How one man from Mariupol became his own boss, with help from EU4Youth

23-03-2020

Valentyn Lohvynenko from Mariupol wanted to have his own business since he was a child, feeling it was the only way a person could truly be free.

However, his parents insisted for him to get a ‘normal’ profession and find a ‘normal’ job. So Valentyn began working at the factory. At first, he worked as a simple worker and then he became an engineer. For eleven years, he climbed the career ladder to become deputy head of the workshop. Then he worked for several years at a different factory, as manager of continuous improvement.

But there are ups and downs in any career, and Valentyn’s contract with the plant ended in 2019, forcing him to register with the Employment Centre. It turned out to be virtually impossible to find a decent job in his line of work in the front-line city. "At that moment, my wife helped me a lot. She said: 'The worst kind of unemployment is when you do not have enough intelligence to make money. You are intelligent, which means everything will work out.' These words helped me to shake myself and not to fall into despair!"

Valentyn started attending classes at the Employment Centre, where they taught him how to organise and develop his own business. Prior to this, he had helped a friend in the installation of suspended ceilings for some time and gained the necessary experience and knowledge in this area. After a series of unsuccessful attempts to get a job, Valentyn decided to start his own business installing stretch ceilings.

However, as with any business, initial capital was needed, and his own savings had run out. The novice entrepreneur began to develop his business plan, with the goal of obtaining funding for his idea. However, it turned out that bank loans to start a business in the Donetsk Region were only available at incredibly high interest rates as banks did not want to risk money in the immediate vicinity of the demarcation line.

During one of the trainings for young entrepreneurs, representatives of the Mariupol Youth Union came to the Employment Centre and spoke about the grant programme for youth support under the EU4Youth project, which is open to people between the ages of 18 and 35, Valentyn decided to take the opportunity to get help and submitted an application for participation in the programme. A short time later, after a quick application processing procedure, he was approved to receive a grant for the purchase of professional equipment worth 850 euros.

Financial assistance from the European Union allowed Valentyn to purchase expensive equipment necessary to set up his business, as well as improve competitiveness and carry out complex orders. In September 2019, Valentyn opened a private enterprise Soffitto and since then he has had no downtime. On the contrary, there are days when he has five to six orders. Their total number – and his income – grows from month to month by 5-10%. Even during the New Year's holidays, when the whole business freezes, he continued to work actively. And on 2 January, when most Mariupol residents were still celebrating, he was installing stretch ceilings for customers.

The experience of organising work at the plant helps him to complete orders on such a busy schedule, using the 5S system in particular, an effective workplace organisation system developed by Japanese specialists. After all, when everything is conveniently packaged and located at hand and in place, it is possible to work really fast. Thanks to this, the implementation of a simple order takes Valentyn less than two hours.

Now, his small business is booming and he plans to develop it further, creating new jobs. First, Valentyn plans to hire assistant montage specialists, and next autumn he wants to open an office and find a sales manager, as well as setting up a workshop for cutting canvas for stretch ceilings. Valentyn is not happy with what is currently available in Mariupol, and he orders the canvas in Kharkiv. Having his own workshop would now allow Valentyn’s business to reach a new level of quality.

Thus, a relatively small grant has allowed not only to increase the income of a young entrepreneur, but also to provide an opportunity to create permanent and well-paid jobs for other residents of the city affected by the conflict in south-eastern Ukraine.

Author: Anastasiia Kozyreva (Livelihoods Officer at Danish Refugee Council, Ukraine)

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Valentyn Lohvynenko received support under the ‘EU4Youth - Enhancing Youth Education, Employment and Participation in Conflict- affected Areas in Georgia and Ukraine’ project which aims to enhance the livelihoods of internally displaced and conflict-affected youth, by increasing their educational, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. It provides vocational training, internships, business mentoring and start-up grants, and supports government institutions on youth employment policies. The project is funded by the European Union under its EU4Youth Programme and implemented by Danish Refugee Council/Danish Demining Group.