Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has launched an initiative providing affordable loans to Ukrainians living abroad who wish to return home and start businesses in Ukraine.

Besides Ukrainians living abroad, the program also aims to tap those who wish to emigrate in search of a better life.

“We are launching a new state program ‘Return and stay.’ The first stage comprises affordable loans to private businesses for those wishing either to start or to develop their own business,” the president announced in a video address published on social media on Dec. 3.

Zelensky has announced the initiative in the wake of Ukraine’s emigration crisis. According to the Center for Economic Strategy, 6.3 million Ukrainians left the country between 2002 and 2017.

To solve the problem of mass emigration and to encourage entrepreneurship, Zelensky appealed to Ukrainians worldwide: “Our country needs you a lot – your knowledge, talents and mental values. We really want you to return home.”

Those wishing to obtain loans can count on receiving up to Hr 1.5 million (or about $63,000) with annual rates from 5% to 9%. Smaller businesses and those creating new jobs will get lower rates.

As the emigration problem grows, Zelensky has also targeted those still in Ukraine but mulling the opportunity to leave for good. “We also want very much to stay those, who have – unluckily – thrown in the towel and are planning to leave Ukraine.”

The president stressed in the statement that this initiative was on his mind as one of his inauguration promises was to create conditions inside the country encouraging the diaspora to return.

In 2018, according to ex-Minister of Social Policy Andriy Reva, 3.2 million Ukrainians worked abroad on a constant basis. Millions more toil in foreign countries on a seasonal basis. In total, about nine million Ukrainians were involved in working abroad, Reva said.

The number of Ukrainian emigrants has been rising since the 1990s, when the country plunged into extreme poverty on the one hand and opened the borders for its citizens on the other. The war against Russian-led separatists in the country’s east has spurned the numbers of emigrants to grow even further.

Ukrainians working worldwide transfer billions of dollars into the country annually. In 2018 alone, foreign workers sent $11 billion to their families at home, according to information from the National Bank of Ukraine. World Bank data shows that the figure registered 35% growth compared to 2017 and represented 13.8% of Ukraine’s GDP.

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