New busi­nesses open up in lib­er­ated Don­bas cities

Kyiv Post - - Lifestyle - BY ANNA YAKUTENKO YAKUTENKO@KYIVPOST.COM

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine

— There are fewer signs that this city in Ukraine’s Don­bas, seized three years ago by Rus­sian-led forces and then lib­er­ated three months later by the Ukrainian army, has been through a war.

Sloviansk, lo­cated some 530 kilo­me­ters south­east of Kyiv, now boasts brand new busi­nesses — in­clud­ing fancy cof­fee shops and bar­ber­shops. In fact, while ini­tially bring­ing dev­as­ta­tion and ruin, the war has, strangely, be­come an im­pe­tus for the de­vel­op­ment of this city of 113,000 peo­ple.

One of the city’s new busi­nesses, Prosto Kava, a pop­u­lar cof­fee shop, is lo­cated not far from the city ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing, which served as the head­quar­ters of Igor Girkin, the for­mer Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer who com­manded the Rus­sian­led forces that oc­cu­pied the city between April and July 2014.

Un­like most cafes in the city, Prosto Kava re­sem­bles some of the trendi­est spots in Kyiv: It has two rooms with a mod­ern loft-style de­sign, one of which has a huge bar where var­i­ous types of cof­fee drinks are served, and an­other one with bean­bags, board games and a pro­jec­tor screen for watch­ing movies. One wall of the room with the cof­fee bar is en­tirely cov­ered with hand-made toys, which are made by the café’s own­ers and other crafts­peo­ple from nearby ar­eas.

“Ini­tially, it wasn’t clear whether peo­ple would like this style of a café, or say it’s just non­sense,” café co-owner Ju­lia Go­riun told the Kyiv Post. “Va­ri­ety among cafes ap­peared only re­cently — be­fore that, they were all the same.”

Go­riun opened Prosto Kava in May 2016 along with an­other lo­cal res­i­dent, Ju­lia Cherkasova. Go­riun, a na­tive of the Luhansk Oblast city of Sorokyne, which is now oc­cu­pied by Rus­sian-led forces, set­tled in Sloviansk in the win­ter of 2015.

Cherkasova and Go­riun worked at the same bank in Sloviansk, but both dreamed of find­ing a more cre­ative job.

“I al­ways wanted to do some­thing with my hands, but I never had time for it. I used to ba­si­cally live at work,” Go­riun said.

So when in­ter­na­tional donors of­fered them a grant, Cherkasova and Go­riun jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to open a café.

Over­all, how­ever, the re­build­ing needs of the Don­bas are vast. Some govern­ment es­ti­mates put the cost at $50 bil­lion, in­clud­ing those ar­eas still oc­cu­pied by Rus­sia. The money spent so far, from pub­lic and pri­vate sources, is es­ti­mated at $4.5 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the Ukrainian govern­ment.

Busi­ness grants

Af­ter the fight­ing in the area stopped, Sloviansk re­ceived fund­ing from var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, help­ing peo­ple not only re­build their houses, but also giv­ing en­trepreneurs in the re­gion the chance to start new busi­nesses.

Sloviansk is just 30 kilo­me­ters from Kram­a­torsk, which is now the ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­ter of the part of Donetsk Oblast that is still un­der the con­trol of the Ukrainian govern­ment. Over

20,000 peo­ple from sep­a­ratist-con­trolled ar­eas who were forced out of their homes in Rus­sian-oc­cu­pied ar­eas have re­lo­cated to Kram­a­torsk.

The in­flux of in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons, lo­cal govern­ment work­ers (who moved from Rus­sian-oc­cu­pied Donetsk) and staff of in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions has caused a mini boom in the lo­cal econ­omy.

Go­riun and Cherkasova won two grants worth a to­tal of Hr 340,000 ($12,800) from the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram in Ukraine, which they used to open their cof­fee shop.

“We were trav­el­ing across Ukraine and saw var­i­ous cute shops and cafes. We thought the peo­ple of Sloviansk — es­pe­cially young peo­ple — also needed places like that. When I was grow­ing up in Sloviansk there wasn’t much to do here,” Cherkasova said.

In 2016, the UN granted about Hr 40 mil­lion ($1.5 mil­lion) to more than 270 en­trepreneurs from the govern­ment-con­trolled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and those who had moved there from the Rus­sian-oc­cu­pied ar­eas.

Over­all, since Rus­sia un­leashed its war in Don­bas in 2014, Ukrainian govern­ment has al­lo­cated $3.6 bil­lion from the state bud­get to re­build the re­gion, while in­ter­na­tional gov­ern­ments and foun­da­tions have trans­ferred around $890 bil­lion for the pur­pose, ac­cord­ing to Ukrainian Min­is­ter for Tem­po­rary Oc­cu­pied Ter­ri­to­ries Vadym Ch­ernysh.

