There are many car repair shops in a garage cooperative in one of the Western Ukrainian cities, but one of them stands out: newly refurbished with polished instruments, the place looks very busy and its owners are working tirelessly alongside their assistants. While Dmytro* is having a conversation with new clients, his wife Oksana is showing the visitors from IOM around.
The couple suffered from labour exploitation in 2015, when they went to the Russian Federation to work at a mushroom farm. Oksana was employed as a shop assistant in a supermarket, where a colleague told her about a promising job offer abroad. The prospects of good working conditions and decent payment encouraged Oksana and Dmytro to take the offer without any doubts. Upon their arrival, it turned into deception: they were forced to work for 15-18 hours per day, carrying overloaded boxes and using hazardous fertilizers. They could not leave the territory of the farm even when Oksana got sick: recruiters forcibly retained their passports and severely beat them when the couple tried to escape. After three months of exploitation Dmytro and Oksana were rescued by the police conducting a raid to crack down on illegal production.
Upon their return to Ukraine, IOM regional partners identified the couple as victims of trafficking and provided them with comprehensive rehabilitation support. After receiving psychological counseling and medical assistance, Oksana and Dmytro took part in the IOM Economic Empowerment Programme striving to realize their old dream of starting their own business. Dmytro is a talented auto repair specialist who used to work for someone else for over ten years. “We didn`t have the necessary equipment, but above all we were afraid to set ourselves on a new unknown path, and to be responsible for everything. But during the business training organized by IOM and as we progressed with the business plan development exercise, we started to overcome our fears,” says Dmytro. After several weeks of preparations and market analysis, Oksana and Dmytro successfully presented their business idea to the selection committee comprised of the IOM and NGO representatives. In less than six months the couple fully refurbished the garage that they rented, turning it into a professional car repair shop equipped with tools purchased by IOM with funding from the Global Affairs Canada.
“I have a degree in accounting, but I prefer my current work,” Oksana says, “I am mostly involved in bookkeeping, communication with clients and advertisement, while my husband manages technical processes. Still, I am always ready to jump into my uniform to help in the workshop. My husband taught me a lot about car repair, so I know how to use our new equipment. We are working hard, and it pays off.”
Oksana helps Dmytro with air conditioning repairs. The up-to-date equipment allows her apply cleaning substances as well as recharge the AC unit comfortably.
“The first month was quite complicated, but as we organized the work processes and hired several employees we started receiving so many orders!” Oksana explains. The couple is currently refurbishing another adjacent garage to expand their premises and serve more clients.
“We could not imagine everything would turn into reality so soon. We are very thankful for these opportunities, which IOM gave us – business training, high-quality equipment and immense support,” says Dmytro. “We are not only expanding, but trying to improve the quality of services. In the nearest future, I would like to train students from the vocational school where I studied and provide them with decent working conditions.”
* The names have been changed to protect privacy