The paper hearts in the Ukrainian national colors that colleagues recently gave as a surprise to Natalija Porosiuk on her 32nd birthday are still hanging in the staff room of the Hochallee Catholic School. She was touched by the gesture, she says, but at the same time the day was also a sad one: the first birthday without family and close friends. It hurts.
Porosiuk comes from Lviv, Ukraine, near the border with Poland. She came to the Hanseatic city at the end of March last year. At the central bus station she met a woman from Hamburg who provided the refugees arriving there with provisions and information and arranged an apartment for her in Wandsbek. Porosiuk is one of currently 31,600 refugees from Ukraine who, according to the social welfare authorities, have been permanently accommodated in Hamburg since the beginning of the war.
It is an example of how integration into the labor market can succeed - not everyone was so successful. At the moment it looks like this: Of the approximately 23,000 adults, around half were registered as looking for work at the end of January - i.e. they are currently taking part in a language and integration course or are already registered as unemployed.
According to estimates by the employment agency, 5,000 Ukrainians were in employment subject to social security contributions at the turn of the year. "That's a start," says Sönke Fock, Managing Director of the Hamburg Employment Agency. Two thirds of them work in qualified professional fields, i.e. with a relevant qualification. The rest are unskilled or semi-skilled. Most of them found work in the logistics sector, cleaning and trade.
After Russia's attack on Ukraine a year ago, the EU introduced the Mass Influx Directive to ease residence status, education, employment and social benefits. Since June, the Ukrainians living in Hamburg have also been registered as customers of the job center and can take part in language courses, receive advice and receive further training. There are understandable reasons why the majority still has no job despite everything.
According to the job center, around 7,400 Ukrainian refugees are currently taking part in the obligatory language and integration courses. Around 2,600 of these should graduate this quarter – with different language levels. Afterwards, advanced courses can be attended. "It takes time to learn the German language," says Jobcenter manager Dirk Heyden. "But being able to communicate is a prerequisite for integration that is adequate for your qualifications." The waiting time for a course place is currently up to three weeks. "The high number of refugees is of course a big challenge for us," says Heyden.
Before the war, Porosiuk had worked as an English teacher at a primary school in her home country. She said she wanted to get back to work here as soon as possible. "Without work you brood too much, you go crazy in the long run." So she sketched her short vita in English on an A4 sheet of paper under a selfie she had taken some time ago in the car: education, professional stations , competencies, contact details. In addition, the information – translated here: “I am always on the move, willing to learn and used to intensive workloads, as I have developed a high level of skills for dealing with emergencies and unforeseen situations.”
She threw the note in the mailbox of a neighboring elementary school. Like the Hochallee Catholic School, this belongs to the Archdiocese of Hamburg. Everyone there was impressed by the unusual but committed and pragmatic application, says Christoph Schommer, spokesman for schools and universities in the Archdiocese of Hamburg. The headmaster in Wandsbek scanned the note and passed it on to the head of the school inspectorate of the Catholic schools in Hamburg. She spontaneously invited the applicant to an interview, and so Porosiuk ended up in the elementary school in Harvestehude, where they were looking for an escort for six Ukrainian students in different grades.
Porosiuk immediately had a good relationship with the children, says headmistress Ulrike Wiring. And: "There is probably no one who got a certificate of good conduct as quickly as she did - she just gets on with things." "It's just good that she's here," says her boss Wiring. In addition to Ukrainian and English, Porosiuk is fluent in Russian and Polish. She is learning German parallel to her work. "It's a very difficult language," she says. She now teaches second and fourth grade English. She hopes that her certificates and exams will be recognized in a few years and that she can then work full-time as a teacher.
The recognition of foreign professional qualifications can take a long time. "The procedures are complex and the educational paths and qualifications in the different countries vary greatly," explains Jobcenter boss Heyden. For a doctor, it could easily take two years before he is actually allowed to work in his profession. In the case of jobs for unskilled and semi-skilled workers, on the other hand, language level and certificates are often not so decisive and the job opportunities are therefore better if the profile fits.
In April last year, a task force of twelve Ukrainian-speaking employees was set up at the job center. Notices and the website were also designed in Ukrainian in a timely manner. "For pragmatic reasons, we have said goodbye to our principle of 'German as an official language'," says Heyden. New language translation devices that work for more than 70 languages and an interpreter hotline were also purchased. Vouchers for interpreting services are also issued to the Ukrainians in order to have documents translated and official visits accompanied.
Employers in Hamburg are also interested. A job exchange is planned for March 20 in the Chamber of Commerce. The aim of the event is to bring graduates of the integration and language courses into contact with local companies. According to Heyden, he is also currently in dialogue with the hospital associations, "to what extent it would be possible to hire specialists without perfect knowledge of German." Heyden is convinced: "There is a very good chance that the Ukrainians will find permanent employment subject to social security contributions here – and that is a great opportunity for the Hamburg economy.”
The perspective seems anything but certain. How long the war will last, what the situation will be like in Ukraine after the end of the conflict - no one knows. According to a current representative EU survey, a quarter of those seeking protection want to stay in Germany. Heyden is sure their share will increase the longer the war lasts.
Teacher Porosiuk can imagine a future in Hamburg. "Right now I have no other option - and I'm happy here, I've been very lucky," she says. Her parents want to stay in Lviv. Porosiuk cannot yet say what will happen later.
The later people flee from wars, the more severe trauma they often have to deal with before they can start a normal life with the prospect of work, reports Heyden, head of the job center. In addition to the often higher level of training, this is one of the biggest differences in terms of starting opportunities compared to refugees from other crisis regions. And: "Thanks to the easier access, there is an immediate prospect of staying," says Heyden. "Work is much more than earning a living," says employment agency boss Fock. "We have to ask ourselves whether we don't want these better starting opportunities for all war refugees."