The seizure of Dokuchaievsk by militants has deprived them of their homes, work and property. At their new location, displaced persons got an empty half-destroyed house and a land plot. The hope and desire to rebuild a peaceful life turned them into farmers. Grant programs of the European Union have helped them to master breeding and become successful producers of poultry and eggs in three years. New projects and expansion of the farm are planned.
Valerii Hrek and his family lived in Dokuchaievsk, a small town, among dolomite quarries 30 kilometers south of Donetsk. He himself is a disabled person, his wife and daughter – also disabled. Nevertheless, the family didn’t need anything – they lived and built their future together. Valerii worked as a taxi driver and spent a lot of time driving, but at the same time he found strength and opportunity to do household work. The tiny house bought by the family was gradually rebuilt into a decent home – a large, comfortable, with all the amenities, they had a garden and a small farm household.
In 2014, alien people with weapons and camouflage began to appear in the town, claiming that they were a new power, but behaved like ordinary gangsters. For the first time, Valerii and his family tried not to focus on disturbing changes – they always lived by hard work and relied on themselves. But when the rigid armed confrontation began, the area where the family lived was under a cross-fire, all summer of 2014, the territory passed to one or the other party. It was scary, incomprehensible, but they put up with it and believed that everything would calm down.
My most important concern was for my family
“One evening, it was already deep in the autumn, I went out of the house to the courtyard to examine the farm before bedtime. There was fire. A gigantic explosion thundered suddenly. Whether a shell or a large-sized mine hit directly into the neighbor’s house standing a few meters from ours, and turned it into ruins,” Valerii remembers, “It was a turning point.
My daughter gave birth to our granddaughter only recently. I didn’t worry much about myself, but I realized that I could not guarantee the safety of my wife and girls, one of whom was still a baby only several months old. The next day, we picked up and left. We took as much as we could get into the car. I could not even put up a baby stroller with emotion – I attached it to the boot and we left.
Here, in Novyi Donbas, Dobropillia district, my wife lived at a young age, her classmate, with whom she kept in touch, lives here. That’s why we went here.
Building a new life is a struggle
Through the acquaintance, I managed to find a land plot with an empty house. Nobody lived there for five years – the land was used as a garden, and a house – for storage of inventory, as a warehouse. The hosts agreed to give the house to displaced persons on acceptable terms. Thus, the family found itself in a new place. Some clothes and household utensils that got into the car – that’s all we had. Only 600 hryvnias was all the money we had.
The house was cleaned and brought into a living state in few days. By January 2015, we managed to re-register documents in the controlled territory and restore pension rights, we periodically received humanitarian aid.
My daughter was always busy with a child, and my wife and I began to look for ways to work a bit, went to Dobropillia, and took up any job,” Valerii says. “Pensions for disabled people are low, child allowance too, and there are a lot of expenses: the little girl grows up, the house is old, made of air-dried bricks, was unattended for 5 years, requires maintenance and repair, coal is needed. There is no water and amenities in the house. Every day we have to ask people to allow us to make a stock of water. It was very difficult. In the spring, we planted vegetables and bought several chickens; eggs, chicken meat and even some surplus appeared.
I was very interested in this,” Valerii says. “I have learned that Karitas Charity Fund provided financial assistance for the development to displaced persons and filed an application. We were given 15 thousand hryvnias, for which we bought 100 chicken broilers, 100 layers, feeders, feed, inventory needed and started farming.”
The whole family worked. Valerii became more enthusiastic, began to study literature, specialized forums on the Internet, started to experiment, to combine some advanced achievements of poultry farming and traditional experience of natural ecological feeding. At the output, meat and eggs were somewhat more expensive than the average price in stores and in the market, but their quality was such that immediately there was a circle of regular buyers, and small scale of the farm did not allow to satisfy the demand from customers.
The EU made starting again a little easier
“I have learnt that the European Union implemented numerous grant programs for the victims of the conflict in our region,” he says. “In particular, I got to know that the International Organization for Migration implemented the EU project “Facilitating the Rehabilitation and Sustainable Resolution of the Problems of IDPs and Conflict-Affected Population of Ukraine” for the funds of the EU. I submitted an application, was trained and received the grant of 19.2 thousand hryvnias, for which I bought a walking tractor and a rotary mower. This allowed me to process the land the area of which is almost hectare. We grow vegetables on this land for our own needs and also use them as feed.
These small successes inspired the family to develop the farm to turn it into a full-fledged, though small, business. They bought a burned house next door, which was a little renovated, and arranged a chicken coop in it.
“Poultry began to bring a stable small income, but it still didn’t cover all our costs,” Valerii Hrek says. ”We realized that we would “stay” at this place, probably, forever. Even if the conflict ends, we won’t return to Dokuchaievsk. The house was robbed by the marauders, we lost everything there, and I have already resigned to it and let go everything, to which I have been bound for so many years.
Now all our plans are connected with our new home. We don’t need too much, but there are plenty of worries. Firstly, we need to arrange acceptable comfort for the family. I have somewhat renovated the house, laid water supply, but it is a minimum. The house is old and requires constant care. Those premises that we use as a poultry-house are also temporary, it is necessary to make them fundamental and it requires investments.
I don’t know for how long my plans would have been just plans, but I decided to apply for help to the EU again. The previous experience was very positive and inspirational. I felt that the programs implemented by the EU are not formal charity, but they really are interested in our success and development.
Once we started, I made plans to grow
People in Need Czech humanitarian organization has just announced the implementation of the grant program for the development of self-employment among conflict-affected people. I wrote the project, but I didn’t receive the answer, I wrote again and again. Then I found contacts and called them, invited them to make sure that I earned my labor and that I didn’t waste money, but spent them on the development.”
Thus, Valerii received the grant for 25 thousand hryvnia in January this year. For this money he purchased an incubator, a generator and a cooling chamber.
Today, Valerii knows about dozens of breeds, feed varieties, and the addresses of egg suppliers. He is ready to speak for hours about his own stock that reaches up to 500 heads of poultry.
The period of errors and mistakes, failures has already passed, and experience has come. Valerii knows how to plan and when to rejuvenate the stock, what weight each breed gains, what is the egg production of this or that breed and … is thinking about another project.
“If I manage to, I want to implement another project,” Valerii tells about his plans. “I need to finally equip the house with necessary facilities and make all outhouses fundamental. I need to buy some professional equipment, first of all – the grain crusher. I communicate with people a lot and studied the market well. I plan to buy and raise quails and grow garlic.
I want to provide for my family and give others the same opportunity
I am 54 years old and I cannot boast of the wealthy health. Therefore, I’m not going to expand indefinitely, and soberly evaluate my possibilities and desires. But if I manage to do what I have planned, it will give me the opportunity to provide for the family, daughter, to help bring up my granddaughter, and perhaps to provide work to several people”.
Thus, a former taxi driver who lost all his property and moved with his family to a new area, almost empty-handed, began a new life. And thanks to the help of the EU, he believed in himself and is already thinking about how to help and give work to his fellow villagers.
The story was originally published on Ostoro.org