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Ukrainian women in a Pret kitchen

Pret A Manger has hired 250 Ukrainian refugees as part of its employment programme to support people fleeing the war.

Launched in April 2022, Pret’s Ukraine Employment Programme offers refugees arriving in the UK job opportunities at Pret shops through its charity arm, The Pret Foundation.

Most people employed on the programme are women whose partners and families have stayed in Ukraine, some to fight in the war and others because they are unable to flee the country.

Alongside employment, the programme provides a variety of additional support to help refugees find their feet and settle into their new jobs at Pret. This includes help with travel costs to and from work and vouchers to buy household items, plus one-to-one counselling. English language tuition is also available, as is support with finding accommodation through The Pret Foundation’s network of charity partners, Pret said.

The programme is led by Viktoria Bertics, a Ukrainian general manager who has worked at Pret for 17 years and previously managed several different shops both in the West End and City of London. When war broke out in her home country, she was seconded from her role at Pret High Holborn to head up the project.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

Alina, a Ukrainian woman, behind the counter at Pret

Alina Yefimenko, who is 38 years old, is among the women employed on the programme, currently working front-of-house at Pret’s Chancery Lane shop. Originally from Zaporizhzhia in south eastern Ukraine, she was a yoga instructor and owned her own business in Kyiv before the Russian invasion, and now lives with a sponsor family in Bexleyheath.

“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,” Yefimenko said.

“But Viktoria, my manager and my team have been very supportive, showing me kindness and treating me with respect. They help me to be strong and I find it like ‘job therapy’. Now I feel more independent, my English is improving with the 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. Pret also donated proceeds from the sale of several products including 50p from two bestselling baguettes in April last year, 10p from soups for the rest of 2022 and most recently 50p from Pret’s Christmas Lunch sandwich, Festive Falafel & Squash Sandwich and Hog Roast Mac & Cheese.

Pano Christou, Pret CEO and trustee of The Pret Foundation, praised Bertics and her team for the work they had done in getting processes up and running, facilitating English lessons and providing financial and mental health support for Ukrainians.

“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,” he added.