PKF hospitality group helps Ukraine refugees

One hopes that the fourth round of talks at Belarus by two sides of the conflict will fire a flicker of hope that 150,000 invading Russian/Belarus troops start returning home


It is encouraging to observe how the European PKF family of firms have quickly reacted to the human catastrophe that is occurring in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The #HospitalityHelps initiative has one single goal: providing temporary hotel accommodation to Ukrainians, who are forced to leave their homes as a result of the war.

The initiative connects families on the run from the war in Ukraine with hotels around Europe that want to help and provide free stays. It covers the provision of free beds with a maximum five nights per reservation currently focused on key cities in Austria, Czechia, Germany, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia – with more to come shortly.

The PKF hospitality sector has stepped up and is playing a role in providing comfort to those who are most distressed.  Michael Widmann, Global CEO of PKF Hospitality Group, based in Vienna, is aware that 1,500,000 people have fled Ukraine.

One such refugee who left her husband behind in Kyiv and after travelling 72 hours by car had to stop for rest in Budapest, where Norbert Lessing, the head of Hilton in Austria had recently reached out to offer help.  After a call from Widmann, Lessing reached out to Peter Knoll, director of the Budapest Hilton, who graciously provided a room for the tired family at no charge.  Widmann wrote that once he saw how easy it was to help families who were on the run from Ukraine by providing hotel accommodations for a few nights for families in similar circumstances.

The response to such humanitarian cause has been strong and more help is being organised. Back home, many have relatives or friends with Ukraine connections and the general feeling is of a tense feeling when they watch in horror, the daily atrocities of this unprovoked Russian invasion.

Last week, the European Commission said it was proposing to activate a temporary directive that would allow people fleeing the war to get a temporary residence and work permit in the EU. Pain, sadness and confusion have swept across social media, with people expressing shock and frustration at the unfolding crisis and mounting casualty count.  Many felt powerless to help.

PKF Malta in conjunction with other European offices is gearing its efforts to provide free hotel accommodation to refugees in European hotels.  More than a million people fled the country – mostly women, often with their children, occasionally also with grandparents.  They are traumatised, they are tired, they fear for their family members left behind including men (of fighting age) who took up arms against this Russian aggression.  Refugees feel helpless, and are hoping others to help them settle away from the war zone.

The UN Refugee Agency has projected that more than four million Ukrainian refugees may eventually need protection and assistance, while the European Union’s crisis management commissioner has said the figure could reach seven million.  Obviously, locally this sad war has elevated mental problems in an unprecedented way such that Lynn Sammut, manager of psychological support services at the Richmond Foundation, said that the OLLI chat started receiving requests for support from people in Ukraine.

She said that they were receiving requests for support from Ukrainians in Malta on OLLI who are worried about their loved ones in Ukraine.  Furthermore, the foundation is also monitoring social media and noticing increases in anxiety levels amongst Maltese who are uncertain about the local repercussions of the war. Ideally, in Malta all workers are comforted by a statement issued by employers which reads: “We’re conscious of the fact that this tragedy might be impacting people in different ways throughout our company, and we want you to know that it’s OK to talk about this.”

Ultimately, this creates a space for conversation, and employees can feel comfortable voicing their concerns (especially if they are personally affected by the crisis) so that the doors are opened for action such as forming a team to collect used clothes, tinned food and raising money to distribute to overseas charities.

One important advice to employees is to avoid a “doom scroll” effect arising out of a fixation on monitoring news of an ongoing crisis. An antidote is essentially a coping mechanism where staff try to gain control over a situation by getting as much information as you can.  One cannot omit to mention that locals who have experienced prior trauma are more likely to experience severe anxiety or distress.

It goes without saying that productivity in Malta will suffer as workers feel distressed watching daily TV broadcasts of the devastating war in Ukraine, not to mention a conflicting barrage of local accusations at the hustings by party stalwarts about alleged corruption, sleaze and widespread cronyism in government.  Such intense political rivalry started raiding the airwaves following the announcement of a 26 March election. Inevitably, this has put many voters on edge.

Surely, as a small neutral island, Malta feels helpless to give assistance and to mediate in reducing the suffering of thousands fleeing the Russian invasion where untrained civilians in Ukraine are forced to bear arms.

The Malta government during the first week of Russian’s air and land bombardments, continued offering the controversial passport scheme (saying not all Russians are bad) but on the seventh of relentless criticism by the EU Parliament, it surreptitiously blocked the issue of Golden Passports to Russian & Belarus applicants.

Be that as it may, life in Malta goes on and one has to grin and bear it.  The source and severity of reactions will differ, but as principals in PKFMALTA we are keen to show care and concern for staff.

A textbook approach would suggest support to employees by reacting to staff workers experiencing real challenges by showing compassion. Create a psychologically safe environment for staff to discuss what they’re experiencing. Encourage workplace conversations about real-world issues affecting employees to strengthen company’s culture and help workers feel supported.

In conclusion, one hopes that the fourth round of talks at Belarus by two sides of the conflict will fire a flicker of hope that 150,000 invading Russian/Belarus troops start returning home.

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