Anxiety and job-seeking in Ukraine – a diary

Oil painting by correspondent, 2021 – if you would like to support the artist’s work, contact me

In the light of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, I am re-posting this piece, which is from a text conversation that I had with a Ukrainian woman that I met on a penpal website between 2019 – 2021. She spoke about her life, including anxiety issues and job-seeking. I last received a message from her some two months ago and I believe she is still living in the capital, Kyiv, which is undergoing attack as I write.

Please, if you can, urge your political representatives, in whatever way you can, from email to a public protest, that de-escalation and negotiation is needed now to stop any more bloodshed. There is no military solution to defeat Russia, due to their nuclear capability and their insistence that Ukraine is part of their sphere of strategic influence. The world has to negotiate and offer Ukrainian neutrality to Russia in exchange for troop withdrawal and return to speaking between foes. Ukrainian political alignment with Russia may not be ideal but it is far better than being destroyed and occupied.

Between December 2019 and April 2021, a Ukrainian woman in her 30s, currently living in the Kyiv area, shared with me some of her experiences of challenging her anxiety symptoms, searching for work and her efforts at painting. She told me she prefers to listen to stories than tell them but gave me permission to share some of her experiences anonymously, saying: “You can embellish the story with different romantic stories, whatever you want, but only my photo is scary to upload) it is better not).” At the start of the conversation, from which I have deleted my responses and most of her questions for me, to focus on her experience, she is living with her parents, near Kyiv, helping at her father’s small local electrical goods store and selling religious books by mail.

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Dec 18, 2019

Today is a sunny day. I argued with my father that I would find work after the new year, and he would stop drinking)). Maybe at least it will drive me out of the house.

…we bet that if I go to work my father will not drink). This is not a quarrel, but a game. Once I argued with my brother that if I go to work in Poland, he will quit smoking. I went to Poland, but he did not quit smoking 🙂

Dec 20, 2019

I have not had time to buy gifts, instead, I got drunk yesterday, could not stand it)). Because of this, the state of health is not very good. But she swore to herself that this is the last time)

no, I can drink alone). I feel good only the first half hour, and then it becomes very bad.

I also drank 2 beers). I have not bought gifts yet, I have a big family, I need a lot of gifts.

Dec 22, 2019

Yes, I’m better, I swore to myself not to drink anymore, although often I really feel like it. I choose which country I should go to work. But it will be in six months, it will take a lot of time to draw up documents) Maybe Sweden)

I will go through a paid agency. But this is not soon, a lot needs to be done for this)…this is work somewhere in the factories. It’s very difficult there, but i can earn more than in Ukraine. Since I haven’t been working for a year, I need to pay for it).

No, I’m very cowardly, but in extreme conditions it’s easier for me. When everyone is busy, all Ukrainians who go to work are in the same conditions). Although in Poland it was difficult for me, and I even had to change the city and work, right in Poland. But the second time I will behave differently, calmer.

Dec 25, 2019

Thanks! Merry Christmas to you too !!

Today I sent parcels to my customers)….We celebrate Christmas on January 7th, so it’s too early to give gifts. We have Orthodox Christmas)…. And I will celebrate 2 times)

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The Market of Disposable Jobs, Disposable People

By Jay

Organisations running and participating in the job market force workers to think of themselves as commodities. Contractually, one can take up a temp job and leave it when one chooses. It can, supposedly, be used as a stepping stone or as a trial. The job market creates the illusion of people and work as both being disposable and without cost, except time.

The reality is that not all work and work environments fit this mould. Work that involves significant training, support or responsibility cannot simply be treated as disposable. Frequent turnover of workers will diminish quality and damage morale.

Even if roles require limited training or support, people have emotions and economic needs that makes itinerant work difficult for most. Organisations understand this and the supposed flexibility of work, especially, temp work, is, often more true for the organisation than the individual.

Once a worker is on a temp contract for a few months, financial and reputational requirements may mean that they have to suspend their search for a secure job. Leaving too soon can affect their chances in the future. Moreover, workers have emotions and will feel a duty to colleagues and themselves, especially, when welcomed and trained by supportive peers. Only the most strong-willed or emotionless can dispose of a job, however mundane, without a sense of repaying or contributing for the opportunity. There is fear too, of a negative reaction from disappointed managers and colleagues.

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The worker as soldier

Now, I view commuters going to work as, in a sense, soldiers going into battle. The commuters lining up on the train station platform at 7.39 am won’t face imminent lethal force but, in my experience, the workplace can certainly be a threat to one’s health. The more vulnerable one is, the more harmful. There is hierarchy and domination, which can be accompanied by direct abuse or mistreatment through structural abuse. Those who endure, survive or, even, reign, are fighters, though, their psychological battling may take different forms.

For some time I looked upon the lines that formed in the morning at the train station as sheep-like, emerging thoughtlessly in a degrading march to the station, through bleakest of rain and defying entreaty of the sun, to silently stand and wait to be carted off to their job. I viewed them from the vantage point of someone who was intermittently employed, having spells joining their ranks as a commuter, and otherwise living off the benefaction of family members and spending my time at home.

Yet, these individuals are not sacrificing their sleep, their days and their bodies for no reason. For some, it will be a vocation and for others, it is a part of plan to free themselves and family members from bondage of mere wage slavery. For some, it may be both. I could not grasp that jobs and wages may contribute towards future financial freedom. As an example, paying mortgage payments can be an investment towards house ownership, which can mean personal security and health and, potentially, an opportunity for financial gain.

People also go to work to advance careers, to rise in skill, responsibility and duty. They may experience intellectual self-advancement and actualisation. They may also experience social connection and development. Despite the harsh hierarchies and control that workplaces can create, there can also be mutual support, solidarity, friendship and love. Work can also contribute directly to society through the support of others, fulfilling the vocational need of some.

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Temping out of hope

By Jay

I started a new temp job recently. It is a type of portering job in an education institution and completely new for me. I applied in the vague hope of doing some light manual labour in a relaxed environment. However, my feelings of lack of development, including, despair, as well as social difficulties, means that the role, like those that have come before, feels unsuitable.

The temp job, with its limited time period, often requires fast learning and adaptation. With my difficulties with social integration and communication, as well as the detrimental impact anxiety has on my memory and, sometimes, my fine motor skills, this is difficult for me. I worry that I will be ineffective, despite the best efforts of colleagues in training me. The job has many procedures and details and I worry that I will struggle to learn and enact them. Even the basics of finding my way around has been a real struggle on day one.

I applied for this role in a desperate desire for a sense of achievement in a safe environment, to relieve my guilt and despair sat at home – without considering too much my knowledge or experience for the role. The temp role can offer low responsibility and repetitive tasks. But, for someone entering the role without a background or strength in the skills required, especially, with health difficulties, it can be challenging. Moreover, temp roles vary in the extent of responsibility and repetitivity of tasks.

Low responsibility and repetitivity, in the form of a temp data entry role, gave me a sense of worthlessness, even though, I was generally treated well by colleagues. Higher responsibility and more complexity and pressure felt extremely stressful, including the social interactions required. Likewise, isolated work made me feel lonely, yet, socially involved work can be overwhelming due to my anxiety and communication difficulties.

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