On Oct. 10, after the Kerch bridge explosion in Crimea, Russia began its second wave of terrorist attacks. The invading occupiers were busy destroying Ukraine’s electrical power infrastructure, saying “They will die in cold and starvation.”
But Ukrainians proved again to the whole world their strengths, heroism and dedication to stand tall. Through the difficult winter, plagued with electricity outages and lack of a usable supply of water, Ukrainian business survived by innovation, improvisation and cooperation. Kyiv Post recently met with some of Ukraine’s entrepreneurs to hear their story of how they kept going through this harrowing ordeal.
Korysna Kramnytsya, healthy food shop, Kyiv - Oleksandra Dyadyk
“At the beginning of massive attacks on our infrastructure my husband and I did not consider this as a serious problem, because we still had lights in the office and at home” - says 38 year old Oleksandra Dyadyk. She and her husband Oleksandr opened a shop with healthy food and goods named “Korysna Kramnytsya” nine years ago. The difficulties they have gone through this winter made them stronger because it was a time of making challenging decisions.
“We bought flashlights after electricity started to disappear for hours in the office, but even this factor was not an issue, as we could print all the documentation at home or use these hours to pick up new arrivals” - recalls Dyadyk.
Light hunters in the city
“The real challenges began in late November and tested our strength. During the first blackout, the number of orders that appeared on our web page was enormous and we did not know what to do or how to manage that without electricity.
“We had no choice left, but to always look for places with generators or restaurants and cafes where the electricity was on. After we found such a place, we made screenshots of the invoices and sent them to the managers and packers who could then send the bills to customers,” she says.
“But then another problem could happen: the managers did not have internet either and we were not able to synchronize our working hours. During full blackouts, we searched all over Kyiv looking for places with connections. We wrote the invoices by hand, later printing them in the post office. The constant search for places with electricity and internet connectivity was physically very exhausting.”
“With the delivery service it was a complete fiasco,” says Dyadyk. “We could write to clients when we had connectivity, likewise, their answers would reach us after some time. But there were other complications. For example, the driverswould arrive at the address and see that the delivery was for the sixteenth floor. Since the elevators weren’t working the drivers would refuse to go up, so the purchases were not delivered and were returned to us. This, of course, caused customers to get angry at our business.
“Difficulties stalked us everywhere possible. Currently, we are renting a warehouse-type office. When there was a mobile connection, they could just call and we would open the door, but with interruptions in the mobile network, they had to stay 30 or 40 minutes waiting for us to let them in.
“In November, our parcels could not be sent in the evenings, as our branch of the private postal service ‘Nova Poshta’ often had no electricity. It’s a well-known fact is that a security check can’t be passed without a message with the confirmation code - so it was impossible to send or receive packages.
“Later when ‘Nova Poshta’ bought a generator, in general, it did not improve our operating abilities with the mobile network coverage. For our small shop, in my opinion, the biggest problem was the constant absence of the internet during massive blackouts. Our small shop does not require a lot of power, nor do we not own big production, so the option of buying an expensive generator was not even considered.
“Winter holidays, St. Nikolas Day or Valentine’s Day and Easter are the busiest holidays for our shop, when everyone wants to make their loved ones happy. So, before the kids’ famous St. Nicolas Day [Dec. 19], every parent wants the presents for their children to be delivered on time,” she says.
“Of course, we tried to do everything possible to fill the orders, but between the 13th and15th of December, we had no light, electricity or connection, and our productivity stopped for several days, so those who arranged their purchases before the long blackouts got them on time. But for later orders, we did not manage them on time, which gradually resulted in dissatisfied clients for us.
“Our store operates entirely with the internet, so even without a connection we can prepare and pack orders. rd without electricity, we were unable to see the new incoming orders.
“At that moment, it was the first time when we felt depressed and almost gave up.”
Supply chain disruptions
“This year we were unsure if we can handle new customers, so we did not launch our advertising campaign as usual.” Dyadyk says. “One of our top products is edible cookie cups, which sometimes we were waiting for them for weeks. If the process of making takes six hours minimum, but the electricity is on only for two launching the baking process was just unprofitable.
