Olena Kushchenko, S.I. Group Regional Personnel Manager from Makiivka moved to Dnipro in 2014. Since then, she became a craftswoman making felt items, having already made over 160 of them and actively keeping a Facebook page. Olena speaks about the search of self and self-realization on the eve of her first personal exhibition.
Olena is a graduate of the faculty of economics at Donetsk National University.
Her rapidly growing career in personnel management helped Olena get on her feet and make good money.
Eight years later, she wanted changes, although she wasn’t sure which ones. And then, life itself gave her a “practical task”.
Olena always could and did help people. That’s the way she is. Yet, she thought that for all the good she does, she would hardly get even a token of appreciation. It happened, although not often, and the woman was deeply upset by that.
And then, in 2008, her four-year-old son got struck by cancer.
– When my child and I were hospitalized, all of a sudden, all the people with whom I worked, literally all of them, even friends of my work associates who lived somewhere abroad, and even those who looked askance at me, began giving us money. The whole world was helping us.
During two and a half years of crisis, they left at the oncology department a sum enough to buy a three-room apartment in Donetsk. But thanks to that money, they were able to overcome the disease.
Olena came out of the hospital a totally different person, like she prayed to the Universe.
– That was when I realized that one has to be careful when asking the Universe for something, she says now.
In 2014, fighting broke out in her native Makiivka. Olena still worked at her company and tried to calm down the team.
– I was telling all of them that everyone has their own political views, and that’s normal. And, you know, the war will end but we all here would fall out with each other, so in order for that not to happen, let’s respect each other.
In early July, Olena received a phone call from her former classmate who knew better. He told her: “Lena, you have only three days to get out of there. After that, Donetsk will be closed“.
She bought tickets in five minutes, thinking that she’s leaving temporarily, for a month and a half at the most, and went to Dnipro with her son. She spent the first week living in the house of her company’s CEO, and then, found an apartment for rent and moved in there.
Soon, the ordeal started. Olena spent a year and a half looking for a job in her field of specialization. The fact that she was an IDP caused the same reaction everywhere: “Ah, you’re from Makiivka? No, we won’t hire you! If tomorrow you’d decide to go, say, to Odesa, you’d just walk out of here and go!“
– As it turned out, the people who needed me when I was in the profession have, all of a sudden, broken off the contact. It was a real devastation. Not disappointment but devastation, when everything disappears in just a blink of an eye.
Olena tried to live like she was used to: solve problems, support friends, help close ones… She tamed the bitterness with sweets and pastries, so after six months, her clothes became too tight.
– Back then, I should’ve done the opposite: to cry, she says. That’s what I know now: when you feel bad, do not pretend that everything’s fine and do not think that someone would appreciate your staunchness.
Nonsense! Just sit down and cry like a baby until everything you carried in yourself comes out. And only then should you set about a new task.
Olena spent all her savings on staying afloat with her son until the light comes on again. Out of work, she had enough time to be one-on-one with herself, and some time later, her values have changed.
– I came to realize that if you are hollow inside, you become nobody, and would inevitably suffer from your own uselessness, from realization that the society doesn’t like you, doesn’t support you and reject you. But when you’re a filled personality, it doesn’t matter where you live, in what city or society. Even if doesn’t like you, so what?
The most important things for me now are the health of my child and peace of my mind. Life proves: when I’m in harmony with myself, when my body is relaxed, when I calmly walk through a day, life or situation listening to it, everything would work out just fine, little by little.
The path to harmony was opened by yoga. Olena began practicing it in Dnipro, being lucky to find a very good coach.
Also, Olena sang. It was a tradition she and her son Zakhar had: turning music on in the morning and singing to everything they listened to.
Gradually, her thoughts became orderly and new values have been developed. But now, there was another problem: how to adapt her different self to the surrounding world?
– It was extremely hard. I had to split with everyone whose values did not match mine. But on the other hand, there were different people now, with whom I felt very comfortable.
New people in Olena’s life came along with a new passion
One day, she talked to a friend of hers over Skype, who felted wool while conversing with her.
– I’m asking her: “What are you doing over there?” And she says: “Here’s wool, and here’s a special needle“. So, I took a closer look, can you really make such a ball with one needle?
