‘We work whatever the cost’: Ukrainian trade unionists tell of life on frontline

From working under missile fire to delivering humanitarian aid, Ukrainian workers today told of the heroic sacrifices they have made to keep their country running since Russia’s illegal invasion.

Women and men working in all sectors of the Ukrainian economy shared moving personal testimonies about their experience of the war during an online event held by the European Trade Union Confederation and International Trade Union Confederation to mark the first anniversary of the invasion.

The testimonies from the members of the ETUC’s affiliates in Ukraine, the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) and the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU), included:

- A worker from the Azovstal iron and steel works, which was the centre of Ukrainian resistance during the siege of Mariupol, who lost more than 100 colleagues

- A train driver who described evacuating hundreds of thousands of people despite railway lines being blocked by tanks and trains coming under fire from Russian aircraft

- A nuclear power worker undergoing rehabilitation after being injured on the frontline 

- A teacher whose school was occupied by Russian troops, who destroyed and stole equipment

- A utilities worker whose colleague was killed while repairing a dam attacked by Russian missiles

Full details of the testimonies can be found below. The event also heard from trade union members across the rest of Europe who have been providing humanitarian support for their sisters and brothers in Ukraine.

Trade unions in neighbouring countries have provided accommodation and supplies to people fleeing the war, while those in the rest of Europe have spent hundreds of thousands of Euro buying and delivering humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Full details of solidarity actions can be found here.

ETUC General Secretary Esther Lynch said:

“The powerful testimonies we heard today from Ukrainian workers were humbling and typical of the immense courage and determination shown by the Ukrainian people over the last year.

“Today we mark the unwavering solidarity of the trade union movement with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. We are with you for as long as it takes.

“Working people always suffer in conflict and the pursuit of peace is a fundamental trade union value, an essential condition to secure safety, social justice and workers’ and human rights.

"Our call is clear: Russia must end its war of aggression.”


Yuriy Doroshenko: Chairman of the Trade Union Committee of "Azovstal" iron and steel works:

“We had about 14,000 workers but already on the 24th of February, 20 of our workers died. I managed to get out of the besieged city together with my family on the 4th of March.

“When we restored connections, we started providing assistance to our union members. First and foremost, we started gathering information about the surviving union members. Unfortunately, 106 union members were killed, a lot were wounded and over 2000 people were missing.

“We organised recuse operations. We helped women to leave Ukraine, to flee the war. We have been providing legal advice and consultations and also providing help in securing health care, and also continue our efforts to stop the labour legislation undertaken by the government.”

Mr Maksym Moskalets: Train driver, head of the Poltava Regional Association of KVPU:

“I have been working on the railway from the very first day of the evacuation. There were tanks which blocked the railway lines, there were aircraft shooting my colleagues. We had a lot of difficult situations.

“But of course, the railway is the strategic enterprise: we have to work whatever the cost. We have to evacuate people and in the first day of the war we evacuated hundreds of thousands of people from the most dramatic and difficult places. We had a situation where we had a carriage for 50 people, and we transported 500 people in those carriages because a lot of people needed to escape.”

Pavlo Prudnikov: Deputy Chairman of the Trade Union of Nuclear Energy and Industry Workers of Ukraine, member of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

“Despite the fact I never served in the army, and I was a civilian and trade union activist, I thought it was my civil duty to become a soldier in the armed forces of Ukraine. In August, on the front line, I sustained a heavy injury and had two surgeries. I’ve never been to Germany before, and I could never imagine that trade union solidarity would ever bring me here.

“German trade union BCE, from our industrial family, when they learned about my trauma, found one of the best rehabilitation facilities in Germany and found assistance for my family and this is why I’m talking to you from here. I’ve been to many trade union meetings to speak about solidarity, but it was quite theoretical for me. But now I can concretely I can give you my example of trade union solidarity.

“This is day 366 of the war for us. We in the nuclear trade unions of Ukraine, even if we’re in the hinterland, we are on the frontline. Because we are responsible for nuclear safety and we find ourselves in unprecedented circumstances of Russian aggression with the regular army of a foreign state, for the very first time in history, trampled on all international agreements, captured, seized nuclear atomic stations and forced our personal to work without breaks, without rest, humiliating our staff, threatening with punishments.

“Anyone who knows anything about nuclear energy knows safety in a nuclear power station depends on the human factor to at least 60%. What kind of safety can we talk about in this situation? What should we do? What should the trade unions do in this situation? We need to remember that we represent the interests of a colossal number of people and our weapon is solidarity first and foremost.”

