In spite of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, Maria has not given up her dream of opening her own dressmaking studio, and is confidently moving towards her goal

efore the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, Maria*, 32, lived a quiet life in Donetsk. She was raising her daughter, working as a company archivist, and in the evenings after work she would sit down at a sewing machine and become absorbed by her favourite hobby. Maria made clothes for herself, her daughter and friends, and above all she dreamed of opening her own dressmaking studio.

“I’ve always loved sewing,” Maria recalls sadly. “I had a lot of orders from friends and acquaintances, and I was very happy that sewing brought in additional income. Imagine, I had almost bought everything I needed — sewing and cover-stitch machines, a serger for doing seams, and ironing equipment. I dreamed of having a small cosy workroom, and was already looking at rental options. At that time, it seemed that the universe was helping me to make everything work out … Unfortunately, it didn’t.”

With the first sounds of shelling, her cherished dream had to be put on hold for years. The area where Maria lived at the time was badly affected by the armed conflict, and she moved to live with friends closer to the centre of the city, where it was safer. Nevertheless, Maria was in no hurry to leave the city, hoping that life would soon get better.

“At that time there was still a glimmer of hope in my heart that it would all be short-lived — the city was about to be liberated, and everything would be as it was before,” says Maria.

Subsequently, the enterprise where the woman worked was closed, and her own apartment was robbed. Maria recalls being terribly depressed, almost every day having to see armed people and military equipment on the streets, where not so long ago there had been peace and quiet. She then clearly understood — she couldn’t live like this anymore — she had to go.

In 2014, Maria and her daughter went to the government-controlled town of Kostiantynivka, Donetsk Oblast, and in 2015 they moved to Krasnohorivka, also in Donetsk Oblast. There Maria worked as a cleaner and a saleswoman. She worked hard, and later raised enough money to buy another sewing machine. It wasn’t new, but it was in working order.

“I remember making a seam on an old dress after such a long break — it was like taking a gulp of fresh air,” Maria smiles.I started taking orders again: to sew someone a skirt, trousers for someone else. So things became a little more fun.”

In 2019, Maria by chance learned from acquaintances about a sewing workshop called “Thread of Good,” which was opened in Krasnohorivka with the support of UNDP under the UN Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme funded by the European Union. The NGO “Our Renaissance — Donbas Ukraine” received grant support and opened a sewing workshop so that the residents of the community could have a small centre where they could not only learn to sew and repair clothes, but also learn the skills of running their own business.

Maria recalls that at first she was very surprised that such high-quality sewing equipment could be used for free, and until recently she did not believe that it really was possible.

“Going into the workshop, I was pleasantly surprised — I saw three high-class sewing machines, a professional serger (I recently dreamed of buying one, but could not afford it), steam systems, mannequins, and very good professional scissors,” she says with admiration.

Maria eagerly began to visit the workshop, and looked forward to each subsequent meeting.

“In the workshop we met with the girls twice a week, the atmosphere was always very friendly: some cut material, some drew designs, but due to lockdown the meetings were scaled down. Now we see each other in groups of no more than four people and we always wear masks.”

Thanks to having access to professional equipment and frequent sewing workshops, Maria’s orders from customers have increased. Now she can perform more complex artistic repairs of clothes, has learned to professionally decorate clothes with beads, and the quality of her sewing in general has become much better.

“I’m very friendly with the girls in the workshop,” Maria smiles. “I’m glad that I can not only study, but also just have a nice chat and some tea. Sometimes we even gossip a little.”

Maria previously thought about starting her own business, but did not know much about how to do it. During the training sessions in the workshop, which were conducted within the framework of a grant project with the support of UNDP, she learned about the tax system, how to properly plan business activities, calculate the cost of products and calculate profits.

In conclusion, Maria believes she finally has enough hope and strength to make her dream come true:

“Now I have even stronger motivation and faith in my own strength — I plan to move to another city and am already working on a business plan. I know for sure that I’m moving in the right direction. I’m very grateful to the workshop, because it helped me believe in myself again. Although I will miss it like mad!”

*Name changed at person’s request.

Background

The United Nations Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme (UN RPP) is being implemented by four United Nations agencies: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Thirteen international partners support the Programme: the European Union (EU), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and the governments of Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland & the UK.

Illustrations: Oksana Skvorchynska / UNDP in Ukraine

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