15:42 May. 10, 2016
It remains unclear how far any benefits of the trade pact might carry beyond the western edge of Ukraine
Before gliding along trails or sliding down slopes, many of the world's skis start at this bustling, sprawling factory in western Ukraine.
Here, skilled machinists combine wobbly ribbons of carbon fiber and thin sheets of stiff titanium, stacking them like cake layers, and then heat-pressing, shaping and polishing them into finished slats for cross-country or downhill use.
Here, too, craftworkers steam and bend wood into the sticks used by hockey players around the world under brand names that include Nike and Oxelo.
The factory's Austrian owner, Fischer Sports, pays employees the equivalent of about 7 a month on average — perhaps one-eighth the amount that skilled woodworkers and machinists might earn in Fischer's home country.
And since January, when a new free-trade pact between Ukraine and the 28-country European Union took effect, Fischer's costs have been further reduced by the elimination of tariffs on the machinery and raw materials flowing into the country and the finished goods that are shipped back out.
The pay may seem paltry by Western standards, but the factory's 1,500 workers tend to see the jobs as an opportunity. Ukraine is one of the Northern Hemisphere's poorest countries, with an economy that generates less than ,100 a year per person.
"Europe is our future," said Yuri V. Oros, a machinist on the ski line.
But that future is clouded by Ukraine's recent troubled past, the country's hostilities with Russia and the nationalism now threatening the solidarity of the European Union. In a recent nonbinding Netherlands referendum, for example, nearly two-thirds of Dutch voters urged their government to rescind its support of the Ukraine pact.