Ukrainian refugees can’t find jobs as their English isn’t good enough

Ukrainians leaving their homes to escape a warzone are arriving in the UK and facing a struggle of a different kind.

UK government schemes allow Ukrainians to live and work in Britain, but new data from the Office for National Statistics shows 56% of people on the Ukraine Humanitarian Schemes can’t get jobs because they can’t speak English well enough. That’s despite 80% of Ukrainians in the UK being university graduates.

65% of respondents say they are working in a different industry to the one they worked in Ukraine. But, half say they work in low-paid, hospitality jobs because their English skills are not good enough.

Irina Smirnova, a Ukrainian translator who has settled in Cardiff, says she knows many who are highly qualified in their fields but have to accept low-paid jobs. One of these was a surgeon in Ukraine.

There are many places in Cardiff that offer English classes for refugees. Typically they’re informal speaking clubs run by volunteers in community centres and churches. Mrs Smirnova says they don’t help Ukrainians to learn English as beginners, because the organisers are inexperienced and can’t communicate in Ukrainian or Russian.

“The system cannot provide the necessary services as everything moves so quickly” she says. She adds: “Ukrainians are inventive and if the classes don’t work, they will try elsewhere.”

Irina Smirnova says accessibility and cost are also barriers to Ukrainians learning English. Free courses are available but if people can’t get to them, they won’t go. Mrs Smirnova said it is rare for people to pay for formal courses.

A full list of where refugees can find English classes in Cardiff is available here: