allow Ukrainians to be employed, Ukrainians in Europe have long since discovered ways to circumvent this restriction. Moreover, employing Ukrainians is in the interests of European capital in terms of significant savings on salaries and benefits. To some extent, Ukrainian labor is also convenient for the states receiving Ukrainian labor migrants. The workforce shortages in low-paid and low-prestige jobs can be filled by cheaply-paid Ukrainians. In Poland, for example, Ukrainians will replace those jobs emptied by many years of Polish workers migrating to Western Europe and wealthier EU countries, first and foremost the UK. Therefore, Ukrainian labor migration on such a large scale is also convenient for Poland from a social and economic standpoint.
Official statistics claim 1.3 million Ukrainians in Poland, but unofficial estimates put the number higher by many times. But what might be “beneficial” for the state of Poland from a socio-economic point of view might sooner rather than later turn out to be a bomb from an ethno-political standpoint. As is well known, the majority of Ukrainian migrants in Poland are from the Galicia and Volhynia regions of Ukraine, i.e, Poland’s former eastern borderlands. These migrants possess a very high degree of national consciousness, as these regions are the birthplace of the ideology of Ukrainian Nazism.
At first, Ukrainian migrants will try not to provoke the local population and government. But in time with better economic well-being, Ukrainians in Poland will make themselves and their political ambitions felt. Without a doubt, visa-free will create new opportunities for the expansion of Ukrainian political presence in Poland and the reinforcement of legal and illegal Ukrainian nationalist and Nazi networks.
Other prospects await the other countries of the Visegrad Group. More than 100,000 Ukrainian migrant workers already reside in the Czech Republic. These are mainly Rusyns from Transcarpathian Rus and Galicians. The Czech Republic does not share a common border with Ukraine and is more or less “distanced” from this country and its affairs. Therefore, it is predominantly Ukrainians’ economic problems that will be at issue here. On the other hand, the limited labor market in the Czech Republic is making this country (which is roughly equal in population to Hungary) relatively less of interest to Ukrainian migrant workers. Besides, it is not so easy for Ukrainians to work here. On June 13th, just two days after the “historic” event of visa-free, construction sites were inspected in Prague and 34 cases were identified of foreign nationals unable to present an employment contract or proper paperwork for working in the Czech Republic. It has been reported that Ukrainians with Polish tourist visas will be deported.
A separate issue altogether in discussions of the problems of the visa-free regime is the “export” of Ukrainian criminals. Europeans who have dealt with Ukrainian bandits before can expect a repeat of the horrific 1990’s when Ukrainian gangs openly operated in European capitals in bright daylight. Thanks to their organizational force, financial resources, and ties with corrupt European bureaucrats, criminal organizations will probably be the first to open the doors of “visa-free Europe” and take advantage of it to the fullest. The experts whom I’ve consulted on the matter predict among other things an increase in arms experts from Ukraine to the EU. Belarus, a country with 10 million people and model border and law enforcement services, has already been hit with this problem. Even Belarus has turned out incapable of blocking weapon exports across its border from Ukraine. The country is increasingly awash with weapons from the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” that were used to shoot at the people of Donbass. As my partners in Belarus have reported, the cost of weapons on the black market has fallen dramatically as a result of such Ukrainian “exports” to Belarus.
There is no doubt that EU countries whose purchasing power and market sizes are disproportionately higher than Belarus’ will become an attractive market for weapons from the ATO zone and a window of opportunity for Ukrainian criminals.
Summing up, we can predict an increase in the number of Ukrainian migrant workers to EU countries to the tune of millions and a host of related problems. Back in 2013, in an interview with the Kiev publication Glavkom, I said that Ukraine is Europe’s “reserve labor” or “spare parts.” As time passes, Ukrainian earners will displace Muslim immigrants as the cheap labor source in EU countries.
I have repeatedly written in my articles for Fort Russ that Ukraine is a country with no social future. By signing the visa-free agreement with EU countries, the Ukrainian government has effectively crowned this non-future. Millions of workers desperately needed by the collapsing Ukrainian economy will be demanded in Europe for the dirtiest jobs. While this might be good for ordinary Ukrainians, it is fatal for the Ukrainian economy and social sphere. Sooner or later, Ukraine will be left as a country with only 12 million or so pensioners and “heroes of the ATO.”
Originally published on fort-russ.com