Displaced sociologist opens own business and creates jobs for two dozen IDPs and locals

A year-and-a-half since displacement, Halyna, a sociologist from the frontline city of Mariupol, runs a public opinion research company of 26 employees, which currently implements nine projects.

Halyna left Mariupol, Donetsk Region, with her husband and two children in May 2014 when the clashed started in the city. “We did not want to hide somewhere in a basement, so we stayed outside of the city for three months, hearing muffled explosions far away and going back from time to time to check on our flat and relatives,” she recalls.

On one of the nights when the family was home, shooting began in the area. “We were lying on the floor, after turning up Sponge Bob as loud as possible to block out the sounds from the street. There was not a light on in any of the neighboring houses. After two hours of this, I got tired, stood up and went to cook some cream of wheat. My husband thought I was crazy. The neighbours were taking shelter in their bathtubs, you know, and I was cooking. I fed the children and went to bed. I realized that I could not take it anymore,” Halyna recounts these tense days.

By late summer, their friends and relatives started to call them from Mariupol, telling them that everything was quiet and that they could come back. The family decided to try returning, and went to Mariupol for a few days at the end of August 2014. “When you realize that your children will learn how to go down to the bomb shelter, and see everything with your own eyes, you instantly start to doubt and see things differently. Therefore, we decided to leave the city.”

Having stuffed the car to the brim, the family left the city at dawn. Halyna explains, “We took everything we could fit into the car. The children sat on the pillows and blankets. We had taken pans, pots, blankets, children's clothes, dishes, and a microwave, which was stuffed with children’s shoes..”

The family first stayed a few days in Zaporizhia, but soon Halyna and her husband realized that it would be better to move to Kharkiv, where they had relatives. The family entered the city under the cloak of darkness. Godparents met them and took them to their new apartment. “It was already midnight. We closed the door, and suddenly the fireworks began. I started crying. ‘They also shoot here,’ I thought.”

Halyna immediately found a job with a market research company. She was leaving for work at 5 am and returning at 11 pm, continuing to work on questionnaires at home. “I spent nine months at this pace, because I had to feed my family. Anyway, it was okay. We survived. I wore my jogging shoes the entire winter. Then my relatives sent me boots and woolen socks, it was wonderful,” says Halyna.

At some point, she began to calculate how much she earned. Taking into account the commuting and food expenses, the amount appeared to be quite small, so Halyna started thinking about freelance work.

She called some Kyiv colleagues, and they immediately suggested collaborating, since they were interested in hiring interviewers in Kharkiv. Halyna started to look for sociologists and assistants with whom she could work, but started largely on her own.

“My first project was on IDP job-seekers. However, it was terribly difficult, because I did not have a computer, only a tablet. I was tired, I falling asleep on my feet on occasion, but I kept working. Since this work was not immediately remunerated, I went to the pawnshop many times. I knew that the next day I was going to be paid, but we needed something to eat at that very moment. I am not the kind of person who clings to material trappings, and thus was easily able to part with them,” says Halyna.

One day, running all over the city in search of IDPs, Halyna saw a poster advertising an EU-funded IOM self-employment project. “My first thought was: ‘Excellent! That is where I can find IDPs!’ At that time, I had to interview 25 IDPs, and for me it was big money,” recalls Halyna.

Filling in the questionnaires, she began to think more about the training: “That is when I understood that it was possible for me to implement my own projects and offer market research services in Kharkiv. I realized that with good employees and orders I could flourish. On the contrary, without employees I would run around with surveys on my own for the rest of my life.”

“IOM’s project pushed gave me a necessary push and helped me pull myself together. Being an IDP, I was not able to get a bank loan for buying a laptop. So, defending my business plan, I had a sole purpose – give me a laptop! Soon, I started a private enterprise and things got rolling. I opened an office, secured new projects, and hired staff. Now, I have what I wanted. I received an important part of my office equipment – a laptop and a printer – thanks to IOM.”

Currently, the sociologist is running nine projects. She is cooperating with a number of pollsters, like the Kyiv International Sociology Institute (KISI), Razumkov Centre, GfK, and companies from Sweden and Belgium. “Now I have two full-time workers and 24 contract interviewers, amongst whom are eight IDPs. I am lucky that my work speaks for itself and customers come to me. I do not even have a business card! But I have people who I feel comfortable working with, and there is an understanding that everything is possible if you really want it and set specific goals,” says Halyna.