Pret A Manger has employed 250 Ukrainian refugees as part of a programme to help people who have fled because of the ongoing conflict with Russia.

Pret’s Ukraine Employment Programme was launched in April following the Russian invasion and offers job opportunities at Pret shops to refugees arriving in the UK through its charity arm, The Pret Foundation.

The programme has provided a lifeline to woman whose partners and families have remained in Ukraine, either fighting in the war or unable to leave.

The vast majority of those working on the programme are women whose partners and families have remained in Ukraine, some to fight in the war, others because they are unable to flee the country.

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Less than a year after starting, a number of the women have advanced to positions such as chefs, baristas, and front-of-house staff, serving customers at more than 100 locations across the country.

Some have already advanced to become kitchen and front-of-house team leaders, and two will begin an assistant manager training programme this year.

Along with employment, the programme offers a range of services to help refugees find their feet and settle into their new jobs at Pret.

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This includes assistance with transportation to and from work, vouchers for household items, and one-on-one counselling.

English language classes are also available, as is assistance with finding housing through The Pret Foundation’s network of charity partners.

Viktoria Bertics, a Ukrainian General Manager who has worked at Pret for 17 years and previously managed several different shops in the West End and the City of London, is in charge of the programme.

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When war broke out, Viktoria wanted to help and was seconded from her position at Pret High Holborn to lead the project.

She said: “I’m extremely proud of every single person on the programme and the feedback from shop managers has been fantastic – a testament to the Ukrainians’ hard work and dedication in the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

“While they are enjoying their new jobs and feel grateful for the opportunity Pret has given them, it’s becoming much harder to cope with being away from their partners and families, many of whom stayed to fight in Ukraine or couldn’t leave. As the war goes on, we will continue supporting them in every way possible.”

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Alina Yefimenko, 38, is one of the women working on the programme.

She works in the front-of-house at Pret in High Holborn.

She is originally from Zaporizhzhia in south-eastern Ukraine, and before the Russian invasion, she was a yoga instructor and owned her own business in Kyiv.

She now lives with a sponsor family in Bexleyheath.

Alina said: “At first, I found it stressful coming into work and it was hard to deal with the emotional side knowing so many Ukrainians are suffering back home.

“But Viktoria, my manager and my team have been very supportive, showing me kindness and treating me with respect.

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“They help me to be strong and I find it like ‘job therapy’.

“Now I feel more independent, my English is improving with studying and talking to customers, and I have built lots of new relationships with people.

“I’m very grateful to Pret for the support they’ve given me.”

The programme was set up following The Pret Foundation’s initial donation of £50,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal in March 2022.

Chief executive Pano Christou said: “Through The Pret Foundation, we’ve had a long history of supporting refugees into employment at our shops, playing a small part in helping those fleeing war-torn countries.

“Viktoria and her team have done a phenomenal job in making our Ukraine Employment Programme a success, getting processes up and running in a matter of weeks to employ Ukrainian refugees in our shops, facilitate English lessons, and provide financial and mental health support.

“It’s been an absolute privilege to see those on our programme become part of the Pret family and I’m hugely grateful for their hard work and dedication even through the toughest of circumstances.”

SourceRetail Gazette

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