Go­riun said that they planned to open a shop with hand-made toys where vis­i­tors could also drink cof­fee, but switched their fo­cus to cof­fee af­ter Go­riun took some barista cour­ses in Kyiv.

The own­ers also wanted to make the sec­ond room in Prosto Kava an “anti-café,” where vis­i­tors paid only for time spent there, but Go­riun said that peo­ple in Sloviansk didn’t like the idea. In­stead, the sec­ond room is used to host hand­i­craft work­shops for chil­dren, and to screen movies.

This sum­mer, the two also opened an out­door cof­fee spot in Shovkovy­chny Park, not far from the city cen­ter.

“Be­fore the war, we didn’t live for our­selves. We just did what we needed to do. Af­ter the war, ev­ery­thing changed, and we de­cided to do what re­ally brings us joy,” Cherkasova said.

Bar­ber­shop duo

With new bar­ber­shops open­ing all across Ukraine, and Ivan and Ma­rina Zhurba de­cided to fol­low the trend and open one in Sloviansk.

In­spired by bar­ber­shops in Lviv, the cou­ple opened their first out­let, called Hardy, in their na­tive city this spring.

“I didn’t have a beard at that time, but my hair stood on end when I first en­tered a bar­ber­shop (in Lviv),” 38-year-old Ivan Zhurba told the Kyiv Post.

Af­ter they re­turned from Lviv in 2015, Ma­rina Zhurba sold her car and rented premises in the city cen­ter, next to the closed Palace of Cul­ture, which was dam­aged dur­ing the fight­ing in 2014. The cou­ple com­pletely re­fur­bished the room, which now has stylish brick walls, leather so­fas and an impressive bar with whiskey and other al­co­holic bev­er­ages.

Zhur­bas also hired stu­dents from the lo­cal col­lege and sent them to study at a bar­ber­shop in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s sec­ond-big­gest city, lo­cated about 160 kilo­me­ters to the north­west of Sloviansk.

The cou­ple said that many of lo­cal res­i­dents hadn’t even been to bar­ber­shop be­fore, so at first the Zhur­bas gave them hair­cuts for free. Now they usu­ally have around 10 clients per day.

Ma­rina said that most of their clients were peo­ple who had moved to Sloviansk from other big cities, and who had al­ready been to bar­ber­shops be­fore.

“It’s not just a hair­dress­ing sa­lon, but rather a men’s club. Peo­ple come here for a trim of their beard and mus­tache and to com­mu­ni­cate,” Ivan said, adding that many of their clients drop by for a cof­fee or a glass of whiskey even when they don’t need a hair­cut.

Ivan joked that they never run out of drinks, be­cause most of their clients bring a bot­tle for them as a present.

De­spite bar­ber­shops be­ing con­sid­ered to be “a man’s place,” the cou­ple em­ploys fe­male hair­dressers too. In fact, most of the hair­dressers in Sloviansk are women.

“If a man wanted to be­come a hairdresser in Sloviansk, he would face var­i­ous stereo­types. It’s a prob­lem in a pro­vin­cial city that doesn’t have a bar­ber­shop cul­ture,” Ma­rina said.

The price of a hair­cut in Hardy is rel­a­tively low — Hr 150 or $5. The cou­ple said that the bar­ber­shop is still not prof­itable, be­cause they spent a large amount of money on fur­ni­ture and equip­ment. The fam­ily is sup­ported by Ivan’s main job at a lo­cal waste re­cy­cling com­pany.

“Of course, it was easy for us to open, be­cause we didn’t have any com­peti­tors,” Ivan said. “But we re­al­ized that if we didn’t do our work well, we wouldn’t have any clients.”

“Now I think that if some­one wants to open an­other bar­ber shop in Sloviansk, it’s go­ing to be hard for them to com­pete with us,” Ivan added, while pour­ing a glass of whiskey for his client.

Dmytro Drizhd, 40, has his beard trimmed in Hardy bar­ber­shop in Sloviansk in Donetsk Oblast on Aug. 17. Lo­cal en­trepreneurs in Sloviansk, a city of 113,000 peo­ple around 80 kilo­me­ters from the front line, fol­lows ur­ban­is­tic trends and open stylish cafes and bar­ber­shops. (Volodymyr Petrov)

An em­ployee of Prosto Kava cof­fee shop in Sloviansk serves cus­tomers on Aug. 16. Prosto Kava opened in 2016, started by two lo­cals on grant money from the United Na­tions in Ukraine, to help en­trepreneurs thrive. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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