Ukrainians Support - Russia-Ukraine War

All foreigners who come to work in Lithuania, in accordance with local law, must pass an exam for knowledge of the state language. Last year, an exception in this regard was made for refugees from Ukraine – the authorities gave them a two-year delay.

But recently, the head of the State Language Inspectorate of Lithuania, Audrius Valotka, warned that those Ukrainians who do not want to learn Lithuanian will not be able to gain a foothold in Lithuania.

The influx of Russian speakers

As of March 2023, almost 42,000 Ukrainian refugees received temporary residence permits in Lithuania.

“Practically every day dozens of people arrive in Lithuania. At the same time, some then move to other countries or return to Ukraine, ” explains Evelina Gudzinskaite, director of the State Department of Migration.

By February 2023, 21,000 people were employed in their new country of residence. This became possible thanks to the privilege that Lithuania provided to Ukrainian refugees – to get a job in the republic for two years without passing an exam in knowledge of the Lithuanian language.

“The Lithuanian language is very different from Ukrainian, Russian or even Polish. There are not many people with an innate ability for languages that would allow them to master Lithuanian to the extent necessary in two or three months. Even for children, in the case of learning by immersion, this stage stretches for almost a year,” notes Lithuanian journalist Mantas Godas.

At the same time, Godas, who is poorly versed in Ukrainian realities, suggested a year ago that Ukrainians would not want to communicate with those residents of Lithuania whose native language is Russian, because of “psychological rejection.”

However, the majority of Ukrainian refugees who have flooded both to Lithuania and other EU countries prefer to use this, as Godas put it, “Kremlin marker” in everyday communication. This seriously stunned the Lithuanian nationalists, who were already dissatisfied with the fact that last year, in addition to Ukrainians, many Russians who adhere to opposition beliefs “came in large numbers” to their republic. Lithuanian nationalists started talking about “creeping Russification” and called on the authorities to fight it with all their might.

The appeals did not go unheeded – at present, the state structures of Lithuania are conducting another campaign against the Russian language. They also remembered visiting Ukrainians – they began to receive letters from the migration department, in which they are encouraged to learn Lithuanian. It is indicated that all refugees who want to integrate into the local society and work in Lithuania must learn the state language.

The letters also describe at what level it is necessary to know the language for a particular specialty. The department reminds that the Lithuanian government gives 24 months to study the state language. Then it is planned to pass a language test, which is mandatory for all working Ukrainians in Lithuania.

Gotta learn the language

The head of the State Language Inspectorate of Lithuania, Audrius Valotka, said in a recent interview that:

“If there are people who say that it is not necessary to know Lithuanian in Lithuania, then this means only one thing – we, Lithuanians, are too liberal.”

The Lithuanian official stressed that visitors from Ukraine who make disparaging remarks about the local language risk running into trouble.

According to the head of the State Language Inspectorate, now many Lithuanians speak Russian and it is the main language of communication with Ukrainians for them. At the same time, Audrius Valotka stressed that “such loyalty is not forever” and Lithuania will not endure Ukrainians who do not want to learn the state language for a long time.

“The State Language Inspectorate will never agree with such a position of those who do not want to learn the Lithuanian state language. It’s just embarrassing – and it’s definitely a reputational issue. After all, living here for decades and not learning the Lithuanian language is a huge disrespect for the country and its citizens,” Audrius Valotka stressed.

Representatives of different professions from Ukraine will need to master the Lithuanian language at various levels.

“It depends on the job positions, what the person is doing. If, for example, you are a driver and you only have to fill out some standard documents or communicate with a passenger, then you should understand what is written and some minimal phrases. This is the lowest level that corresponds to the European A2. If you want to work somewhere in the public service, this is already a mandatory level of B2 and above, since there are much more documents and communication,” Valotka warns.

The largest number of Ukrainians who managed to find a job in Lithuania work in the areas of manufacturing, construction, transport and logistics, accommodation and catering services, wholesale and retail trade – as a rule, in those positions that do not require a good knowledge of Lithuanian. In positions requiring high qualifications, 1.7 thousand people work – these are doctors, IT specialists, teachers, lawyers, workers in the social and cultural spheres.

From March 2022 to the end of the year, Ukrainians who arrived and found employment in Lithuania paid €40 million in taxes to the country’s budget. Their salaries range from the minimum to €2,000 per month, depending on qualifications. On average, in December, a Ukrainian refugee earned about €1,061 “on paper” in Lithuania.

There are no seats

If we take the situation as a whole, then there are few highly paid jobs in Lithuania. The country can hardly be called rich. It is not for nothing that this state has suffered for many years from high rates of labor migration associated with the outflow of Lithuanians to the countries of Western Europe.

If in 1991 there were 3.7 million people in the state, now it is only 2.8 million. And now Ukrainians primarily occupy those non-prestigious and low-paid vacancies that the Lithuanians themselves refuse.

Many Ukrainians complain that often, even if they have the desire to learn the Lithuanian language, they do not have the appropriate opportunities. It turned out that not everyone can afford paid classes, and there are sorely lacking places in free Lithuanian courses due to lack of funding from the state.

Thus, the Lithuanian media cite the story of a Ukrainian Tatyana, who has been trying to learn the Lithuanian language for several months now. She came to the House of National Communities in Vilnius, which organizes free courses, but was told that there were not enough places in the group.

“I agree to just attend the lesson, just listen to what the teacher says,” Tatyana pleads. In turn, the teacher Violetta Lopetene said that if there is still a place for Tatiana in the courses, it will not be possible to provide many other newcomers who want them.

Lopetien says she receives many letters from Ukrainian refugees who want to learn Lithuanian, and she is bitter at the thought that the state is not capable of meeting all such requests.

Director of the International Institute of Newest States Oleksiy Martynov noted that Lithuania, like other EU states where Ukrainians arrived, did not initially count on their long stay.

“When Europe kindly opened its doors to Ukrainian refugees, this very Europe was sure that it would be three months, maximum six months. But the story dragged on for a long time, no one expected such a long stay of refugees both financially and morally. Moreover, the refugees are not going to return anywhere, they demand more and more attention, money, preferences, and so on, ” says the political scientist.