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“Finding courage to start all over was tough”. Businesses across Ukraine adapt to wartime challenges

Uncertainty and disrupted electricity, heating and water supplies are just a few points from the long list of problems which businesses in Ukraine have to face and adapt to due to the war. They look for other ways of working, new value chains, markets and clients, and not least possibilities to work during blackouts.

©DRC Ukraine, November 2022, Ivano-Frankivsk, Olena Vysokolian.

Posted on 26 Apr 2023

The war in Ukraine continues to impact communities and threaten the lives of millions of people. Active hostilities frequently target eastern and southern parts of the country, with a growing number of reported attempts by civilians to leave the hard-hit areas. Escalation in conflict has dangerously affected the critical infrastructure and sectors (housing, construction, transport, trade, manufacturing, agriculture, etc.) and led to an economic downturn of 32 %.   

Many Ukrainians who are internally displaced and finding themselves in new surroundings decided to explore opportunities to rethink and relaunch their business, production, shops or cafés in safer western Ukraine. Their initiatives are treasured and important as every new business means new and much-needed jobs.

As of today, DRC helps internally displaced and conflict-affected people through redesigned activities under the Livelihoods Assistance Programme. The Programme aims at ensuring access to income generation via support to self-employment, and cooperation with the private business sector, contributing to the vocational education sector, as well as advocacy and legal services for IDPs and the conflict-affected population throughout Ukraine.  

Rubizhne Hosiery Manufacturer relaunched in western Ukraine.  ©DRC Ukraine, November 2022, Ivano-Frankivsk, Olena Vysokolian.

Rubizhne Hosiery Manufacturer relaunched in western Ukraine. ©DRC Ukraine, November 2022, Ivano-Frankivsk, Olena Vysokolian.

Hosiery factory from eastern Ukraine resumed production in Lviv

Since 1946, the USSR hosiery manufacturer in Rubizhne in eastern Ukraine (now, a non-government-controlled area) created about 1,000 jobs. “However, in the 1990s it started collapsing and paid workers with socks and other products it produced,” says Oleh Misurenko who repaired the machinery at the Manufacturer back then and received socks instead of money for his job. Oleh and his brother Hennadii tried to sell those socks to make for leaving but then realised they could start their own hosiery business. Hence, they bought a couple of machines and launched their own Manufacturer called Rubizhne Hosiery Manufacturer.

“He knitted, I sewed. We produced socks but understood that we could not work like that for a long time. The demand was huge. We bought more machinery and started hiring employees,” says Hennadii.

Year after year, their business grew. They took loans, bought additional equipment and became one of the largest hosiery manufacturers in Ukraine. At the beginning of 2022, Rubizhne Hosiery Manufacturer had about 100 machines and over 160 employees who produced more than 200 types of products. In February 2022, Olga, the Commercial Director of Rubizhne Hosiery Manufacturer, was in Lviv searching for the premises to relocate at least part of the production as they feared what was about to happen. The war broke out earlier than they could transport and rescue any of their equipment.

“There were machines packed and ready for shipping, but the sudden offensive made the transportation impossible,” says Olha. “Finding the courage to start all over was tough as we could not rescue machines, equipment or materials. There were massive piles of ready products that were stolen.” 

Fortunately, the shipment of three containers with threads from India was postponed and they did not reach Rubizhne. They were delivered to Lviv in western Ukraine and became an impetus to resume production. Moreover, international funds and partners helped to buy knitting machinery and other equipment to restore the operation of the enterprise. DRC was among the organisations that helped the production to start up again. 

The relaunched manufactory can provide with jobs 17 workers who left Rubizhne after the war outbreak. They also start employing new workers but to have well-qualified specialists, the company needs to educate them for years. “The worst thing is that we lost the team because of the war,” adds Hennadii.

Step by step, the company plans to become self-sufficient, having established work in several shifts. Previous business customers are ready to load production with orders at 100%. Despite having a production capacity that is currently five times smaller than it was in eastern Ukraine, the company remains ambitious and plans to restore its three brands fully. Additionally, they aim to promote a new brand of sports socks to further their growth.

A café in western Ukraine was launched by an internally displaced entrepreneur.  ©DRC Ukraine, November 2022, Ivano-Frankivsk, Olena Vysokolian.

A café in western Ukraine was launched by an internally displaced entrepreneur. ©DRC Ukraine, November 2022, Ivano-Frankivsk, Olena Vysokolian.

Opening of a new café in Ivano-Frankivsk

Yulia owns a café based in Sloviansk town in eastern Ukraine. The café ProstoKava (Just Coffee) worked there until April 9, 2022, but due to the escalation of hostilities, Yulia and the employees fled to western Ukraine for safety.

“At first, we thought that the battles would end quickly, but months passed, and we realised that it was time to resume business in another city. Moreover, we were able to evacuate the baking equipment thanks to the state business relocation programme,” says Yuliya.

She found the new premises in Ivano-Frankivsk city—a space with pink walls and a black ceiling where the pub was located before. However, a few layers of white paint and the look of the rooms changed drastically to welcome the clients.

A grant helped to purchase the necessary coffee equipment, as well as the filters for water purification. “Before we rented professional coffee equipment so to have our own is a great relief. Also, the cost of water delivery is almost three times higher than it was in Sloviansk, so we decided to install stationary filters,” tells Yulia. In addition, a grant allowed to purchase of a power generator that enables the café to operate during power outages and provide support to those who need to charge their electronic devices such as phones or laptops.

Yuliya adds that the café in eastern Ukraine is also resuming work gradually, as far as the security situation allows.

Dried apple chips - a product of the company based in western Ukraine.©DRC Ukraine, November 2022, Ivano-Frankivsk, Olena Vysokolian.

Dried apple chips - a product of the company based in western Ukraine. ©DRC Ukraine, November 2022, Ivano-Frankivsk, Olena Vysokolian.

Production of dried foods was re-equipped to meet the challenges of wartime

Dried berries, fruits and vegetables are the main specialisation of Agroecotechnologies company in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. The war has disrupted the primary sales channels of the business, which used to supply large quantities of dry goods to partners in cities heavily impacted by missile attacks. Moreover, a substantial amount of products have been lost in territories that are now under non-government control.

Nevertheless, the company tries to increase — to cut costs and continue to work even with power outages they equipped an enterprise with a wood-fired dryer.

“I believe that there are lots of new opportunities as many niches are free now and we may fill them with our products. A grant from the DRC helped us purchase the carts with shelves necessary for the premised with a new dryer. We stick to high standards, so we needed expensive stainless-steel equipment,” says Natalia, a company manager.

A company dries mostly local products to reduce logistics costs. In addition to retail trade, large batches of berries, for example, Agroecotechnologies supplies to Ukrainian confectionery factories. Moreover, they recently launched the production of dry soups which may be handy for those on travel or who suffer from regular blackouts.

"We want to sell more dried vegetables. For instance, when hot water is added, dried cabbage restores and looks almost fresh. We try to explain it to various managers of canteens. They have funds for the purchase of seasonal vegetables which spoil quickly. On the opposite, dried ones can be stored for a very long time," emphasises Nataliya.

At present, they employ 12 people and have intentions of recruiting 8 more to provide employment opportunities to those who have been displaced from the battle areas.

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