The EU recently extended the temporary protection status for Ukrainian refugees until March 2025. While this move aims to provide “a sense of certainty" for over four million Ukrainian refugees within the bloc, it raises questions about the true level of certainty offered.

Like many others, I left Kyiv with my 12-year-old daughter, fleeing the war with hopes of a swift return home. After almost a year and a half in Amsterdam, our plans are still subject to the shifting sands of uncertainty. 

Choosing the Netherlands was a pragmatic decision, driven by my proficiency in English and the country's status as one of Europe's foremost English-speaking nations, second only to the UK.  However, despite widespread English fluency, finding a common language with the locals proved to be a challenge.


If I were to single out one defining trait in the Dutch approach to every facet of their lives, it would be “practicality.” It's indeed amusing how the Dutch words "prachtig," meaning "beautiful," and "praktisch," meaning "practical," sound remarkably similar.

Dutch people exhibit a strong practical mindset, even in their language, prioritizing efficiency over social pleasantries. Their directness, firmly rooted in their culture, can occasionally be mistaken for rudeness by outsiders.

Thriftiness is another distinctive aspect of Dutch practicality, exemplified by the well-known “go  Dutch” practice, where couples evenly split expenses on dates. The saying “deep pockets but short arms” perfectly encapsulates their prevailing attitude – they take greater pride in frugality than extravagance.

When it comes to food, practicality is once again at the forefront. Dutch cuisine is known for its simplicity, with sandwiches making up a significant portion of daily meals. The Netherlands might very well be one of Europe's most bread-centric nations.

Generosity of spirit

At the same time, the Dutch people have exhibited remarkable generosity by providing shelter and support to approximately 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. This is a significant number for a relatively small country, which is only slightly larger than Odesa oblast. Currently, nearly 90 percent of Ukrainian refugees in the Netherlands reside in refugee housing for free, though often sharing rooms with multiple cohabitants.


Upon my arrival, I was fortunate enough to find an attic room in Amsterdam and a position as a hotel receptionist, although the income barely covered the steep monthly rent of EUR 1,250. After ten months of renting and a somewhat hasty departure from my hotel job in pursuit of a more professional career, I sought refuge housing. Now I find myself residing in a hotel alongside numerous fellow Ukrainians, and I'm increasingly uncertain about the possibility of ever securing accommodation larger than a room in a densely populated apartment.

Amsterdam, the capital city, boasts its own unique charm, with more canals than Venice and an unmatched reputation for legal recreational substances. However, its compactness and population density makes the city's real estate landscape notoriously challenging. For most of us, the likelihood of securing independent housing in fierce competition where dozens of other more established candidates are vying for the same opportunities remains exceedingly slim. Landlords often require proof of a stable income, typically two to three times the monthly rent, which could amount to EUR 2,000 per month for a tiny studio. Believe me, it would be a considerable challenge for a single refugee mom to earn enough to afford such accommodation.


You often hear in the Netherlands that the labor market is in need of workers, and this is partly true. Work-life balance is a significant priority in this nation, with sports playing a substantial role in the "life" part of the equation. It's uncommon to find individuals willing to trade their carefully planned leisure activities for extra work (and money). Women in this country have relatively recently joined the workforce (many “Zoomers” may recall that their grandmothers or even mothers were housewives) and prefer a part-time schedule to dedicate more time to their families.

Low-skilled labor opportunities

At the same time, the market exhibits a constant appetite for a particular type of workforce:  individuals with minimal qualifications willing to work for modest compensation. On practically every street corner, businesses proudly display signs indicating their need for shop positions. This has been effectively met by the influx of Ukrainian workers, and these roles are particularly appealing to those Ukrainians who previously worked in similar low-skilled roles in Ukraine for considerably less pay.


The adult minimum wage here is EUR 11.5 euros per hour, resulting in an estimated gross monthly income of around EUR 2,000, subject to a payroll tax rate of roughly 37 percent (tax rates vary depending on earnings, maxing at 49.5 percent). However, many may not meet even the minimum wage threshold due to prevalent practices such as part-time employment and zero-hours contracts.

Zero-hours contracts presuppose that an individual's work hours depend solely on the employer's discretion and are especially popular in sectors closely tied to tourism, where demand can vary considerably. I can illustrate this with my own experience as a bartender at one of Amsterdam's iconic landmarks, the A'DAM Tower. During the summer months, I typically worked four shifts per week. However, as autumn arrived, my schedule was reduced to just two shifts.

It's worth mentioning that I never worked as a bartender back in Ukraine; my background primarily lay in communications, and my most recent roles were with some of the largest Ukrainian renewable energy companies. It took nearly a year of sending out resumes and attending interviews with no success before

I found myself behind the bar. I've always enjoyed mixing cocktails for my friends, and this presented an opportunity to delve into a new skill. When you can't earn, you try to learn. All my colleagues are 20 years younger, with many of them juggling their shakers as a side hustle alongside their high school classes.


I cannot name any specific reason why I couldn't secure a professional job. I attended numerous interviews where employers praised my skills, experience, personality, and English proficiency.  However, there always seemed to be a more suitable candidate. I even addressed this situation as a guest speaker at the University of Amsterdam, took part in Research on Labor Market Participation of Ukrainian Displaced Persons in the Netherlands, and had a mentor from Unilever  who attempted to enhance my resume, LinkedIn profile, and any other aspects that could be  improved.

Yet, the elusive "holy grail" remains beyond my grasp. Nevertheless, I haven't given up hope and continue to apply for professional jobs, “going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Natasha Rublova, a 44-year-old refugee single mother and now a bartender in the Netherlands, was formerly the Sustainability Unit Head in a renewable energy company in Ukraine.


The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

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