Everyone who sees Victor* with his long hair and wrinkled leather coat would sooner say he is an artist than a construction worker from the Western Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi. Perhaps that is the influence of 16 years spent in Belgium. His long journey started in 1998, when it turned out that Victor’s little daughter had health issues and money was needed for her treatment. The construction worker decided to join the French Foreign Legion, and was actually heading to Paris, but on his way learned that due to the World Football Cup then hosted by France, the security measures were very tough. "You would be caught by the first French policeman,” a guy at a railway station in Belgium told him. So, Victor changed his plans. He went to the north of Belgium and for more than 10 years attempted different options to legalize his stay. Victor learnt the Dutch language quite quickly and freelanced as a Russian-language interpreter. All this time, he was sending money to Ukraine to address the different needs of his three children.
One day, Victor completely gave up hope to receive a residence permit in Belgium: “I decided that enough is enough and went to the Ukrainian Consulate.” The consulate staff referred him to IOM Belgium for participation in an Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programme. In addition to IOM covering Victor’s travel costs, he was prompted to draft a business plan for his reintegration and completed this assignment while still in Belgium.
In Chernivtsi, Victor’s brother-in-law buys land for construction and builds private houses for sale. So, Victor decided to join and support this business. IOM paid for the clearing of a construction site and purchased an electric generator, compressor, extension cord, and a projector so that construction work now can continue after dark. Moreover, IOM covered the costs of driver’s courses for Victor and bought a fridge, a stove, a washing machine and a vacuum cleaner to cover his basic needs.
Victor and his relatives invested in building a cottage for sale. Construction works were partially supported by IOM
Victor also job shares near Kyiv, looking after the local property of a Belgian businessman whom he met while still abroad. “Belgium will always be a part of my life,” he says.
“Nobody working abroad tells their relatives everything about all the hardships, so people are influenced by the myths that everything is fantastic there,” Victor shares his thoughts with us when talking about his reintegration in Ukraine, which turned into an absolutely different country over the 16 years he was away. “I am always following my feelings. This is also why I had no doubts about IOM’s assistance from the first time I visited IOM’s office in Brussels. There is always a possibility to find a way if you really want it, since your life is what you make of it.”
*The name has been changed to protect privacy.