Entering Tatiana’s wedding dress shop on a fashionable street in Ukraine’s bustling capital Kyiv, you meet a strong, confident businesswoman, surrounded by fine design, focused on making brides-to-be happy. You’d never imagine the terror she experienced that caused her to flee her home.
Four years ago, Tatiana was running a travel business in Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine. In April 2014, armed groups in Donetsk began to seize buildings and arms. Fighting between these groups and government forces caused severe insecurity for everyone living in the conflict zone.
Things came to a head when armed men burst into her Tatiana’s office and ‘confiscated’ her business at gunpoint. The terrifying ordeal convinced her to buy a train ticket that very afternoon and flee to Kyiv the following day. She has not been back.
Rebuilding life in the capital was not easy at first, struggling to find stable work and adjusting to the new environment surrounded by people insulated from the unfolding conflict. “They just didn’t seem to get it,” she adds.
“Many of them have been living a happy life, able to continue planning for their future, whereas I was just happy to make it through the day.”
Displaced from Donetsk to Kyiv, Ukraine
However, every cloud has a silver lining. About a year after moving to the capital, Tatiana’s son was born. Also, she eventually befriended Lyudmyla, a wedding dress designer who was also displaced from the conflict. After seeing her friend fall on hard times, the two decided to open a business together designing and selling dresses. Since then the business has expanded through grants from IOM to include an art director who was also displaced by the conflict. As the business grows, Tatiana is not only glad for her personal security but gets a real sense of satisfaction from the work.
“There is something really special when you see a woman walk out of here with a dress saying, ‘that’s the one for me’ and just knowing you played a part in that,” she said.
To this day, Tatiana still carries the train ticket she bought to leave Donetsk as a reminder of how far she’s come and to be appreciative of the good moments in life.
“Sometimes I sort my documents and see this ticket. Then I recall everything. I keep the ticket in order not to forget anything, in order to remember what we went through and cherish everything we have now. I know my plans for tomorrow, for the day after tomorrow, for the next year. But I also have a plan for today, and if I have completed it, I am happy. If I wake up tomorrow, I will manage everything.”