Ukrainian immigrants in Finland

Jaana Vuorio,
Director General,
Finnish Immigration Service,

Historical overview

Finland recognized the de-facto independence of Ukraine in 1918 and accordingly also accepted Ukrainian travel documents. In June 1918 about 60 Ukrainians resided in Finland. One of them, a labourer Stefan Kraurschuk, was the first Ukrainian to be granted Finnish citizenship on 3 May 1921. Ukrainians were not initially given deportation orders as other subordinates of Russia. By September 1918, however, “nearly all Russians appear to be subordinates of Ukraine and have Ukrainian passports”. A Ukrainian journalist K. Wyshevitsh admitted in the newspaper Uusi Suomi on 17 January 1919 that “along the streets of Helsinki there are loitering persons who have Ukrainian passports but who speak only Russian, and loudly announce themselves to be Russians, affront Ukraine and its loyal sons who with heroic efforts are trying to build up their own national state”.

After Ukraine had already lost its independence, such people arrived in Finland with Ukrainian passports who according to the Finnish Security Police “had as little to do with Ukraine as with New Guinea”.  The most well-known Ukrainian refugee was the leader of the Kronstadt rebellion Stepan Petrishenko who came to Finland in March 1921 but who was extradited illegally to the Soviet Union in April 1945 and died in a gulag a couple of years later.

Ukrainians disappeared from immigration statistics in 1924. Even though Ukrainians entered Finland during the years of war to work as lumberjacks, they were considered Soviet citizens or citizens of (German-occupied) Poland.  Ukrainians cannot be traced in the statistics until their new independence in 1991. The immigration of Ukrainians restarted in 1992 and the following year Ukrainians were once again granted Finnish citizenship. But for almost 70 years the number of Ukrainians in Finland was unknown.

Present-day situation

According to population statistics there are currently over 4 000 Ukrainian citizens living permanently in Finland.  Those Ukrainians who have already been granted Finnish citizenship between 1990 and 2018 (in total, 1 985 persons) are not included in the afore-said number but many of them also still reside in Finland.

Most Ukrainians, who have immigrated to Finland, have work as their ground for applying residence permits.  In the last few years around 200-300 Ukrainians have moved to Finland annually as family members and less than a hundred per year as students.

Most typically, Ukrainians come to Finland as seasonal workers in agriculture, gardens and fur farms. Seasonal workers from Ukraine amount to nearly 10 000 persons a year.  Often same persons arrive year after year. Cases of exploitation are rare but do occur: in 2014 – 2019, fourteen Ukrainian workers have been assisted as victims of human trafficking.

There have been also asylum-seekers from Ukraine. In 2014, the number was at its highest: over 300 asylum applications. People who applied for asylum originated from different parts of the country and arrived to Finland on a visa. Many of the asylum applicants had originally arrived in Finland as seasonal workers. The most common grounds stated in their asylum applications were the general security situation in Ukraine and unwillingness to do military service in Eastern Ukraine.

Only very few Ukrainians have been granted international protection in Finland. In addition, the number of applicants has decreased since 2014. In 2017 there were 45 asylum applicants, in 2018 also 45 and this year until 16 September only 11. The numbers have remained low in spite of the visa-free travel to EU countries of Ukrainians, which was introduced in 2017.

This article has aimed to offer a succinct overview of Ukrainian migration to Finland. Although not pertaining to Ukraine directly, as a side note it may also mentioned that probably the best-known Ukrainian surname in Finland is Eremenko. Alexei Eremenko Senior has both played in and coached top Finnish football teams and his sons, Alexei and Roman Eremenko have been prominent players in the national team of Finland. The Finnish Football Federation chose Roman Eremenko as Footballer of the Year in 2011 and 2014. Alexei Eremenko senior was born in Novotserkassk, Soviet Union, and the family migrated from Moscow to Pietarsaari, Finland, in 1990.

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