Ukrainian couple see their future in Skellefteå

Olga Patrashku and Anton Sherstiachenko fled from Ukraine to Sweden in March 2022. They do not want to move back, ever. "The moment I decided to leave, I thought that I will not go back. I have no home or job to return to," says Olga Patrashku.

Olga Patrashku and Anton Sherstiachenko fled the war in Ukraine and now work full-time in healthcare in Skellefteå.

Olga Patrashku and Anton Sherstiachenko fled the war in Ukraine and now work full-time in healthcare in Skellefteå.

Foto: Alva Kledzik

Skellefteå2023-08-07 11:59

The couple lived in a small apartment of Anton's aunt, who has lived in Sweden for 15 years, in Kopparberg for a year, together with Anton's family. Through the Ukrainian Professional Support Center, the couple saw that the municipality of Skellefteå was in need of workers in the health care field, and after a month of applications, the couple were able to move and begin Swedish language studies at Medlefors.

– We worked four days and studied one day," says 19-year-old Olga. After a while, we left Medlefors because we spoke Swedish well. We had learned it from our teacher in Kopparberg.

– We listen, learn and hope we're doing a good job. We understand most of it. But when someone speaks in the local dialect, it's hard to understand, says Anton, 20.

Olga is a trained laboratory assistant, and Anton is a trained engineer for refrigeration systems on boats. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Olga was working in Odessa and Anton was in his final year of training.

– At first I didn't want to go anywhere. I had my family and my job in Ukraine, and I thought things would get better. Anton's mother called and said we should go to Sweden. After thinking about it and talking to my mom, I realized that if I had a chance to get a better job and a better salary, I might be able to better help my family, Olga explains.

Anton had been interning on a ship and had been at sea for a month. He was looking forward to coming home, but he was greeted with an order from his mother: "You are going to Sweden." Olga and Anton now live in a newly built rented apartment in Skellefteå. When they were ready to move, they joined all the housing queues and regularly called real estate agencies.

– One day they called and said I could choose from three apartments. When I got the call, I screamed at the top of my lungs, says Olga.

The couple encourages other Ukrainian refugees to be persistent and to try to solve their own problems.

– We weren't persistent at first, but now we've learned, Olga says.

She is currently fighting for access to advanced Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) courses, because despite Olga and Anton's language skills, they do not meet the high demands of the job market.

– Many people wait for things to work themselves out, but you shouldn't. There is a lot of help available in Sweden, but you have to take advantage of it, says Anton.

"My mother said: 'There's nothing to do in Ukraine, you can just earn a little money and be scared. So you must stay in Sweden.' And I want to stay here," says Anton Sherstiachenko.

Olga and Anton do not talk to their family about the war, but they do keep up with it through the news. Their family and friends are scattered all over Europe and the United States, but some of them still live in Ukraine.

– My little brother lives in Odessa, but I hope he can move to my grandmother who lives outside the city. He is nine years old and needs to meet other children at school. My mother is also ill, so a move would allow her to focus more on herself. Where my grandmother lives, it's safer than in Odessa, says Olga.

Before the war broke out, Olga could not imagine a life outside Ukraine. Anton, on the other hand, has always been interested in life in another country, but was never sure which one.

– Now I think, Sweden, why not? In Sweden, life, work, and housing are stable. Ukraine, unfortunately, was not even stable before the war, he says.

Despite the stability of the couple's daily life, at first, Anton wanted to return to Ukraine.

– When Anton had doubts, I asked him to reconsider. We can do better here, Olga says.

 In their free time, they decorate the apartment, pick blueberries, or stay at home. 

Their irregular hours make it difficult to meet friends. 

However, their current life is incomparable to what they had before. Anton describes Odessa as panicked, and the crowded living situation in Kopparberg without full-time employment, says Olga, was unsustainable.

– If I have the chance to stay here, I want to take it. My family thinks it's better for me. They don't say it, but I think they understand that it will be better for them, too, Olga says. The EU Temporary Protection Directive for Ukrainian refugees will be updated on March 4, 2024. 

Depending on the situation in Ukraine at that time, the directive may change, making the future uncertain for Olga and Anton.

- We are trying not to think about it at the moment says Olga.

Olga Patrashku hopes to become a nurse. She's already trained as a laboratory assistant.
Olga Patrashku hopes to become a nurse. She's already trained as a laboratory assistant.