Integration through International Environment and Interesting Discoveries - Adaptation Features of a Ukrainian in Basel


Yulia Shevchenko and her family - her husband and preschool-age son- came to work in Switzerland shortly before the start of the full-scale war. The international company where she worked in Ukraine approved her position in Basel.

We learned about how the authorities in Basel assist the adaptation of foreigners, why immigrants and refugees should join international communities, how the lives of Ukrainians in Switzerland changed after the start of the major war, and much more.

Where did you work in Ukraine?

I worked for an international agricultural company. I joined them in the field of science in 2016 and managed four laboratories until 2021.

What was the focus of the company's work in Ukraine, and how did you end up in Switzerland?

It was in the "Plant Protection and Seed" sector. Despite the ongoing war (since 2014), the market developed well until February 22nd.

In mid-2021, I applied for a position within the same company but in Basel. I received confirmation quite a while ago because Switzerland has employment quotas for each canton, depending on the region and the individual. It was challenging to secure a job in Switzerland from Ukraine then.

I wrote justifications, communicated with my future managers, talked about my education, experience, skills, and what made me unique. Eventually, I got through, and in September-October, we began working on the paperwork - translations and apostilles for diplomas and certificate translations. This took 3-4 months.

Finally, we moved on January 8th, and everything was fine for the first two months. Then, the full-scale war began, and things took a turn for the worse.

Did this change your feelings significantly?

Very much so. I remember how we celebrated Christmas just before leaving. Our neighbor is a priest, and he came to greet us. We sang carols, it was very warm and lovely, and we didn't even want to leave... And now it's complicated for me to plan a visit to Ukraine; I've postponed it three or four times, not only because of the war, although that's a part of it, of course... But more because when I left, there was peace, everyone was happy, celebrating Christmas... And now, everything is different. It's hard to accept this reality. In Ukraine, there is constant shelling; our parents are still there, and my brother became a defender. It's all very tough.

How were your first days in Basel?

According to the contract, I had five days to settle all organizational matters. The company provided a consultant who helped with moving, finding accommodation, obtaining permits and guided us with finding a daycare for our son. We couldn't have managed it all on our own so quickly. The biggest challenge was the language barrier. Here, German is predominantly spoken, although you can switch to English in some institutions, and in others, you can't. Additionally, there's Swiss German, which we still need help understanding even now, despite having learned some formal German. So, the company's assistance was beneficial.

What impressed you the most that week?

I had a one-hour interview with the house owner where we planned to rent an apartment. It was very unusual. The owner used to be the mayor of Riehen, where we live. He's fascinating, having served in that position for 30 years and now retired. His family has been here since the 17th century, and there are nameplates with the name "Fischer" on all the buildings. During that hour, I told him much about myself, including that I would be working and not my husband, which surprised him greatly. I answered many questions about my salary, whether I planned to buy a car, what my parents were doing in Ukraine, and whether someone would come to visit me due to the war (referring to the conflict since 2014). I didn't expect this; it was the most memorable experience of those times. But I've realized that it's a common situation in Switzerland.

Also, I can't help but mention, like many others have, the prices for everything. Now we understand why – we're paying for quality because everything here is done perfectly, literally everything. And it's expensive, but it's still impressive.

What are your overall impressions of Switzerland? Do you feel that your entire family has integrated?

Switzerland is not my first experience living abroad because after completing my biology studies at Taras Shevchenko University, I entered a doctoral program and immediately went to Finland, where I conducted the practical part of my dissertation. So, I had some prior experience.

Basel is an international city; about 40% of the population here are foreigners, and I also work in a global company. Swiss nationals make up no more than 20% of the population here. We have many people from Latin America, the United States, Canada, the UK, and neighboring Germany and France. You don't feel alone when you're in such an international group. International people are very open because they are foreigners themselves. So, I recommend that those who seek social interaction join such communities, as it makes adaptation easier. These groups can be found on social media, and when they organize meetings, they specify which languages will be spoken.

But we also communicate with our neighbors; they often invite us for tea. They want us to integrate. We try to speak German with them. We also have lovely Ukrainian friends in Basel and Zurich. And now, we've started getting to know parents at the playgrounds, so our son is gradually integrating.

How is he adapting?

He has a good command of Swiss German, something my husband and I will never have, and he feels comfortable in kindergarten. He has many friends.

Interestingly, he wasn't immediately accepted into daycare. Initially, he attended for three hours twice weekly to get used to the language and rules. After these preparatory sessions, a review was written for our son, stating that he communicates well, can dress, eats independently, and so on. He had a conversation with the teachers, during which he assessed his strengths and weaknesses, and the teachers also evaluated him. Only then, in August 2021, did he receive a recommendation. My husband and I immediately asked teachers when they would start teaching letters, and we found out it was only in school.

Our son attends a free kindergarten from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Then he's in the extended daycare group until 4 p.m. For this, we buy hourly modules. There, the children have lunch and have a good time, playing on the playground and exploring the city.

How is mealtime organized?

