She lived in a village not too far from the city of Lviv, Iryna tells us when we talk to her at ZNA Campus Middelheim. She now works there at the ZNA Queen Paola Children’s Hospital. Vlada sits next to her. She lived in the city of Kryvyi Rih, President Zelensky’s hometown.
“A few days after the war broke out, I fled with my two children,” says Iryna. A decision she still stands behind one hundred percent. “My son is 15, my daughter 10. They are happy in Antwerp, they like going to school, learning the language and have already made many friends. Had we stayed in Ukraine, they would have been traumatized for life.
Vlada left Ukraine in March. “When the war started, I was in shock. It took a while for everything to sink in. But soon I no longer dared to go to work. Planes were flying over, rockets were flying over and the air raid sirens were going off constantly so we had to take shelter in the basement. When I heard stories of sexual abuse by Russian soldiers, I decided to flee. I have an eight year old son. I couldn’t handle the thought of something happening to him.’
She and her son jumped on the train. “A crowded train. First to Budapest, then to Holland, where one of my friends lived. I could go to her for the first few days, but because it took a very long time to be registered there, I crossed the border into Belgium after her advice. That’s how I ended up in Zoersel.”
In Ukraine, Vlada worked as a nurse at an eye clinic. Iryna has a teacher’s exam in her pocket. “But I worked at a car factory. In my spare time I did a lot of voluntary work, especially with children.” Both wanted to pick up the thread of their lives here as soon as possible and find a job.
At an information evening for Ukrainians, Iryna met someone from ZNA’s HR department, to whom she handed her CV. Vlada, in turn, was helped by the mate she was paired with. “She helped me prepare my CV and we went through the vacancies at ZNA together. Because I really wanted to work. Preferably in the healthcare sector. That makes me the happiest.”
Both ended up at An Bosshard. “I work in the HR department of ZNA and am responsible for social employment”, explains An. She created a work experience program for Iryna and Vlada in collaboration with CPAS in Antwerp and Zoersel. A track that focuses on refugees who have earned a living wage through OCMW and are looking for work. “In that process, they gain work experience and learn the language intensively.
The hope is that the people who embark on such a process will subsequently proceed with a permanent contract. It is difficult to find health workers. Just a month ago you could participate Gazette of Antwerp read that there are more than 2,500 unemployed nurses in Flanders alone. More than twice as much as five years ago. “People like Iryna and Vlada can then be brought in to ease the nurses’ tasks, so that they can better focus on their core tasks. In times of staff shortages, Vlada and Iryna’s work is a huge help.”
To build a new life
“I have been working at the children’s hospital since July,” says Iryna. “I have a very nice department manager in the nursing area. She explained everything to me at the beginning.” Iryna mainly takes care of the logistics tasks. “I make the heavy work for the nurses a little easier. If I can help them a little, I’m happy.’
Vlada works in Zoersel in ZNA Joostens, a center for people with dementia. She also mainly takes care of logistical tasks such as preparing the meals. She learns the language little by little. “Patients sometimes teach me new words. And if I don’t understand something, my colleagues help me.” She now hopes that she can get her diploma accordingly, so that she can work as a nurse in the long term.
Iryna also hopes to continue working in the healthcare sector. “First I have to master the language well, and afterwards I can perhaps follow an education to become a health nurse. In any case, we both want to build our lives here, and we really like our work at the hospital.” “I am very grateful to the people of Belgium”, emphasizes Vlada. “I get so much help here. From my mate, from my neighbors, from my colleagues. It eases the difficult situation we come from.”
ALSO READ: The shortage of nurses has never been so great: there are four possible solutions