“Hello. I am very sorry to write this message, but I am going back to Ukraine. Here [en España] I can’t live, it’s just working to pay rent and food. What I earn here I do not see. I’m driving back and I need gas money, so any help would be really appreciated.”
This is the message Yurii Blazhenets sent to his Spanish contacts via Whatsapp last week. She arrived in our country in April and returns to kyiv in a few days. The informative interest on the conflict is diluted and the lives of the ukrainian refugees that arrived with all the pomp and media attention when the war broke out has become more complicated over time.
Yurii is not the only one to make the return trip. Katya Halushka will return to kyiv with her 6-year-old daughter at the end of August to try to get the girl to start the school year there. “My family is still there and here we have no work or help. We can’t have normal life“, he tells this newspaper from the home of some Ukrainian friends who give them lodging on the outskirts of Madrid.
Throughout Spain there are Ukrainian families who came to escape the war and who will leave here to escape inflation and the uncertain economic situation. This is their main argument: the working market it only offers them precarious jobs and they must invest all their salary in paying expenses. Also, some of them have been kicked out of foster care to refugees that was launched by the Ministry of Inclusion and applied by the Red Cross.
Yurii will return to his country with Svitlana Sytenko, his wife. They arrived separately. Yurii (42 years old) was one of those rare cases of Ukrainian men who were allowed to leave the country. He is a lawyer and speaks perfect Spanish, which he has studied since his time at the University of kyiv. That is why he has numerous Spanish clients with businesses in the Ukraine.
“If you could prove that you had residence in another country or something similar, such as companies, they would let you leave,” he recalls now from Barcelona, where he has had to rent a room. Before he was in Madrid, hosted by the Red Cross refugee program dependent on the Ministry of Inclusion.
“When arrive They sent me to a hotel in Parla (Madrid) where they give you room and board in exchange for taking courses to learn Spanish. But what course am I going to do, if I have a degree? I speak Spanish perfectly. What I need is to work,” he insists. And since he has old clients in Spain, a few weeks after falling into the Parla hotel (and with his wife already here) he took the road and blanket. He wandered through several cities to visit them and find work .
“Five days I was away. When I returned to the hotel, they told me that there was no longer a bed for me. That they had expelled me from the program because I had been absent for more than three days from the room that had been assigned to me. That there were many people waiting for that opportunity and that I was out,” he explains.
His wife Svitlana was not expelled, but she was de facto kicked out: “My wife was not going to stay there alone. She came with me. We were in several places, paying for accommodation, before some friends from Tenerife found out about our situation and invite us to go with them,” he explains. The photograph that opens this report is Svitlana during her stay in Tenerife.
Finally, they have had to return to the peninsula. Yurii still has some work here and not in the Canary Islands. “We are paying for rooms, hotels, apartments. Sometimes a friend tells us to stay at her house. But we can’t keep this situation“, he details resignedly, remembering that they are not the only problems they face.
“I arrived in Spain in my car. Now I have to register it here or they will fine me. As the car is less than a year old, the cost of re-registering is more than 5,000 euros. They are all expenses, but they don’t give us help. They give classes to those who have to learn Spanish from scratch, but those of us who already know are kicked out of the program,” he sums up.
Something similar happened to Katya (27 years old), who has her husband in kyiv. She doesn’t speak fluent Spanish yet and Yurii translates. They know each other from a WhatsApp group of Ukrainian refugees where each one exposes their problems. Most complain about the cost of living in Spain compared to the salaries they can aspire to. But in the case of Katia, there is also an expulsion from the program.
“Since I arrived I have tried to comply with what they have told me and learn Spanish. I have looked for a job, but they only called me sometimes from a store where they paid me 40 euros a day“, he says. During the first months he was staying at the same hotel in Parla where his compatriots Yurii and Svitlana went.
“We have some Ukrainian friends in a town in Madrid who invited us for a few days. The hotel is a difficult place to live with a little girl. Once I went out looking for work and left her in the care of a Ukrainian friend who also lived in the hotel. There was a time when the girl got lost and went into the dining room alone. They thought she was abandoned and there were problems until the situation could not be clarified, “he recalls.
After that episode, they spent three days at the house of those Ukrainian friends who live on the outskirts. “We returned to the hotel after 3 days, it had barely been 72 hours since we checked out. Upon returning, we were told that we no longer had a room there. That we had spent a lot of time away and that we took our things because we could no longer stay in the hotel, “he concludes.
Now they are forced to stay at the house of these Ukrainian friends, hoping to return to kyiv shortly.. “Even if I had a job, to rent a small apartment they ask me for payroll and a deposit. I can’t contribute it because I don’t have any of that.” He says that he is not afraid of war, “Because at least I’ll be close to my family and I won’t be short of a place to sleep.”
From the Red Cross they have explained that the reception system is subject to rules that must be met and that it is the Ministry of Inclusion that sets the guidelines. “I couldn’t say anything about those specific cases because I don’t know them. Red Cross currently manages 9,300 cases“, says Cristina Domínguez, state leader of the program for refugees and applicants for international protection of the Red Cross.
It does point out that “the program has several phases, in which they are provided with everything from basic needs such as accommodation and food to rental aid, passing through Spanish classes, psychological help, training to get a job, etc. And that, although no one is rejected, it is designed for people with fewer resources. you have to justify the departures and stays outside the centers.
“If they have resources, they end up out of the program. The maximum time they can be in is between 18 and 24 months depending on the vulnerability of each case. During that time they are provided with many things aimed at learning Spanish to be able to function and job training. And more are expected to come. There are a lot of people and the cost per refugee is very high. That is why we need them to justify their departures and their situation”. However, he also knows “that there are families who are returning to Ukraine and that with the beginning of the school year there may be more”.
In similar terms they are expressed in the Ministry of Inclusion where they remind this newspaper that when a refugee arrives they have to sign a document staff with a series of commitments that they have to fulfill. “The other day someone told us that he was going to be absent for I don’t know how many days because he was going on vacation. And that can’t be. It’s normal for them to lose their place in some cases.”
They do not clarify from the Ministry how many people have left the program, what are the specific bases that must be breached for expulsion or if there is a certain period of nights that can be absent. But they insist that each case is particular. “The resources are designed for the most vulnerable and the state is making a great economic effort. That is why they have to fulfill the commitments they sign.”
More are expected to come, but there are also frequent cases of Ukrainians who prefer to return to a land in conflict than to live badly in Spain. Some choose to try their luck at Germany or Poland, the countries that have best organized the reception from the governmental point of view, in the opinion of the Madrina Foundation, a solidarity entity that helps more than 1,800 foster families.
They have now launched ‘SosUkraine’, a 24-hour helpline to support newly arrived Ukrainians, who they say “They cannot afford to rent a flat or a single room.” “They are starving. The administration seems to have disconnected from the very serious situation of these refugee families,” adds the Foundation, where they believe that the system has run out of resources and forces some refugees to debate between begging and returning to Ukraine.
There are many who leave. There are cases, such as that of Granada, in which the departure of at least 100 families who had arrived escaping from the war, according to Ideal. The reasons are the same as those used by the Ukrainians who attend this newspaper: they do not see a future in Spain with prices, salaries and the situation of the labor market.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.