After that conversation, the friend sent her a needle and some wool. Olena didn’t set about it right away, but later, she surfed the Internet and found training videos, recalling seeing similar items in stores…
– So, I started to felt, she says. And then, I realized that felt excellently suits my values. I love freedom, can’t stand confines and limitations, reject standards and rules. The same with felt. It can be combined with any material that exists in the world, and one can make anything out of it.
I think that HR management has limits and ceiling, but wool felting doesn’t.
The parents didn’t quite understand her enthusiasm and didn’t really support her.
– They thought, Olena explains, that I had to find a job and go for it: with my huge experience, they believed that employers should be lining up to get me. And that thing I decided to do was just a nonsense.
But my son always encouraged me: “Beautiful! You’re great!”
Olena worked with felt alone, consulting only with the Internet, and one year later came to a fair. As it turned out, there were many craftswomen in Dnipro working with wool.
– I saw their work, touched it and realized that I’m doing well! Every craftswoman has her own style: idea, quality of items, combination of colors and materials. That was when I told myself: Kushchenko, you’re the woman!
Today, Olena knows for sure: if she would have to go to work again, she would look for a creative job, even if it pays less.
– You know, I came to an interview once, and sat on a black sofa in the hallway. There was a grey office all around me, from ceiling to floor. And I caught myself thinking that I’m sitting here and mentally hanging paintings: of that color over here, of a different one over there.
And I’m thinking about the electronic pass with which I would walk from one office to another: “swoosh!” And how I would be walking down that grey corridor, constantly hearing that “swoosh“.
I left that place and realized that grey office and everyday “swoosh“ aren’t for me. I will get sick there the very next day.
What she likes the most in wool felting is the moment, often unexpected, when an idea is born.
– For example: I came across a video about пазирицьку culture, got interested, found photographs and books about well-preserved mummies with tattoos, found in permafrost of the Altai Mountains. There was a picture there, showing this fragment of skin with holes, cuts and an awkward tattoo.
I was looking at it and thinking: it probably would’ve been great to apply that pattern to felt, adorn it, and the result would be just fantastic!
Thinking about technical aspects was no less interesting. Olena speaks about how she starts to outline the idea, select details: where to sew in and what, where to embroider.
– Felt is a material from which you don’t always make what you want. It’s interesting to subdue it to make sure that your idea does come true. But redoing things is also interesting. It happens that you make some item, and then, see that you didn’t give enough thinking to some details. So, you soak the item again, remold and resew it.
When Olena was still developing her techniques, she was selling her works at almost the cost price, just to return the money she spent on them.
But today, she’s not in a hurry to sell the items she makes: they can easily lay in stock for half a year without losing a bit in value.
Over four years, Olena received three grants for development of her business.
At first, she spent the money to buy equipment: shoes, tools, mannequins, a large, two-and-a-half-meter work table.
However, that didn’t solve the problem of expendable materials: she needed wool, and not only that.
For example, to make an overcoat, you’ll need approximately half a kilo of wool. If 100 grams cost 140 hryvnias on average, the entire volume including delivery would set you back for some 800 hryvnias.
And also, you need décor, which may cost up to 300 hryvnias per 100 grams.
The suitable material for lining is natural chiffon or silk, adding some 130 hryvnias per meter.
On top of that, buttons and accessories. So in the end, a quality felt coat comes out very expensive: the minimum quantity of required materials costs 2,500 hryvnias at the very least.
Therefore, Olena started to look for money to pay for materials, staying on top of news in all relevant groups on Facebook.
And she found it! A grant from the European Union’s project “Public activity bridges” offered a chance to get 24,000 hryvnias. Olena’s application was one of the six strongest, and she received financing.
To move forward, promote your works and reach higher, you have to learn to photograph, know the laws of drawing and cutting principles, have sewing skills. You need to have knowledge of the fashion industry, skills of promotion in social networks, the ability to write. Olena has learned some of these things, and yet to learn others.
Presently, the craftswoman is getting ready for the first exhibition of her works the next spring. She is dreaming about going to Italy or Poland to a school of arts to study modeling. After all, why not?
By Olena Chekhnii and Yaroslava Prokopenko