We bring his lunch with us. They provided us with special containers, so everyone has the same type, and there's a list of foods - what's allowed and what's not. At first, we received several comments because we didn't provide lunch since our son wasn't eating it. Then, we placed the food in the wrong container, and then we gave him a candy... Now we've learned, and our son has gradually adjusted - he eats what we provide.

Regarding communication with teachers, they hang folders on the children with letters to parents inside. The child comes, you open the folder, take the letter, and learn about everything. In fact, in different localities, everything is different. Each community, each municipality, and, consequently, each daycare center has its own rules. This is a feature of Switzerland - communities decide how to organize things themselves.

And what about the Swiss people's reserve? You often hear about it.

They don't overly invite or impose communication. Still, if you ask or request something, in most cases, they will tell you everything, guide you, and offer advice. On the streets, people smile, make eye contact, don't turn away, and wait to see if you'll greet them or somehow initiate contact.

With children, it's quite cool: kids from daycare, when they meet in the city, shout to each other, "Misha, hello! Lukas, hello!" It's their way of acknowledging each other: "I see you, hello, here I am!" It's very cute.

As for reserve, I believe the biggest barrier is still language.

So, are you learning standard German?

I attend integration courses. When we moved here, the canton provided vouchers for 80 hours of free German lessons for each of us. We could choose a school or course, online or offline, whichever was convenient. Since my husband wasn't working, he had to take a German test at level A1; otherwise, they wouldn't extend his visa. But no one bothered me. Currently, we're at level A2, and in the fall, we're going for B1. My company also allocated funds for language courses for the whole family. We're looking for a teacher and plan to take the B1 exam.

What changed in Switzerland since the start of the full-scale war?

A lot has changed. For example, when we arrived, we started looking for the Ukrainian community and couldn't find one. There was a Russian school and even a cultural center. Of course, we didn't go there. But now we found the Ukrainian school "Barvinok." It turns out it existed before; it wasn't visible anywhere. Since many moms started looking for a place where their children could continue learning and socializing, the school has expanded, and they even introduced new classes in art and music.

In general, after February 2022, the Swiss actively engaged in helping Ukrainians. They create many initiatives at churches, provide free spaces, and it's possible to gather people there. They teach the German language there, host various meetings, and invite government officials, educators, and employers. A lot is being done for the Ukrainian community in the field of employment.

There are many activities for children, various clubs are emerging, and fairs are being held. Even Ukrainian celebrities come here.

Overall, Basel is very active in integration. After registration, they send invitations to various events in the city and company events where you meet people, and they, in turn, give you a booklet with vouchers for visiting museums, theaters, and more. Everyone tries to ensure that those who arrive don't stay home but integrate and socialize.

From the beginning of the war, it was immediately evident that the locals were willing to help. Almost all my colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances asked how they could help me or my family in Ukraine. Almost none of the Ukrainians lived in shelters at the beginning of the war; people took in refugees until they found accommodation.

We did what we could too – Ukrainians stayed overnight at our place and got oriented, including one family from Mariupol. At some point, the homeowners asked us to help another family they had provided shelter for, and they figured things out faster than we did.

In general, there are very active people among our refugees, and they seem to be the most involved in volunteering and creating community organizations.

But do you have an example of successful employment for Ukrainians who arrived after the start of the war?

I know one girl, thank God, a success story. She's also a scientist. And it's easier for people in academia: you approach professors in your field, talk about your experience, skills, research, and publications, and inquire if they have any openings... My acquaintance worked in the healthcare system and now holds a position at an institute almost in the same field as before. By the way, she now wants to research the mental and physical health of Ukrainians – both those who left and those who stayed, and how it all affected them.

So, I would advise researchers to act similarly – approach the relevant institute, send them a mini-resume, and establish contact.

But there have been cases where people with extensive experience, 15-20 years of work in international companies, couldn't find jobs. Many of them are traumatized, and they need support.

Is there something in Switzerland that Ukraine should implement?

A healthy lifestyle, promoting sports, physical activity, and a connection with nature – that's really great. Also, the ability to make everything beautiful everywhere you go. It's always gorgeous. For example, a park with just 10 trees – they arrange them in a pyramid, place a gnome, and connect a light bulb – is already beautiful. It just comes naturally to them.

Responsibility is another key aspect: responsibility for oneself, one's health, desires, surroundings, and the environment. When my dreams are all about me, not driven by some fashion trends. If I like raising snails or growing tomatoes, I do it. Many people here grow tomatoes, even on their balconies.

Many Swiss people have a sports background: football, hockey, etc. It's strongly supported at all levels. Also, many people play musical instruments and sing. I would like to see all of this become more accessible in Ukraine so that it's instilled from childhood.

Let's hope that Ukrainians who return after the victory will be able to implement many things. Their forced experience will ultimately bring benefits. Thank you for the conversation.

We look forward to your visit.


View More

On our site we use cookies (and these are not cookies), which make it more convenient for each user. By visiting the pages of the site, you agree to our Privacy Policy. For more information on the Policy and what cookies are needed for and how you can stop collecting cookies, click here.