2019.10.30 16:00

As Ukrainians find home in Lithuania's regions, red tape hinders integration

Ukrainians make up a large proportion of foreign workers in Lithuania, and many have found homes in smaller regional towns lacking a labour force. However, their integration is hindered by the lack of simple resources and bureaucracy.

Around 200 Ukrainians work in Tauragė, a town of 23,000 in western Lithuania. Employers are happy the newcomers are taking up jobs, while the local authorities offer free Lithuanian-language classes.

Tania from Ukraine came to Lithuania with her four-year-old son around a year ago, and found a job in a Norwegian company based in the region. While her son attends a nursery, she knits nets for the fishing industry.

“Truth be told, the first month was very hard,” she tells LRT TV. “But then I got used to it, and now I already like the job and that’s why I stayed. The coworkers are nice, I made some friends.”

Out of 300 workers in the company, 10 are Ukrainians. Wages start at 500 euros a month after tax. The minimum wage in the country is a little under 400 euros and the average wage stood at about 800 euros.

Tauragė Municipality is one of the first local authorities to organise free Lithuanian language courses for Ukrainians. “Tauragė receives people who pay taxes [...] which is very important for the town, that someone can take up jobs that Lithuanians maybe don’t want,” says Tauragė District Mayor Dovydas Kaminskas.

Around 10 Ukrainians come to the twice-weekly Lithuanian classes. However, an acute lack of text books and exercise books is hindering the learning process, the teacher says.

“There were some [exercise books for Russian-speakers] published between 2000-14, but they can no longer be found, I even phoned the publishers,” says the Lithuanian-language teacher, Kristina Nevelkienė.

“I plan to live here, and I will need to communicate with people,” says Andrei Donchenko from Ukraine. “Not everyone speaks Russian, and since we live in Lithuania, we need to know the language.”

“The most complicated parts are the pronunciation and spelling,” adds another Ukrainian, Aliona Galachuk.

However, employing Ukrainians is not easy, according to business owners. A work visa is only issued for a year, accordind to the head of a local recruitment agency, Tomas Juodikis. The procedure takes around a month and a half, while in neighbouring states, the process can take as little as a few days.

Temporary residence permits in Lithuania are also struck by delays.

“The [residence] permit is issued, if expedited, in two months and it costs several hundred euros,” says Tomas Juodikis, director of recruitment agency ‘Darbo turo’. “The process can take up to half a year.”

Despite the limitations, the number of Ukrainians in the country is increasing. This year alone, around 20,000 have arrived in Lithuania so far.