Can Canadian business help Ukrainians?


Pavlo Pocheyev says he’s working hard to keep his Ukrainian information-technology staff and business alive.

He has closed three SSA Group offices since the Russians invaded on Feb. 24, and has relocated most of his 180 employees to western Ukraine.

SSA’s Lviv office is operating as a shelter as well as an office, and three-quarters of their employees are back working. Company profits will be directed to emergency employee assistance, he writes in emails to his North American colleagues.

Pocheyev is determined to move his company outside Ukraine to keep his employees safe and serving clients. Female workers and men not fit for military service are permitted to leave the country; he considered Canada, where SSA has advisers, but has decided on Portugal for now.

“We plan to open new development centres around the world,” he writes. “Employees … in comparatively safe places can continue working.”

“These are extremely talented people,” says Sergei Tchetvertnykh, a Toronto project partner with SSA Group. “We would love to bring them to Canada.”

Ukraine has about 200,000 information-technology specialists, some of whom are displaced or looking to move abroad in the wake of the invasion. Many have skills Canadian businesses need, experts say. However, Canada’s immigration processes are too slow and cumbersome for people fleeing war, business leaders contend.

Mark Wiseman, former chief executive of the Canada Pension Plan and Investment Board and now chair of Century Initiative, a Canadian charity that advocates for policies and programs that would increase Canada’s population, says Canada faces an acute labour shortage due to an aging population that only immigration can fill. In 1960, Canada had eight people of working age for every senior, but today it has just four. COVID-19 accelerated Canada’s demographic imbalance with a decrease in workforce participation, he says.

“We need to accelerate immigration” for unskilled as well as skilled workers, says Wiseman. Multinationals are trying to move personnel from Ukraine to safe countries and Canada should offer to host these people, he says. Other countries are also aggressively recruiting Russian talent in the public and private sectors, he says: “Canada should do the same.”

Sviatoslav Kavetskyi, industry affairs director of N-iX, a 2,600-employee Ukrainian software company, is sheltering in his parents’ home in Lviv, where he says he hears shelling almost every night.

Kavetskyi says the best thing Canadians can do for Ukrainians is to keep working with them. N-iX has vacated its offices outside Lviv but is still working at 80 per cent of its pre-war level, he says.

“Some employees have relocated to Poland and elsewhere but have internet access and are still working.”

Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, a group of 150 Canadian chief executives, says mitigating Canada’s labour shortage is a top priority but that Canadian businesses would not want to pillage Ukrainian talent.

Ukraine’s technology sector is an engine of its economy, accounting for almost 10 per cent of total exports. Canadian businesses want to address the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis, says Hyder — “ to provide jobs and training for refugees on a temporary basis or facilitate transition to Canada for longer term.”

Kate Huz and her partner Sergii Netesanyi, an engineer at N-iX, are professionals who say they will leave Ukraine only if absolutely necessary. They have fled from Dnipro, close to Russian violence, to Lviv, where they can continue to work. Netesanyi’s voice trembles with exhaustion.

“We have to go the bomb shelter several times a day and almost every night,” he says. “It is a lot of stress, but we try to do our best.”

N-iX supports its workers who are fighting with the revenue the others generate: “The work I am doing is as important as holding a gun,” says Netesanyi. Still, if the violence gets worse in Lviv, Netesanyi and Huz say they will move to a safer country.

For Canada to be an option for IT professionals like them, this country would need to simplify and streamline its immigration processes, says Kavetskyi, who is also executive director of the Canada-Ukraine Chamber of Commerce.

Kavetskyi says he is shattered by Canada’s refusal to waive visas for Ukrainians. He hopes that Canada will work quickly to foster more favourable conditions for Ukrainians and their companies.

Canadian business leaders also want Canada to streamline and bolster immigration processes for Ukrainians. Hyder says many Ukrainian victims of war are fleeing without the documents Canada requires and are stalled. “They fled war. This is excruciating. We can’t let bureaucracy and process slow us down.”

Wiseman says Canada should consider reviewing Ukrainian immigration cases after arrival in Canada. As for multinational employees, “we should be able approve these transfers in 48 hours,” he says.

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada has announced a Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel that they say is a “accelerated temporary residence pathway for Ukrainians.” However, this program does not waive visa requirements and details on where and how refugees can provide biometric and other data have not yet been clarified.

While he awaits details of Canada’s plans, Kavetskyi says working hard keeps his mind off the stress of living in a war zone. He says he plans to keep pressure on Canada to do more to help Ukrainians.

Clarification — March 18, 2022: This file was updated to clarify that Century Initiative is a Canadian charity that advocates for policies and programs that would increase Canada’s population.

Katharine Lake Berz is a management consultant, writer and a fellow in the Fellowship in Global Journalism at the University of Toronto.


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