Liudmyla Bei: Member of free trade unions of education and science:

“Our city was occupied and during occupation the Russian soldiers were destroying enterprises, destroying buildings and they lived in the school where I work. They quartered here and stole a lot of equipment. They destroyed a lot of equipment.

“For a few weeks me and my child were hiding in the basement during the strikes. We couldn’t leave and go into town. It wasn’t possible because the soldiers were grabbing people from the street. Sometimes they took people from their homes. They humiliated people, they tortured people. A number of people from our city are still missing.

“My mother and my children were able to leave the occupied territories through a humanitarian corridor. When we were trying to escape, we were threatened with guns, with tanks. They aimed their guns at our children. But we were able to escape. For a few months after that we lived in Germany. We are extremely grateful to Germany. In September we came back home and, despite the fact that the Russian troops are only 35km from us and carry out strikes on the border area daily, we believe in our victory.”

Vitaliy Kvach: Head of the primary trade union organization of the Kryvbasvodokonal utility company:

“This company is providing drinking water a city of 600,000 people. It is not a city that was subject to battles, but we still have to conduct our work in very dangerous conditions. We are in danger because we are constantly shot by the missiles of the Russian Federation. They try to shell critical infrastructure all the time. On the 14th of September 2022, ballistic missiles were hitting our city and they were trying to destroy the critical infrastructure of the drinking water and, as a result of seven missile hits, part of the water damn was destroyed, and 112 houses were flooded.

“People were evacuated and instead of a centralized water supply we ended up delivering water to different community centres. However, we managed to rebuild the dam because otherwise we would have had an emergency with the flooding of more than 150,000 people. Unfortunately, while we were repairing the damn, Russia shot us again while people were working there and some of our people have suffered and ended up in hospital and unfortunately one person died. During this aggression, we have 80 people who were wounded and 22 people died.”

Dmytro Yarotskyi: Miner and head of the organization of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine at mine "Chervonogradska":

“I work in a mine underground and despite the circumstances we continue to work and we are moving towards our goal. Our mine has always been a difficult one, it’s always had problems and since the invasion the problems have only become greater. I estimate that 30% of our personnel are now mobilised in our armed forces. The job used to be done by seven people and now it’s done by four or even three people.

“Also there are no investments in our sector, we’re working with very old equipment. Probably it would be considered to be a museum exhibit in one of your countries. Despite the circumstances miners do not despair. We are rolling up our sleeves, we continue to work to keep the energy front strong and we always find the time when we’re not working to help our guys on the front line. We have organised many volunteer trips to the front line. We try to provide them with the best possible equipment, and we want the victory to come closer.”

Anatolii Dobrovolskyi: Chairman of Kherson Intersectoral Council of Trade Unions:

“Kherson, our city, is shelled every day by the aggressor. At the moment, we have one third of the city destroyed and our trade union building has been shelled as well. For eight months we were under occupation. During the occupation we were under tremendous pressure from the aggressor. They were pushing us to collaborate with them but nobody, not a single member of our trade union, did that. We were all absolutely sure that Kherson would be free again and on the 11th of November we were free.

“During the occupation we were still continuing to do our trade union work. We were helping our members, with humanitarian assistance and other types of assistance for those who needed it most. When Kherson was liberated, we continued to develop our trade union movement but mainly we were doing the support work. Helping those who had no accommodation, no roof over their heads and had no means of surviving.”

Doctor Ms Victoria Romanenko: Representative of the Free Trade Union of Medical Workers of Ukraine from the emergency medical service of Nikopol:

“Our colleagues heroically do their job and provide help to everyone who needs it. They go to work every day and then during the weekend they help with all kinds of volunteer activities. They sew, they make things, they pass it to the frontline in order to bring our victory closer.

“They’re using artillery to intimidate our residents, but the city stands and will never surrender because our people our heroic, our medics are heroic, the members of the free trade union and their heroic colleagues provide medical assistance 24 hours a day to everyone who needs it despite the attacks, despite the missile attacks coming from our neighbours.”

Ivanna Khrapko: Head of the Youth Council of the FPU: 

“This year was extremely difficult for us. We were losing friends, relatives, we were losing homes. We were losing and have lost our peaceful life. But Ukrainians are very strong and self-organising, and the strength of our youth council helped us to self-organise in the first week.

“I remember our early morning trips to the railway station, hundreds of thousands of boxes which were delivered where the humanitarian aid was needed most. Our young trade union members are supporting everyone who works in these difficult conditions.”