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Case Study: Polina, Ukraine

A Fresh Start: Polina’s Story

Polina escaped domestic violence, fleeing with her daughter, and had to start her life all over again.
World Jewish Relief’s Workability programme was there to support her.

Polina’s story begins comfortably; a young mother to Karolina, she worked and raised her daughter in Donestk, Ukraine whilst her husband worked as a crane operator. She was happy. But then things changed. Slowly her husband’s mood changed, and he grew aggressive towards her. He became angrier and angrier and eventually violent. Polina feared for her safety and that of her young daughter, so she made the difficult choice to flee her home and marriage. She had to drop her old life, stop communicating with everybody she knew and quickly leave for Odesa.

“My daughter and I were completely on our own in a big city without housing and money, but we couldn’t go back either.”

Eventually, Polina found a job in a market earning just £8 a day, that came with hostel accommodation. However, for her and her daughter, the hostel was unsafe and scary. Cockroaches, rats and bedbugs were the least of her problems. She had to stay awake at night so that her daughter would not be harmed. She knew that they couldn’t stay there. Polina sold all her jewellery and remaining possessions to rent a room in a communal apartment. Polina would go to work and leave Karolina with her elderly neighbour. But past trauma and fear of leaving her daughter meant that she really struggled to stay in work. Not only was she missing seeing her daughter grow up, but she was still relying on help from people she didn’t know. Polina felt so low and didn’t know where to turn.

Then, she was told about the World Jewish Relief Workability programme.
The programme isn’t just about finding someone a job – there are so many steps before that. The team got to know Polina, talking to her, discussing her fears, her anxieties and what she really wanted to do. Polina realised that her biggest priority was
being there for her daughter:

“I told the counsellor about my fears of changing my profession and the fact that I don’t even know who I should be. After talking with her, I calmed down and realised that my daughter is a priority for me, and my true desire is to be as close to my daughter as possible and see her grow and develop”

Polina escaped domestic violence, fleeing with her daughter, and had to start her life all over again. World Jewish Relief’s Workability programme was there to support her.

Once they found out Polina’s needs, the team were able to offer skills training to help achieve her goal. Polina started a vocational course in eyelash extension to start a career in beauty, and learnt about how to run and promote her own business. With extra support she was able to build up a client base and rent a space to ensure she could have a professional environment for her customers.

Things had turned a corner for Polina, and for the first time she was able to treat Karolina to a toy or a trip to the fair. Business was going well, but when Covid-19 hit, Polina’s work disappeared, and she was back to square one.

World Jewish Relief were there for her again, and for many others who lost income during the pandemic. In Ukraine there was no furlough or business loans.

Polina said:

“As I was not working during the lockdown, our financial situation was really challenging. We again were supported by the project – we received amazing food packages and cleaning materials which lasted for a very long time.”

We didn’t just provide Polina with material support – we made sure she had someone on hand to give her advice and provide counselling.

“We talked about my emotional state, what I can do while being at home, what I can cook, what to do with my daughter. The project really helped us psychologically and financially.”

Earlier this year, Polina returned to the Workability programme. She desperately needed additional income, but needed flexible hours so that she could combine a new job with her beauty business. We helped her find a sales assistant job in the cosmetic store near where she lived. Between her two jobs, her average monthly income now is £351 – a huge increase on her old market job, and now she is also able to spend plenty of time with her daughter.  This means that Polina can start planning for both her and Karolina’s futures. Karolina is now 11 years old, and Polina just wants her to be happy

“I wish Karolina peace in our country, good health, to find her calling in life and to never ever face the same difficulties I faced.”

Thanks to support from people like you, Polina and Karolina have a future they can look forward to. But there are so many more young families out there who haven’t been able to find stability, and are still vulnerable. Single mothers face persecution and discrimination every day in eastern Europe, and you can help them get the start they need to be able to provide for their children.