“The iron can be restored. The main thing is that everyone is alive”

“We are lucky,” says Ivan Zhydkov, the owner of a meat-processing plant near Sloviansk and an IOM grantee. “Compared to other businesses, we suffered almost no losses during the quarantine. People still need food. Due to the closure of street markets, we had to reconsider the distribution, but our production and sales volume remained the same. However, gross income fell by 5–7%: the purchasing power decreases, so consumers switch to cheaper products and we follow them.”

The enterprise employs about 30 people. Ivan is proud that all of them keep their jobs and salaries. What has changed during the quarantine? First, every work shift now begins with measuring body temperature and assessing general health condition. Looking for an alternative to public transport, they had a joint discussion and found a way out — now the company owners pay extra to employees who have their own cars for picking up their colleagues.

Ivan invites us to the factory canteen, where company's employees have their free hot breakfasts and lunches. "Semenivski Sausages” is a family business started by Ivan's parents in 1999. “In our family we are all technologists by education,” says Ivan. “Since 2005 I have been managing the production, and my parents have been involved in sales.” The product range includes about 150 items — from milk sausages to smoked pork, beef and chicken delicacies. Some meat is purchased from local farmers, some from large farms, and there are even ingredients transported from Poland. Several branded kiosks in nearby settlements, networking with local retailers, branded trolleybuses and product sampling when new products are launched are a part of Ivan’s big ambition — to become the number one meat food producer within a radius of 50 km or maybe even more. 

The armed conflict caused enormous damages. In 2014, people with machine guns came to the plant and gave the owners two hours to vacate the territory. Ivan did not argue; with his wife and three children, he immediately moved to his relatives, as “iron can be restored, and the main thing is to save lives.”

As soon as the armed groups left the territory of the enterprise, Ivan returned. Over the two months of shelling, the administrative building suffered minor damages, while the production premises were burned to the ground. Brick by brick, they dismantled and rebuilt it on their own; the employees came to restore the building together with company owners. Work on recovery continues, and by the beginning of 2020 the company has reached only one third of its capacity before the conflict.

Recently, Ivan participated in business programme for IDPs and the conflict-affected population, conducted by the IOM and funded by the German Government through KfW German Development Bank. He received some of much-needed equipment as a grant. “I didn't believe that I would pass,” he says. “In 2015, I was not selected for a programme of this kind. And in 2018, my friends told me there was an opportunity to apply again. I had a look at the agenda and found out there was a business training. I thought it would be useful anyway. Even if you don't use all the knowledge, the trainings inspire you.”

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