Vitaliy Makhinko, Labour Solidarity Union (Trudowa Solidarnist, Kyiv, Ukraine)
Vitaliy, first of all tell us what is the situation of working people in Ukraine now. What do the members of your union organisation do?
It varies, some go to work and some sit at home or hide in bomb shelters. Some are trying to leave to Poland, others have gone to western Ukraine to join their families.
Do they go to work?
Yes, the war does not exempt you from work. Those who have not left and if circumstances permit, do work. Even on territory controlled by the Russian Federation.
What is the situation of the working people in Ukraine now?
It is very bad, the position of workers and their rights will now be the last thing anyone is interested in.
So what role can trade unions play in these difficult wartime conditions and how can you be supported?
I see two main directions for this support. The first concerns the protection of Ukrainian refugees, Ukrainian migrants in Poland. And the second is to collect aid for Ukrainian citizens who have stayed in Ukraine and could become refugees, or who have stayed in territories where warfare is taking place. As for Poland, unfortunately, a huge part of Polish business will try to take advantage of this situation. The situation of Ukrainian refugees who do not know the rules, who do not know the language, whose conditions are very difficult. They will be forced to agree to different jobs. I am very worried about this huge illegal exploitation of our Ukrainian citizens. In my opinion, it will be even worse than in 2015 and 2016. Even if it was more or less controllable until now, with such an influx of refugees, this problem will be much harsher than 6 or 7 years ago. Therefore, the help of Polish union organisations and European union organisations is needed to help Ukrainian workers protect their rights. Or even not to protect their rights, but to prevent their rights from being violated. Ukrainian citizens should be subjected to as little illegal exploitation by business as possible. I hope there will be as few such cases as possible thanks to your support. The second way in which the Polish trade unions could help us is by organising essential products, essential medicines, which are already needed in Ukraine and which will be needed in the nearest future. If we consider our experience from Donbass in 2014 and apply it to the current situation in Ukraine, in large cities as Kiev and Kharkiv, where hostilities are taking place. If these operations extend for another week, we will have a humanitarian crisis that is already looming. We must try, even if it is inevitable, to minimise its effects at least. Therefore I hope for support from the European trade unions.
The second question is, what would you like to say now to the union organisations and to people from the left-wing movements in Poland, in Europe and in the world?
I would like to ask everyone to support Ukraine, to support Ukrainian refugees, Ukrainian migrants and to help everyone in Ukraine. Be with us. Together, we will win. It is important to send a clear signal to employers that there will be no room for their possible unfair practices. They should be afraid. We are already angry, don’t make us even more angry.
Interviewer: Ignacy Jóźwiak (Inicjatywa Pracownicza – Workers’ Initiative Union, Poland), 27.02.2022.
This interview was conducted by Ozz Inicjatywa Pracownicza, affiliated to the Labour Union Network