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Khmelnytsky, Derkach, Gut. Businessmen suggest ways to have Ukrainians return home and avoid the demographic gap – 7 opinions

By Oleksandra Nekraschuk

Millions of Ukrainians fled the country and are in no hurry to return (Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun via Reuters)

The war drags on, and Ukrainians continue to flee the country to safety. Will the country luck out and see them return home, and what needs to be done for this? We asked people in business for their opinion. In a nutshell, they answered that this is a difficult task, but there are ways to resolve this situation.

Russia’s aggression provoked mass migration. According to the UN, almost 8 million Ukrainians had to leave their homes and become internally displaced. According to the UN, some 8.8 million more people left the country as of July 5, half of them to Poland. People do come back, but not as actively. Approximately 3.3 million people have returned to the country to date.

The longer the war lasts, the more people may not return to Ukraine even after it ends. An absolute disaster for businesses and the state is in the making if few entrepreneurs are willing to start a business, pay taxes and deductions to the state, and if there are fewer consumers for goods and services.

The government cannot yet devise a way out of this knot. On the contrary, it creates additional obstacles for women with children to return home. For example, from October 1, some women may not be allowed abroad without the permission of the military commissar. How exactly the procedure will take place is currently unknown. The government avoids deliberating on these new procedures, thus igniting panic among the population.

NV Business asked business owners and top managers for their thoughts on the migration of Ukrainians and whether, in their opinions, there are any chances of returning them to the country.

Vasyl Khmelnytsky

Entrepreneur, the founder of the UFuture holding company

Upon winning the war, Ukraine’s main task will be to return professionals and talent to the country and, even more, to attract talent from other countries.

Some of my managers have decided not to return and build a career in another country. But this is rather an exception. Most of them want to return and develop our country. I am sure the entrepreneurs who left will return when they are confident of the safety and see new opportunities.

The good news is that they will return with new experiences and bring best practices from different countries around the world. They will master foreign languages and establish connections abroad. This is the upside.

But this will happen only when Ukraine creates competitive conditions for talent, and returning to the country will seem a bargain.

We are talking not only about decent salaries and services but also about a new social contract and one overarching idea to unite Ukrainians.

We must be sure that we are building a new, modern, thriving country where our children will live well and with dignity.

We have this unique opportunity in history. The question is how long the war will last and when it will be safe for women and children to return to Ukraine.

Oleksandr Derkach

Co-founder and ex-co-owner of Aval Bank (sold to the Austrian group Raiffeisen International), co-owner of the Milk Alliance holding, Oberig medical center, and River Mall shopping center in Kyiv

If the war ends, most will return. Economic recovery will begin, and destroyed houses and cities will need rebuilding, so workers will be required.

But if the war continues, most of those who fled will remain abroad. They will start looking for a new job in their field. Many will find a new place for their talent, especially if they know foreign languages. It will not be easy to have them return, as people will begin to adapt to life in a new country.

Ihor Gut

Co-founder of DYB [Develop Your Business], member of the Nestor Group

I am optimistic about the return of Ukrainians.

First, we managed to create a country with the best service in everyday life and a high level of digitalization. Find another such country in the EU!

Second, there are many non-obvious, irrational factors as we are the biggest romantics in Europe. We are madly in love with our country. Admit it, you love Ukraine against all odds!

We should work on improving security and economic liberalization. Then not only Ukrainians will return – we will become an attractive country for immigrants from all over the world.

Mykola Skavronsky

Commercial director of the Sinevo network of medical laboratories

Let’s look past banal patriotism and clichéd calls for the revival of post-war Ukraine. It is, firstly, necessary to create conditions in which in-demand specialists will be at least no worse off than evacuation. They will have quite a frame of reference — the quality of life in Ukraine must be comparable to that in other Eastern European countries. And this goes beyond good roads or urban infrastructure.

It is much more difficult to radically modernize post-war Ukraine in terms of ease of doing business, working judicial reform and the rule of law, eradicating corruption at all levels of life, and making it a new state ideology.

The labour market and wages are derivatives of what I mentioned above. People need freedom, justice, dignity, and satisfaction in life, provided only by fundamental changes in the state.

Andriy Kucherenko

HR director of Kormotech 

How to return people to our country? In my opinion, it isn’t easy to objectively influence this. As long as hostilities continue, the threat to the life and health of Ukrainians remains. Eventually, the percentage of those who intend to return will decrease.

It is mainly women with children who fled, and in their case safety of children and their adaptation are paramount. Educational infrastructure is vital — schools and kindergartens are the places that grow on you over time. The longer you stay there, the less likely you are to return.

What can an employer do to attract candidates or not lose existing employees? I will use the example of Kormotech. It is necessary to form a flexible work schedule and consider remote work format non-temporary. Help with the relocation of employees to safe places in Ukraine, in some cases – abroad, provide medical insurance for employees, and abroad in particular. Frankly and regularly talk about the state of affairs in the company and about the changes that await it. Provide regular psychological support to employees, and maintain constant contact between employees and managers.

Viktoria Kondrashykhina

HR director of Farmak 

What can Ukrainian businesses do to return qualified personnel to Ukraine? First, it is necessary for the industry to work, for companies to find opportunities for further development, despite losses and risks, to look for options for entering new markets, etc. Over time, this will increase the number of vacancies in the labour market, and therefore, the opportunities for employment of qualified specialists will increase.

The business must support remaining and working employees, guarantee safe working conditions, a flexible approach to work format, and be honest with its employees. It needs to inform them about the state of affairs and the nearest plans of the company. This approach provides a sense of security, certainty and confidence in the future, which we all lack now.

It is essential for Ukrainian companies not to disappear from the information space. Discussing your work, plans, and even the most minor victories would be best. Ukrainians living abroad are closely monitoring the situation in the country. And who knows, maybe this information about employee development and care will motivate them to return to Ukraine.

Nataliia Petleva

People & Transformation officer Join UP! SkyUp

The issue of returning people after the war is complex. It is partly solved at the state level because residents of the most affected regions will need support to restore their housing and neighbourhood infrastructure first.

For owners and managers of Ukrainian companies, the return of employees will be a fundamental challenge. Specialists will not return to what was before the war but will want to move to a new level of work to participate in creating a European Ukraine.

Another critical factor is investments. The more international projects to rebuild the country, the more workers will be needed, and people will return to respond to this demand.

And, of course, there is always a personal emotional level. If people love their country, they will definitely return to help Ukraine.