Fleeing Conflict in Ukraine, a Woman Reframes Her Life

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Valentina Ushakova checks equipment before photo shoot.
Valentina Ushakova checks equipment before a photo shoot.
Courtesy of USAID TEAM activity
How Valentina Ushakova rebuilt a business and discovered new talents
“I was able to acquire professional equipment that made me more competitive, helped me to grow professionally, increased my income, and restored my financial stability.”

October 2018 — Valentina Ushakova relocated with her family from Lugansk to Kyiv in 2014 after the start of armed hostilities in eastern Ukraine. Like many other internally displaced people, she had to rebuild her life from scratch after leaving her apartment and business.

Ushakova and her husband decided to resume their business — a family-run store for children’s clothes and toys — by opening an online store. Finding themselves in a new environment, the Ushakovs had to restructure and revise the range of goods and services their store provided.

“After we relocated to a new city, we had to change the format of our retail business, to look for new opportunities, and to find our market niche,” says Ushakova.

The solid network of suppliers they developed over the years helped kick-start their business. They updated their equipment and secured a warehouse for merchandise.

But success in the online retail business depends on visually attractive images of goods and services — the couple needed high-quality photos.

So, with the support of USAID’s Training, Economic Empowerment, Assistive Technology and Medical/Physical Rehabilitation (TEAM) activity, Ushakova took a photography course. In the process, she developed a passion for photography, and she now conducts photo shoots, takes part in photo exhibitions, and creates photo reports for events.

As part of her work with children, Ushakova launched a photo project and exhibition entitled Sun All Year Round depicting children with Down Syndrome and autism. The exhibition was featured at a conference on the socioeconomic empowerment of internally displaced persons with disabilities in Ukraine in December 2017 as part of the USAID project. New photos were added at a second showcase in April 2018 to mark World Autism Awareness Day.

Ushakova also held an advanced class on photography and do-it-yourself businesses for women who have children with special needs. Using grant funds from the TEAM activity, she was able to purchase a professional camera.

“Thanks to the grant, I was able to acquire professional equipment that made me more competitive, helped me to grow professionally, increased my income, and restored my financial stability,” says Ushakova, who has a child with disabilities. “The support was essential and of great value to me! I continue to learn, pursue and achieve my dreams while helping others do the same.”

USAID’s TEAM project has worked in Ukraine since September 2015 to provide comprehensive rehabilitation services, specialized training for medical rehabilitation personnel, and assistive devices for people with disabilities. The project also provides vocational and business training and job placement for internally displaced people with disabilities and their families.

The project is implemented by UCP Wheels for Humanity in cooperation with the Ukrainian Association of Physical Therapy and the National Assembly of People with Disabilities.

Since the launch of the project, over 860 people with disabilities have received rehabilitation services and assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and bladder kits. Thanks to microgrants of up to $1,000, over 100 people, including those with disabilities, have created or expanded their micro- and small businesses, often employing other workers. Over 300 people, including 230 with disabilities, have been placed in jobs.

In January 2018, the project began establishing resource centers in Lviv, Kyiv and Zaporizhzhya, which are designed to become models for neuro-rehabilitation services in Ukraine.


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