“Another great example was with fruit candies ‘Frukfeta’ in Kyiv Oblast. The factory worked mainly at night and technically was hard to produce them with electricity disruptions as the process technologist never could guess when the electricity would stay on long enough. Luckily, almost everyone of our buyers showed empathy and was ready to wait a bit longer, so,on social media we announced only the approximate dates of the delivery.
“This winter was constantly challenging us in every way,” she says. “We worked as hard as we could, sometimes beyond our abilities, but the job kept distracting us from all the terrible things happening around us - otherwise, we could simply go crazy. I reckon, that the greatest anti-crisis solution was closing offline shops because the products we stored in our fridges were sensitive to temperature changes. Our friends with generators helped us, by giving us their fridges to store our food. But if we had not closed our offline stores, we would have had to buy generators on our own.
“It sounds sad, but people adapted to this stressful lifestyle, and some of our vitamins that were not in demand in 2021, became highly popular after these blackouts, cold winter and weakened immunity systems,” says Dyadyk.
“With spring it has become easier to work, and the electricity is stable. In some cities, when orders fall, we understand that probably they do not have electricity, but again, nowadays the situation is more stable than it was during the entire winter.”
MAMA CHEF - Homemade Ice Cream restaurant & homemade production - owner, Irina Glotova.
“After scheduled power outages began, we realized that the equipment was able to save products,” Glotova says. “But when the first major blackout happened and there was no electricity for four days, our ice cream in the showcases, in the storage rooms, and most importantly all the ice cream in the production went bad. Each showcase is 24 flavours of three kilos each and we do not mention the stored stocks in warehouses that have been lost. However, the most difficult things began when the light was starting to return.
“Regarding the rules, shopping centers have to resume their work and we have to open our restaurant. But after long outages, we had a very strange opportunity to cook anything at all. The result is a very sad picture: confused workers and visitors who came running to get something to eat with having no electricity returned, and empty storefronts with nothing to offer. In the restaurants we are in partnership with, the situation with their ice cream stayed the same as we had nothing to sell,” she says.
“The production opens at 5:30 a.m. and closes at 10:30 p.m. so sometimes we could just wait for daylight hours, only later it has been returned to the schedules, but before it could be an hour is present and four hours absent.
“In February we discovered that one of the berry stalls held four trays of ice cream, that we put in there to keep the cold out of the main chambers. Thereafter, I remember, we took it to the cafe such as the Bethlehem fire.
“Another negative side of the blackouts was that we were freezing in the mall. The temperature dropped down significantly, which negatively affected our profit as this is one of the key factors of sales. The situation improved only in mid-January,” Glotova says.
“All these factors have caused our debts to go up, but the good side is that some shopping centers are allowing deferment of rent. However, the total damage is difficult to calculate, because due to constant voltage drops, the equipment began to fail one after another. For example, last week one of the storefronts stopped working at night and the next day we did not work properly, although, there was no longer a blackout.
“It seems like after this winter we will be able to work in any conditions. Moreover, I find it a little unusual that so much could be managed and still have some time left.
“Now we have to prepare for the coming season. I truly want to organize several street showcases. I have not yet learned the rules of the game in the city, but we will try to negotiate with restaurants to agree to cooperate.
“Hopefully, we will be able to work well and restore the balance, as every Ukrainian business deserves. The period of blackouts did not greatly affect our operations and customer flow, but it did affect costs, which reduced profits,” says Glotova.
Rapunzel Hair Studio, Kyiv - Hanna Fidchuk
“Even during missile strikes Ukrainian women wanted to look beautiful and taken care of,” says a studio representative. “We were lucky that our building had a generator that could power the water pumps. It is hard to imagine a beauty salon without water - of course without it, we definitely would not have been able to work.
“For us, there were no revenue losses as such but we spent $2,000 on the generator, and an additional $300-400 on gasoline and oil every month. Sometimes neighbouring girls from the building came to us just to wash or dry their hair - and given the situation we all were in we could not deny them.
“Nowadays, it is much easier and more pleasant to work when there is electricity and water, but I know from the stories of the workers that they heated water for tea with a gas burner and slept in their coats.
“One of the masters left the city because she could not leave her child alone at home in the cold and without electricity and the internet.
"We all learned how to pour gasoline from canisters, connect the generator, and pull those huge cables. We don't have enough men, so we women did everything ourselves.
“The only thing I can say is that we are glad that such a difficult winter is behind us.”
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