'We Are Working No Matter What': This Is Life As An Etsy Seller In Ukraine

·6-min read
(Photo: Alla and Ihor Senchylo)
(Photo: Alla and Ihor Senchylo)

(Photo: Alla and Ihor Senchylo)

As bombs rain down on Ukraine, Ihor Senchylo continues crafting woodwork by hand for the business he founded in Kyiv with his wife, Alla, a decade ago.

The couple, who have two daughters aged seven and four years old, sold their wooden kitchenware and home decor at local markets before the war began, supplementing their income with their online Etsy store.

But now, as Russia’s invasion continues, their business has been forced to move completely online, with Ihor trying to keep sales afloat while Alla and the children have temporarily fled to Germany.

Their workshop has thankfully survived the bombing, though it’s surrounded by destroyed buildings. Operations are disrupted and sales are down, but Ihor and Alla are still donating part of their profits to the Ukrainian army and humanitarian efforts.

“My husband never held any gun or weapon in his hands, he can‘t fight, but he can do what he does the best: to make beautiful wooden tableware,” Alla, 36, tells HuffPost UK.

“A lot of businesses and shops didn’t resume their work, a lot of our suppliers aren’t at work yet. It’s difficult to fill the car with gasoline. So, there are problems with logistics.”

Items sold on Alla and Ihor's Etsy store, Woodstuffhome (Photo: @shepelev_)
Items sold on Alla and Ihor's Etsy store, Woodstuffhome (Photo: @shepelev_)

Items sold on Alla and Ihor's Etsy store, Woodstuffhome (Photo: @shepelev_)

Folk craft is an integral part of traditional Ukrainian culture, so it’s no surprise that Etsy is big business in the country, with more than one million product listings from sellers in Ukraine currently live on the site.

The company has made moves to support its community, including cancelling balances owed by Ukrainian sellers, including advert fees and listing fees, representing almost $4m (£3.3m). But business is still difficult for those now relying on the site more than ever.

Another seller, Svіtlana, from western Ukraine, shares how the war is impacting sellers even in areas that have not been invaded by Russian troops.

Svіtlana, who didn’t want her surname to be published, runs a business selling traditional Ukrainian clothing out of the city of Ternopil in the west of the country.

It is relatively calm here, if you do not take into account the frequent air raid alerts and curfews,” she says. “The main battles are taking place in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine.”

However, neighbouring cities just 150km away are regularly bombarded with rockets. When the alarms siren, Svіtlana and her team have to take refuge in basement bomb shelters, meaning the production time of goods has increased.

“The main risk, as I understand it, may be that fragments of downed missiles may fall on us,” she says.

Svіtlana sells traditional embroidered clothing via her Etsy shop, Ukrshop.  (Photo: Ukrshop)
Svіtlana sells traditional embroidered clothing via her Etsy shop, Ukrshop. (Photo: Ukrshop)

Svіtlana sells traditional embroidered clothing via her Etsy shop, Ukrshop. (Photo: Ukrshop)

Ukrposhta – Ukraine’s national mail service – is still operating in Ternopil, but delivery times have extended, also impacting the bottom line of Svіtlana’s business.

The war has changed our lives, our way of life, our pace and working conditions,” she says. “Logistics were disrupted, the supply of fabric for tailoring was disrupted. The delivery time of goods has increased, especially to European countries.

“But we are working no matter what in the name of our victory. Ukraine was, is and will be. We pray for peace in our land.

“We are grateful to all peoples and countries for their help in this difficult struggle against Russian fascism.”

We are working no matter what in the name of our victory. Ukraine was, is and will be.Svіtlana, an Etsy-seller in Ternopil

Faced with difficult or impossible selling conditions, many Ukrainian Etsy sellers have pivoted their businesses overnight in an attempt to generate income.

This is the case for Kovtun Nadezhda, 38, who had a successful business selling doll’s house furniture from her workshop in Priluki, not far from Kyiv, before the war started. Now, she’s selling digital downloads of art created by her children.

“When the war started, our business came to an end. We were unable to ship physical items as all postal services were down,” she says. “For this reason, our family was left without any income, and the price for food and goods increased several times. Leaving for Poland, we had 40 dollars [£31].”

Kovtun Nadezhda usually sells doll's house furniture via her Etsy store HappyDollsHD. (Photo: HappyDollsHD)
Kovtun Nadezhda usually sells doll's house furniture via her Etsy store HappyDollsHD. (Photo: HappyDollsHD)

Kovtun Nadezhda usually sells doll's house furniture via her Etsy store HappyDollsHD. (Photo: HappyDollsHD)

Kovtun and her husband, Ruslan, and their four children, Diana, Rostislav, Vladislav and Daniel, fled to Poland with all they could carry, including their three cats.

At the refugee centre, the couple’s 11-year-old son, Vladislav, started drawing pictures “expressing his love for home and Ukraine”. This soon turned into a way to raise much-needed funds.

Kovtun is now listing downloads of drawings by her children, available to purchase from £8. Money raised is helping to support the family, and they’re also donating part of the funds to the Ukrainian army.

Artwork created by Kovtun's son, Vladislav.  (Photo: Etsy)
Artwork created by Kovtun's son, Vladislav. (Photo: Etsy)

Artwork created by Kovtun's son, Vladislav. (Photo: Etsy)

The family has now been housed in Poland. While her regular business is down, Kovtun continues to sell downloads of her children’s artworks.

“Thanks to the support of people, we have housing, food and everything necessary for a peaceful life in Poland, as well as [the] cats are safe,” she says. “But our thoughts and hearts are in Ukraine.”

If you’re someone in the UK or US who shops on Etsy regularly and wants to support Ukraine, you may be tempted to purchase one of the many pins, flags or slogan tote bags and t-shirts declaring Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine!)

But Alla suggests checking where these sellers are based. Although often well-intentioned, many of these products are being created by Brits, Americans and Canadians.

“I think that now it is more important to buy products from Ukrainian sellers who stay in Ukraine and do their jobs no matter the war,” she says. “We want to bring love and beauty to this world, not war and destruction.”

Ihor has recently expanded his woodwork line to include new products featuring national Ukrainian symbols, for example, which Alla believes “will remind people how they stand with Ukraine”.

One of Ihor's new designs. (Photo: Woodstuffhome)
One of Ihor's new designs. (Photo: Woodstuffhome)

One of Ihor's new designs. (Photo: Woodstuffhome)

“The Ukrainian economy fell to 50% and we can‘t sell our products on the local market as before. Etsy is the only one channel where we can sell our products,” she says. “And it is one of the ways for people all over the world to support Ukrainian families and small businesses.”

Kovtun also wants to express her gratitude for people across Europe who’ve chosen to support independent businesses in Ukraine.

“My family lives on these funds and we can donate part of the funds to the Ukrainian army,” she says. “May God bless all the people who supported us and our country in this war. We hope that favourable times will come and we will be able to return to our house and be able to thank you all.

“Slava Ukraini.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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