By Olivia Preston and Sujany Baleswaran
With conflicts arising, and more than 3 million Ukrainians fleeing their country as a result of the Russian invasion, Europe is witnessing the biggest refugee crisis in decades. Crossing borders to neighbouring countries such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania, EU countries have welcomed tens or hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, whilst other countries such as the UK government has taken on a more hesitant approach to migrants. That is until launching a new website for people to host the refugees in their own homes, which was met with an overwhelming response, with more than *122,000 households registered in the first two days. We spoke to Tatiana Kononenkova, a Ukrainian immigration attorney with partners all over Europe, and delved into the legals changes the world is witnessing and the future of Ukraine.
Believe in yourself, see opportunities in your life and take them with confidence.
With your firm based in Odessa, what does this refugee crisis mean for Europe and the world? What are your thoughts on the differing responses to the Ukrainian crisis?
No one wants a war – Ukrainians want to live peacefully in their country, have stability, their homes, work, and stay with their loved ones at home. Of course, any crisis, economical, financial, social-demographical or military-political, begins in one country, but it can influence neighbouring countries and as a result the whole world.
Ukraine must build her independence and develop it – the priorities are the Ukrainian border, Ukrainian territory, Ukrainian language, and the course to Europe with or without NATO. For many years politicians saw Russia as a “brother country”, they did not build their own country, military, and independent system.
We are negotiating with western countries every day that are supporting Ukraine now, so everything will depend on how US and EU countries can prevent the actions from Russia. We have received a lot of help from western countries and we are thankful for their support and sanctions against Putin and Russia.
Each country decides how many refugees they can take in. Poland welcomed over one million Ukrainians, helping them to settle into their new lives, providing them with food, clothes and shelter. According to UNHCR data neighbouring countries such as Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania accepted hundreds of thousands of people into their countries.
More recently, Germany has started accepting refugees with a set number of 123 000. Norway have also started to work on this but processes are always going to be delayed due to rules and regulations that they need to make according to the law. I believe the UK will also set aside their politics and take in more refugees with time.
How does immigration law change for emergency situations like this, and how has your business been affected?
We have adopted the martial law in Ukraine, for 30 days from the date the Russians started the war, on 24th of February 2022. The President of Ukraine, Vladimir Zelensky, has prolonged this law for 30 days more. The parliament has adopted tax reforms that includes less taxes for businesses and entrepreneurs. People that have lost a job, because of the war, will have support from the state. Of course, it is the beginning of reforms. If the war takes more time, we will need more.
Western countries adapted their law to take in refugees, making easy procedures with visa, migration questions, help, getting weapons and making sanctions against Russians enterprises and oligarchs.
In my own business, I see a lot of changes right now. My business was concentrated mostly for businesswomen
and people that would like to create new markets, opening companies, and making documents. Now we have stopped projects that we were dealing with. I will try to find new spheres or services.
Over 2 million refugees have left Ukraine and are seeking shelter elsewhere, what does the future look like for them from a legal perspective?
From a legal perspective we can see that refugees will divide into three groups.
First group of refugees will try to live on social help. There are people from different nations and countries that are living in Ukraine. So, they have other people and homes that they can fall back on.
The second group of refugees will want to get a work permit and start work in a new country, have income and pay taxes. These people will adopt themselves to a new home.
The third group of refugees will be temporary. When the war finishes, they will come back to Ukraine.
In my opinion, if this war lasts longer than we expect, it will be harder for people, countries, and refugees to return to Ukraine. The future will be heavily influenced by politics and the situation in other countries.
What was the catalyst behind your decision to specialise in immigration law?
Immigration law gives you additional opportunities, such as permits to stay in another country, citizenship, education, work, to set up a business and various other prospects. It is not only an opportunity for you but also for your family and children.
We live in a world of conflicts, just like Ukraine and Russia. We need to see and analyse all minuses that can happen, for example, if countries do not stop the war against Ukraine, it can lead to not only economic consequences for Ukraine and the world but also a refugee crisis in Europe. Immigration law is always prevalent.
My clients come to me with their goals, and I am always happy to help them – it is close to my heart. When I help couples stay together, when I do permits for work, advise them, I’m helping clients create a better life with a myriad of opportunities in another country. I like to find a unique solution to every client’s request. It is an honour to help them and see the development of their life through legal documents.
What was your inspiration for starting up your own law firm, Kononenkova Partners?
After the juridical academy, I had a practice in an international firm in Ukraine. We hosted a conference where we invited our partners from all over the globe, the UK, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, just to name a few. I was so inspired by this firm and its international relationships that I started to dream about creating my own company and growing it to an international level.
In 2008, I started working as a lawyer in a Ukrainian legal union. When the owner decided to close the firm, I knew I wanted to carry on, so I became one of the owners and directors of the company in 2009. We planned to work in the national market, but with monetary problems in Ukraine, it was challenging. I did a lot of practice, working in various places, had a practice abroad, developed contacts, and in 2021 I decided to start my attorney practice with Kononenkova Partners.
What do you hope women learn from your business journey?
Women should follow their dreams and embrace their personalities. It takes time to find yourself and to find your purpose, but you will never regret that you followed your dream. I am in an environment of businesswomen and entrepreneurs, and I see how much time, power and resources they put into their business.
When you really want to achieve something with all your heart, you will make it happen. I followed my dream of leading an international company, even when people did not believe it was possible. If women follow this mindset, they will create a new world for themselves. Believe in yourself, see opportunities in your life and take them with confidence. You deserve it!
How has your business had to adapt during the pandemic and beyond?
My business has shifted to predominately online. I divide my time to do tasks online, sometimes 24/7 if I need to. We are moving to a virtual world where we need to spend more time online, no matter where we are, and we need to be ready for new challenges.
What advice would you give to women wanting to embark on a career in law?
If you choose to pursue a career in law, be aware that it will not be easy. You will not get perfect cases straightaway – popularity and cases in High Court come with time and a lot of work. You need to be ready to spend hours studying, advancing your career, gaining your attorney license and hours of practice. You need to be able to prioritise and manage your time, and you will have difficult days where your private and social life is non-existent.
It’s always best to start your law career at a young age, so you can open more doors and choose what is right for you. You need to be open-minded, learn languages and do international practice to expand your knowledge. Learning is key – visit conferences and become a member of law organisations. You do not need to be the famous attorney in your state, you just need to be true to yourself.
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
I wish I knew more about positives and setbacks in legal business and opportunities, for example how to create new fields in law, how to choose your speciality quickly. I am the first attorney in my family, so my sphere is new, and I wish I had a good mentor in my early years in law to guide me towards my goals.
*Figures at the time of publishing and increasing