"Labor migration is one of the emerging problems for Ukraine today," central bank Deputy Governor Dmytro Sologub said by email. "It may become a serious risk for both economic growth and price stability in the coming years."
Ukraine has helped plug a dearth of labor from Prague to Warsaw after European Union travel freedoms and the lure of higher pay prompted citizens from those countries to move en masse to the bloc’s richer west.
"Foreign companies have no way out," said Pelekh, who’s just opened his ninth office since 2013 and can only meet a fifth of clients’ demand for staff in areas such as construction, agriculture and nursing. "First they were only looking for employees with wide experience and diplomas. Now they’re taking everyone and spend a month training them if needed."
The attraction of -- and for -- Ukrainian workers is clear: their pay back home averages 7,100 hryvnia ($265) a month, compared with 3,500 zloty ($1,046) in Poland. A lingering conflict with Russian-backed insurgents, a devaluation and persistent corruption are reasons to leave. Poland has 1.5 million registered Ukrainians and there may be another half a million undocumented. The Czech Republic plans to double annual Ukrainian worker quotas.
Andriy Kozlovskyy, a 37-year-old telecommunications engineer, used his Polish ancestry to help him move to the Baltic Sea town of Gdynia in 2014.
"The time was right when the war started and the hryvnia plunged -- I always wanted to work abroad," he said. "I’m far from being a big earner but here it takes one year to make what I would in four back home."
Official Ukrainian data show 7 percent of the ex-Soviet republic’s workforce has left since 2015 -- the number is probably much higher since Ukrainians now enjoy visa-free travel inside the EU. Twelve percent of Ukrainians have found foreign employment or plan to soon, according to the International Organization for Migration. The longer-term picture is also worrying: the United Nations sees the population plunging to 36.4 million from 44.2 million by 2050.
Companies such as Oleksandr Dranov’s printing firm in western Ukraine are feeling the pinch.
"We have many vacancies and it’s unclear how we’ll fill them," he said. "Young people prefer to go to Poland or Baltic countries."
Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic allow Ukrainians to take temporary employment, usually for a few months. Ukrainians were granted visa-free travel for tourism across the EU last year, easing the passage for some legal workers and others willing to work illegally. Transport links have also improved, including a new train link between Kiev and Warsaw.
The attraction of leaving may fade, according to Pelekh, who says wages for manual laborers in Ukraine are nearing the level of Poland. His company also estimates most workers eventually return home. For now, his business is swelling, with clients popping up in Denmark and Israel.
"It’s up to the worker to chose," he said.
By Daryna Krasnolutska & Volodymyr Verbyany, Bloomberg