Natalia and Dmytro Pokolenko from Kostyantynivka, Donetsk oblast of Ukraine, founded a workshop in the same place where Dmytro’s grandfather, a carpenter, had his. However, the war forced them to «pack» production.
Natalia and Dmytro Pokolenko
Natalia Pokolenko tells «Vchasno» journalists that the story of their business began in 2019 — when the couple bought a laser machine. The idea was to make souvenirs for the guests of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
«We started doing it at home, in the city of Kostyantynivka. Dmytro’s great-grandfather was a carpenter and had his own workshop in the same place where we made our workshop, 100 years ago he made wood products. We just wanted people who come to Donetsk oblast to know that there is not only coal and football here. So that when a person leaves our region, he or she can take something valuable as a reminder — a small souvenir that will preserve their memory. But we wanted the souvenir to be craft-made,» the woman recalls.
Dmytro Pokolenko says that nothing was complicated for them from the very beginning. The couple had all the necessary skills needed to make and sell souvenirs.
«I am an engineer myself and work with applications for machines and lathes. My wife Natalia is a communicator; she was the one who started to spread the information about us to the masses. My task is to design and make a souvenir, and my wife’s task is to tell about it and sell it. We have good cooperation and complement each other,» the man says.
For February 24, the couple admitted, they were not ready. Shortly before that, in the fall of 2021, they built a new workshop.
«If we were preparing to move, we would not have built it. And a week before the full-scale invasion, a new lathe was delivered to us from near Kyiv, from Bila Tserkva. We would not have it delivered but would come to Kyiv oblast ourselves if we had known… My husband and I did not believe it until the end. We did not want to believe that it had happened. I remember that even when Russia invaded us and rockets fell on the cities, people wrote to us and ordered a map of Ukraine. War, there are explosions all around, and they order a map from us. We were shocked. But this is what prompted us to take the equipment and go somewhere,» Natalia says.
At the beginning of April 2022, the couple left for Kamianske, Dnipropetrovsk oblast. They lived there for a month but realized that it would be better to collect the equipment and go further, where they could live on a permanent basis.
«We returned home, packed everything… It was difficult. Because the equipment is bulky and heavy, special equipment is needed, that can be loaded with all machines. And then the crisis in the fuel market just began. In the evening, we agreed to transport everything for one price, and in the morning they called us and said that the price had increased. In one night — immediately by 30%, the price was very high. We paid about 50 thousand hryvnias for just one car. This is the price of our relocation,» the woman recalls.
Natalia Pokolenko says that she spoke Russian before the war. However, since 2014, has basically switched to Ukrainian. Her husband completely gave up Russian in the winter of 2022, and the position of both sometimes raised questions among the people of Donetsk oblast.
«Since 2014, I fundamentally switched to the Ukrainian language. This is why the words „I'm from here“ are written on our map of Donetsk oblast: because when the locals heard the language, they always asked me where I’m from because I speak Ukrainian. That’s why we made this magnet one of the first souvenirs. It has backstory,» the entrepreneur recalls.
Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Ukrainian (including own production) products have gained popularity abroad. In particular, the wooden souvenirs of the Pokolenko family are shipping abroad.
«At the beginning of June, our souvenirs were delivered to Switzerland, and before that to Canada and the United States. Abroad, there is now a huge demand for Ukrainian products, and surprisingly foreigners very often order a map of Ukraine. Americans too. And the plates of our production, painted with Petrykivsky paintings, recently were delivered to Europe. There are Ukrainian entrepreneurs who also have relocated from the front-line areas. Our partners have opened a store in Kyiv. They sell our products there, making bulk orders,» the couple recalls.
Natalia Pokolenko says that one of the most popular products is a map created at the beginning of their activity. Each area on it is decorated with its own patterns, and this feature makes it unique.
«In 2019, a public organization from Kramatorsk approached us — they asked us to make something that could be embroidered. We thought about the concept — and we got such a map. My husband created it for two weeks to make a project for the machines. The difficulty was to punch out that embroidery correctly. And on the map, it turns out, there are more than 6 thousand holes. Then we made a map and just gave it to them for free, and wrote a post about it on social networks. The next day, we already had 20 orders for this particular map. Since then, we have started delivering it to different countries of the world and selling it all over Ukraine. This is our pride,» the woman notes.