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  • Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war have been employed in roles such as chefs, baristas and front-of-house staff at over 100 Pret shops across the UK

  • Pret’s Ukraine Employment Programme provides financial aid, mental health support and English language tuition alongside job opportunities, primarily to women whose partners and families remain in Ukraine

  • Milestone forms part of The Pret Foundation’s long-standing work to support refugees arriving in the UK into employment

Tuesday 14 February 2022 - Pret A Manger has hired 250 Ukrainian refugees as part of its employment programme set up to support people fleeing the war.

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

The vast majority of those 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.

In less than a year, several of the women have progressed to roles such as chefs, baristas and front-of-house staff serving Pret’s freshly-made food and organic coffee to customers at over 100 shops across the country. Some have already risen to become kitchen and front-of-house team leaders, while two will be starting an assistant manager course this year.

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.

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, Viktoria immediately wanted to help and was seconded from her role at Pret High Holborn to head up 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.”

38-year-old Alina Yefimenko is among the women employed on the programme, currently working front-of-house at Pret’s Chancery Lane shop. Originally fromZaporizhzhia 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.

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. 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 quickly established new donation streams across several popular products, which raised further funds to help more Ukrainian refugees applying for the programme. This included donating 50p from each of its two best-selling 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 and Cheese.

Pano Christou, Chief Executive at Pret A Manger and Trustee of The Pret Foundation, 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.”

The Pret Foundation’s Rising Stars programme served as the blueprint for the Ukraine Employment Programme. Now in its 15th year, the Rising Stars programme helps people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless to secure roles at Pret, while also providing training, counselling, clothing vouchers and travel support to help them maintain their jobs.

It forms part of The Pret Foundation’s work to break the cycle of homelessness, poverty and hunger, which includes employment support for refugees arriving here from countries across the world including Iran, Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka. The Foundation also donates Pret’s unsold freshly made food to those most in need at the end of each day