According to Vasyl Andreyev, the Russian onslaught is not the only thing wreaking devastation on Ukraine: “the country’s economy has been destroyed.”
Vasyl Andreyev, 41, is the president of the Construction Workers’ Union in Ukraine. According to him, in the cities in Western Ukraine that have not been bombed, civilians are continuing to work as usual. But in the rest of the country, work has come to a standstill and most workers are hiding in bomb shelters or attempting to flee.
“In the first few weeks, people will use their savings. Unfortunately, I hear from many workers that they did not receive salaries for February, which affects their ability to survive,” he said, noting that there are no official reports yet on the state of the economy.
“The price of fuel has risen by 20%, food is scarce. There are stores that are already raising the prices of goods and food. It's also a big issue for us as a union.”
The war has more or less put a halt to union activity. Andreyev says that at the beginning of the war, everyone was sitting in shelters because of the heavy bombings.
“On Monday, I ordered the union staff to stay at home because transport isn’t working, and I took my family to the [Moldovan] border,” he said. “Now we are going back to organize shelters for all those who are moving from east to west.”
However, Andreyev’s worries do not end with the war.
“I am concerned about how people will be able to make a living, work, eat, heat their apartments and how the infrastructure will be operated, and in general how the economy will exist if there is no income,” he said.
“So far in eastern Ukraine, it is impossible to negotiate with employers at all. We must demand that employers pay the February salaries, and only then will we move on to the humanitarian missions of how to sustain people during this difficult time.”
Andreyev is updated on the news and is shocked by the devastation and severe impact of the war on civilians. He says that he received inquiries from union members through social media.
“Right now, our focus is on the situation of our members,” Andreyev said. “We've been communicating with them [via social media] to see what people currently need.”
The Construction Workers’ Union sees the immense amount of destruction that has been caused and the role that the union will have in rebuilding the country after the war.
“Of course, on the second day, while we were crying about the devastation, we also joked that the construction workers would be the first to return to work when the war will be over,” he said.
But Andreyev does not seem to have any thoughts about rebuilding at this point.
“It will take time to return to a routine in which basic needs are met. Unfortunately, a lot of infrastructure was destroyed, a lot of schools, kindergartens. That will be the main focus in the first stage of rebuilding.”
Andreyev fears for his life, saying that the prevailing uncertainty is enormous. He may be drafted into the army following the implementation of conscription for all men. He considers himself a leader, deciding to return from the Moldovan border to Ukraine to take care of workers' affairs instead of fleeing the country.
“Now we have to save the country,” he said. “We are very afraid of a massacre that could come after the Russians seize Ukraine.”
Workers of the world unite? Not just yet
The trade unions in this region identify with the countries in which they operate, and there is no connection between the unions in Russia and Ukraine. A statement by the Russian trade unions expressed full support for Putin, and called Ukrainians “Nazis.”
“These are not real unions,” and we hope that the International Trade Union Confederation will accept our requests to remove them from the international organization,” Andreyev said.
He goes on that he thinks that Karl Marx’s statement “workers of the world unite” loses significance during war, as people take the sides of their countries.
“There have been discussions within various unions that say that the solidarity between workers should exist above Russia and above NATO, but currently there is an existential matter of survival here,” he explained. “When 2,500 kilograms of ballistic missiles are flying into your house, you don’t think about a world revolution, but rather how to survive, what to eat and how to keep the kids warm, and then find a job to sustain life.
“We are now seeing the first phase of support and solidarity from European trade unions that are providing us with assistance in Poland and Moldova. Of course, we will use our internal capabilities and the resources that we have to help workers as well,” Andreyev continued. “Unfortunately, the situation will only get worse. We expect an increase in informal work, low salaries and poor conditions. But we have known how to fight these phenomena in the past, and we will know how to fight them in the future as well.”
When asked what he expects his role to be going forward, he replies that he cannot see beyond tomorrow.
“There is total mobilization here,” he said. “I will assist with what is needed for my country, for the workers, and not only for the construction workers, but for all the workers who need aid and shelter.”
There are extensive ties between Ukraine and Israel. Many Ukrainian construction workers work in Israel.
“I fully understand your situation, that you regularly need an army to deal with threats and attacks around the whole country,” Andreyev said about Israel. “I hope we’ll never have to talk about how to get people out of dangerous situations from a military angle. I want our war to be on better working conditions for workers. If there is any way to help the Ukrainian workers who are currently fleeing the war, it will be through acts of solidarity.”
This article was translated from Hebrew by Benji Sharp.