From machine engineer to photographer: EU4Youth makes a dream come true in eastern Ukraine

12-12-2019

A heavy machinery engineer from Ukraine wants to become a famous photographer. A business education and a grant from the EU4Youth programme have helped her to start her own business and make her dream come true.

It’s very noisy at the ‘Planet of Knowledge’ educational family centre on Friday afternoon. In one of the rooms, children are singing in chorus, in the other they laugh out loud, and everywhere kids are rushing along the corridors. It all takes place in the centre of Kramatorsk, a city in Donbass, just a few dozen metres from the state institution, which was seized by armed men hostile to Ukraine in 2014.

This is where we met photographer Svitlana Trayanovska. Here, she gives lessons on basic photography for adults and children. Svitlana comes to us immediately after shooting a wedding in a local park and, barely catching her breath, says that she loves her new profession because it allows her to create beauty.

Svitlana only took up photography a year and a half ago, after working for six years as an engineer at a local heavy machine-building plant. She says that her current business brings both pleasure and income at the same time. "I did not know that it was possible before," she smiles.

She started her small business after taking part in a training organised in the framework of the EU4Youth programme ‘Better skills for a better future’.

The programme, which aims to support young people from the conflict-affected areas of Georgia and Ukraine, is funded by the European Union. The main goal of the project is to increase the level of education, employment and social integration of young people.

The programme is implemented by Save the Children in the Donetsk Region. The EU4Youth training course consists of 12 lessons that last three weeks.

Svitlana took part in the course after which she received a grant to purchase the necessary photographic equipment. Svitlana admits it would have been much more difficult to start without this. The novice photographer received about 1,000 euros to which she added her own savings to buy professional Nikon equipment.

“Svitlana wanted not only to take photos, but also to educate other people," says Anton Stukalo from Save the Children, "that is why we chose this business for the grant."

From audience to product

Svitlana's business path is not typical. Rather than looking for clients for the service she provides, she was looking for a product that would suit the database of potential clients she already had.

Svitlana is the founder of a popular social network group for young parents. She founded the community four years ago when she became a mother. Now there are more than 20,000 people in the group, which already runs on several online platforms. For Kramatorsk, with a population of 150,000 inhabitants, this is a lot.

She says that maintaining such a community is not too difficult. "We need to discuss topical issues there," she says. And mothers are a win-win option; they always have a lot of questions. "The main thing is to start and keep it going," explains Svitlana.

When she decided to change her life after her maternity leave, she began to think what she could sell to the audience that she had. "At the training, they taught us how to choose business ideas," says Svitlana, and adds: "I went through different options and everything came together in the photographer's work: creativity, the ability to work with people and good earnings."

In addition, her group members always have a reason for a photo shoot. "Christening a child, baby's first birthday or children's party," Svitlana says.

Creating a fairy tale

According to the business plan written by Svitlana, she would open her own studio in a year. In the meantime, she collaborates with a modelling agency, takes photos to order and conducts classes in her own mini-photo school.

Most often, people order photo sessions at family gatherings. She says she loves family photography most of all. "I can not only capture, but also direct," she explains. "This is so much more interesting."  

She admits that at first she was afraid that there would be no demand for her services. Now everyone has a camera in their smartphone that can capture any moment in life without paying for a photographer. Svitlana says that, as it turns out, the risk is not that great, because the difference in the quality of amateur and professional photography is enormous. "Most people understand this," she said. And that is precisely what she likes about her new profession – the photographer is the person who can create a fairy tale for people.

Author: Kateryna Shapoval

About the project. The EU4Youth – Better skills for a better future project helps to develop the entrepreneurial potential of disadvantaged youth in Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine, it ensures their increased access to education and training opportunities for greater employability, and advocates for coherent and cross-sectoral youth policies at local, regional and national levels.