Ukrainians finding work through Red Cross’ employment service

13 May 2024

Lack of New Zealand work experience hasn’t stopped Olga Sorokina getting administrative work.  

Olga and her daughter Kseniia arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand eight months ago carrying just their backpacks. They were the last of her immediate family to leave Crimea – a Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia.  

Olga is now employed in Tāmaki Makaurau | Auckland as Assistant to the former Chief Executive for Belong Aotearoa – a non-government organisation supporting the wellbeing of a wide range of migrants.  

While Olga says her job hunt wasn't easy, she offers the following encouragement to other job seekers.   

“Don’t lose hope, constantly stay in close contact with Red Cross. Don’t be shy to remind them about you. Try and apply for every position on offer because even trying is gaining knowledge.” 

Since July 2023, our Pathways to Employment – Ukraine team has supported a total of 84 Ukrainians across Auckland, Napier, Raglan, Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin and the West Coast. Nearly half are studying to improve their English, one is in a volunteer position and 26 have found employment.   

Olga’s story  

Olga is an experienced administrator with previous experience with large companies in the United States and Ukraine. Her primary focus when she arrived was to find work to support herself and her 16-year-old daughter.   

The transition from Ukraine to Aotearoa New Zealand meant uprooting from everything familiar. Olga arrived here on the Special Ukraine Visa which allows sponsorship by family members living in this country. 

Her brother has lived here for many years and has an established business. “Once the war started, we started to think what we must do to save our lives,” says Olga. Several family members arrived ahead of her. Olga and 16-year-old Kseniia stayed longer to close the family blind manufacturing business and sell as much stock as they could.  

With her brother’s house full of relatives, Olga began looking for a place to rent – and a job. She remembers the difficulties with understanding procedures and systems in the first few months after arriving. “You need a bank account and to get that you need proof of address, and you need an IRD number to be able to get a job. There were lots of dead-end cycles in those first months.”

Olga persevered. Through searches on Ukrainian and Russian speaking online platforms, she found an apartment advertised by a property owner in Auckland.  

Next on the list was a job. She knew she was lucky being a fluent English speaker with varied experience including work as a translator and production management, but it wasn’t easy. Olga says she had quite a few rejections because she didn’t have New Zealand work experience. “Some moments I’d feel a failure, and helpless that no one will look at you, or your experience.” 

Support from New Zealand Red Cross employment services 

Our Pathways to Employment-Ukraine programme launched with a community event in Auckland, in July 2023. It was there Olga met Rebecca Ross, our Programme Manager and Employer Liaison, Andrew Sknar and asked for support.  

The team helped Olga to focus her CV. At the same time, former Belong Aotearoa Chief Executive, Rochana Sheward had been in touch as she needed an office administrator. Encouraged by our team, Olga sent her CV to the organisation’s human resources section for assessment. Subsequently, she was interviewed twice and then selected. “If it wasn’t for Rebecca, I don’t think I would have been interviewed," says Olga.  

Adapting to Aotearoa New Zealand's work environment 

It’s been a sharp learning curve for Rochana and Olga but five months on Olga has settled in and knows her role. Rochana says she’s benefited from Olga’s “problem solving and organisational skills – and her good sense of humour”.  

For Olga, employment means the world to her, and she loves the diversity of the organisation. She admits the first few months were challenging, and has been grateful to her colleagues for being open to questions and their willingness to help.  

“I have found New Zealanders to be really welcoming and ready to help with everyone eager to do something for you or provide advice - helping you understand where to go.” 

“I feel safe here. I am not worried for ourselves now but I worry for people back home. I noticed it took me about three months to stop shaking and being afraid of sounds in the sky – my daughter took even longer.” 

On employers’ requirements for prospective employees, Rochana says, “we seem to be hung up on having New Zealand experience. I think commercial companies leading in diversity and still seeing a lack of work experience in New Zealand as negative, is still our number one challenge. Migrants have to get a start somewhere”.  

She encourages employers to also offer internships so job seekers can start getting the experience they need.  

“They bring in fresh thinking, adding value, not just diversity of culture but diversity of thought adds value to the team and the way we work,” says Rochana. 

More information

  • If you are a former refugee and looking for work, we may be able to help.
    Finding a job. 
  • If you're looking for work, Ukrainian and arrived in New Zealand since 1 January 2022, or a sponsor family, you can contact our Pathways to Employment – Ukraine, Employer Liaison. You can contact Andrew in English, Ukrainian or Russian.
  • If you're interested in hiring people with a refugee background, contact us.
    Employing refugees
    Some of the donations to our Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal support our Pathways to Employment – Ukraine programme. Funds received have also enabled us to send two specialist delegates to the region and support our partners working on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries, providing support to millions of people in need.  
    Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal
  • Ind out more about how the Red Cross Movement is helping in and around Ukraine.
    Ukraine humanitarian crisis

Header image
: Olga Sorokina (Left) with Rochana Sheward (Right).