We met Natalia the first time in late spring this year in the town of Zatoka at the Black Sea shore, where she was staying with her two children, Alisa, aged five, and Alex, aged seven, while her husband had started working in Odesa. It has been almost a year since the family left Luhansk: “When the blasts started, I tried to tell the children that somebody was beating the carpet, but later it became impossible to lie to them.” Natalia and her husband decided to move to Odesa because of its beneficial climate, they hoped would be good for their children’s health. “We also wanted them to experience the summer and the sea to help them recover from all the stress they had in Luhansk,” she added.
The choice turned out to be spot-on, as the family was able to find a good kindergarten and a primary school with attentive teachers. The children also seemed to become more healthy. However, the kids have still not fully adapted to their new surroundings: “They keep asking when we will go back home. The children still feel disoriented, asking which furniture is ours and which is not. We’ve brought their favourite toys along, but they still lack that feel of home.”
Natalia, a teacher and an economist by education, started to make toys by herself when she was on maternity leave with her second child. At the beginning, her toys were very simple, basically made out of socks. Later on, her models became more sophisticated stuffed animals, turning into little pieces of art which allowed her to participate in international competitions and sell her teddy bears and other plush collectors’ toys through the Internet.
Natalia’s little daughter’s big eyes inspired the design of these teddy bears
When the family arrived in Odesa, Natalia went to the State Employment Service to look for job opportunities. “The jobs available were at a bakery and a canning factory, but this is physically hard work, and the salary is only around UAH 1,700 (about USD 77). I do understand that we don’t have the luxury of choice, but I still have to stay with my children,” she says.
On average, it takes her about a week to create a teddy bear, but because of everything the family has been through, Natalia was not able to work efficiently. Then she learnt about livelihood support programme, funded by the European Union and implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), through social media, and felt inspired. Natalia participated in a self-employment training conducted in Odesa by IOM’s partner NGO “Ukrainian Horizons”. “A lot of useful practical information was provided at the training, starting from tips on drafting a CV and ending with advice on how to develop a business idea and write a business plan. Many people do not know where to start from, and it is much easier when you learn how to develop a marketing strategy. If you are able to adopt the information you are provided with and systematize it, this training is very helpful.”
With a micro-grant provided by the EU-IOM programme, Natalia plans to get a new sewing machine, a laptop to model the toys and work with her website, and a tripod to be able to take good quality pictures of her teddies.
But she also needs fur and details like eyes to produce more toys. With the dramatic devaluation of the Ukrainian currency, the prices of these materials for Natalia’s business skyrocketed. Currently, the fur to make a little teddy costs around UAH 500.
It is obvious that the problems of Natalia’s family are far from solved, and as with many IDP families, accommodation is a pressing issue, but she is still trying to find something positive in her situation. “It is great that people are now trying to support each other and to buy Ukrainian goods,” she says.
For those willing to see or to buy some of Natalia’s toys, please visit her website at http://medvedy-teddy.blogspot.com/
One of Natalia’s birds was bought via the Internet by an American veteran who lost his hand in the Vietnam War. He told Natalia the bird was exactly like him