SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to take a massive toll that has yet to be fully tallied, but life and even some small businesses have somehow managed to go on in some ways — even if it looks nothing like it did just two months ago.
“The first couple of weeks were shock, and after that, little by little, they got back to work because it needs to feed themselves and to help the economy,” a woman who helps her husband run a small business in Ukraine recently wrote KTAL in Shreveport, Louisiana, via a social messaging app.
The message came during a conversation about what it’s like trying to keep things running amid the siege and constant bombardment since Russian troops began their attack on their hometown of Kyiv.
To protect the woman’s identity and safety, she will be referred to as Sofia. For the most part, Sofia’s messages remain unchanged for this report, with only a few words edited for understanding.
She says many business owners are not only volunteering to fight; they’re fighting to keep the economy running amid Russian attacks on their homes.
“In Kyiv, we say: if your manicure master works, go and make nails, despite the war! People really do help each other,” she said.
(Photos Courtesy Armour and Castings)
Sofia says her husband and a fellow historic reenactor started a business making replicas of medieval jewelry and metalwork in 2004. Now, Armour and Castings has customers around the world. She and her spouse came to the U.S. in January, only a month before the attack. The other six employees in their small business stayed in Kyiv. Though the bombing brought production temporarily to a halt, they were determined to fight to protect their home and their people in any way they could.
When the attack came on Feb. 24, they had about 100 orders in progress. She says the first day, despite the explosions, the city transportation continued to run. By the next day, transportation stopped and evacuations began. They paid the team their salaries for the month and waited.
Over the next few days, their office building and factory buildings were closed. Their suppliers closed up shop, and territorial defense squads began forming. A Russian bomb fell nearby not long after, severely damaging their offices.
“Everyone was determined to fight,” Sofia said.
One of her master leather workers joined the Territorial Defense Forces with the kind of determination to defend Ukraine often displayed among their fellow citizens. He patrols and works checkpoints between shifts at the Armour and Castings shop. Another employee didn’t get into the defense force but has been helping support his co-worker in his service to civilian defense wherever possible.
“We never stopped believing for a minute that Ukraine would win. However, the nearest future of our workshop was uncertain.”
Sofia says they get messages of support daily from customers. They were touched by the outpouring of concern and began offering gift cards so customers could purchase goods at a discount once production resumes. Through gift card sales, they raised enough to pay the next month’s salary. The company is determined to return the favor.
“We didn’t want to ask for donations; we wanted to be able to pay our debts after the end of the war. Actually, we’re incredibly grateful to these amazing people. As a small business, we didn’t almost have savings, and Armour and Castings was the only source of income for the guys in Kyiv. So, we can say that the reenacting community saved us.”
In the meantime, they didn’t sit idle. Sewists who worked with them began making covers for body armor. The two employees in the U.S. sent tourniquets, bandages, and other supplies while managing the little stock they had available in a U.S. warehouse. ArmStreet, another Ukrainian company that makes medieval replicas, has changed its focus to producing blankets for the troops with their available materials.
She says many family businesses they’re familiar with stayed and slowly returned to work to support themselves and the economy. According to the European Business Association, 42% of small businesses closed within two weeks of the invasion, while another 31% temporarily suspended operations. Only 13% have managed to continue full operation since the start of the war.
(Photos Courtesy Armour and Castings)
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced in mid-March that small businesses won’t be required to pay taxes if they can’t afford it, “no questions asked.” But Sofia says many companies are determined to do their part to support the country and the war effort.
“People understand that if they work and pay taxes, they support the country,” she said. “So despite the government announcing the tax vacation, there are a lot of people we know who still pay the full taxes.”
Despite the difficulties they’ve endured, they are determined to get back to making orders. Mail services have been partially restored in the city, some Ukrainians are returning and the Ukrainian forces are pushing Russian troops back. Although only some of their facilities are open and not all of their suppliers have returned, they’ve started production again.
“And with this massive support of customers from around the world, we are sure that our workshop will survive too; this is just a matter of time.”