Oleksandr arrived in Vinnytsia in January 2015 with only two bags and after travelling across Ukraine for a year in search of a better place to live after having been forced to leave his native Luhansk. “It was a spontaneous choice, as I really did not know where to go. On the New Year’s Eve, I wrote the names of all Ukraine’s regions on a piece of paper, closed my eyes and chose Vinnytsia,” recalls Oleksandr.
Less than two years later, Oleksandr is telling the story of his journey sitting in a small furniture factory established jointly with his brother. Several employees are busy fixing chairs in the next room. “Tomorrow our eighth employee will start his probation term,” says Oleksandr. “In addition to my brother and me, two more persons working with us are IDPs.”
Oleksandr grew up in a family of five children, where the mother was the only one to care about them. Furniture reupholster was Oleksandr’s first job when he was 19 years old. Then he used to work in real estate and tried some other businesses, but ending up in Vinnytsia with almost nothing in 2015, he decided to start from the very beginning and joined a local factory fixing old furniture. In few months he approached the factory director with ideas on business expansion, but met with little enthusiasm and quit his job.
With money borrowed from his family, Oleksandr has bought a compressor and two staple guns, a manual and a pneumatic one. “Jointly with my brother, we rented a garage and started repairing furniture there,” tells Oleksandr. Some time later, the two brothers learned about the IOM livelihood support programme, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and supporting self-employment of IDPs and conflict-affected people – and enrolled for business training. “It makes such a big difference when you are trained to calculate the cost and profitability of your business,” says Oleksandr.
After successfully defending his business plan, Oleksandr was awarded by IOM with an in-kind grant, providing relevant equipment. “Just with one sewing machine you have purchased for us, it allowed us to create jobs for five people,” he explained confidently and added that with the IOM-provided equipment they could have up to a dozen additional work places.
Oleksandr is planning to move his business to bigger premises and to focus more on furniture production, which is twice more profitable than reupholstering. “We have recently created a website and it already helped us to sell four sofas! We also want to open a show-room and to build a store chain. Our furniture is of better quality and so far we are keeping the prices relatively low. So it is possible to open up to ten furniture stores in Vinnytsia only.” Oleksandr’s active stand in life also made him a volunteer with the IOM partner NGO in Vinnytsia “Spring of Hope”. He is always glad to join their public initiatives, such as counter-trafficking awareness campaigns or any other event organized. “I work so much at my factory, that I like to take every opportunity to go out, meet new people, and expand my horizons,” he says.
From 2014 to 2016, with the support of different donors, IOM provided business training for over 5,500 IDPs and local community members throughout the country, with in-kind equipment grants and vocational training for more than 3,300 beneficiaries.