By Yuliia Mishyna, photos by Haoruo Wei
For the first time, Ukrainians living in Denmark are acting as one unit. On October 27th, they organised the first Day of Ukrainian Culture which took place in Randers. And although this community is ready and eager to reveal itself as never before, Danes still don’t know much about its life. So, who are the Ukrainians living in Denmark?
The first Ukrainians arrived to Denmark in early 2000s to work at the local farms. Since then the flow of the workforce has been growing. As of 2018, there are more than thirteen thousand Ukrainians living here with half of them residing in Jutland, according to Statistics Denmark. However, until now the community was disconnected. Its various organisations were mostly focusing on their own narrow activities such as cultural education of the children, help in adaptation of the newcomers or supporting those affected by the military conflict.
The Day of the Ukrainian Culture is expected to be the turning point. Jointly organised by the main Ukrainian groups in Denmark—Lastivka (or Swallow), Bevar Ukraine, Klub “Ukraine” and Ukrainsk Sport Forening, the event was attended by more than a thousand people.
“This marks the new level of our nation`s representation in Denmark,” Head of “Lastivka”, Maria Padovska explains. “Together with other organisations, we are able to speak with the authorities on behalf of the thousands of people. Now it would be much easier to defend our rights, promote interests and solve problems.”
The unity is necessary as the community is getting bigger because of the newcomers. Maria describes the typical scenario for her countrymen in Denmark: “For eight years they work in the agricultural sector, mostly at farms. As soon as they get the permanent residence, Ukrainians usually change the job, start own business or, what is more likely, get the local education.” The latter helps them to change the field of work and get a better job offer, as well as adapt to the society properly.
However, not everything is so simple when it comes to adaptation. “Danes are friendly and open, but it is more an answer to your own openness,” says Maria. “So, if a Ukrainian start behaving as we say ‘as if one`s house is standing aside from the others’ it will not work out. If you want to be integrated, take the first step. And many of Ukrainians understand and do this.”
Nataliia and Artem took their first step towards Danes seven years ago and it seems they don’t regret their decision. Like many of their fellow countrymen, they met each other here. “The local Ukrainians even joke that Earth is round, but Denmark is rounder,” laughs Nataliia.
Nataliia and Artem are now working at the pig farm. This job allowed them to get a home loan two years ago and settle down near Viborg in the village called Skelhøje. The couple`s two daughters were born in Denmark. The older is already bilingual, well adapted in the kindergarten and has many local friends, and parents are joking they envy her.
Both of them find the Danish language difficult, but for them it`s not an obstacle for communication—they would rather use any encounter with Danes to practice. For example, they organised several Ukrainian evenings in their neighbourhood. “It’s important to socialize with the locals and also show them who we are,” says Nataliia. “We need to know each other”, she adds.
Nataliia set up her own small initiative here—the Facebook group for Ukrainian women living in Denmark. This is the platform where they can discuss various problems or ask for an advice on anything from a good manicure salon to the labour preparation. “Usually you don`t share such concerns with random people,” says Nataliia. She believes this group serves as a psychological support: “When you are far away from home, sometimes all you need is somebody comforting and talking to you in your mother tongue.”
In the nearest future, Artem and Nataliia hope to get the permanent residence permit and change their job. They consider Denmark as the country of opportunities. “I would like to work at the factory in the future and, probably, go to the college,” says Artem. He looks at his wife and adds: “But Nataliia is very smart, she must study at the university here.” The couple feels very good in Denmark and binds their future with this country. However, they admit that the idea of moving back to Ukraine never disappears.
Hearing how Ukrainians speak to each other, Danes can wrongly assume they are constantly thanking. This misleading is caused by the word “tak”—which means “thank you” in Danish and “yes” in Ukrainian. Perhaps such a similarity of the most used words helps this nation easily express their gratitude and openness here and build the bridges between nations. After all, this young growing community has become a part of the modern Denmark and is always ready to work hard to make the common future brighter.