A mother in Ukraine finds strength, income with support from Pact's WINGS project

April 20, 2023
On the left, Kateryna Hilinich and her daugther. On the right, one of her postcards. Credit: Kateryna Hilinich

In June 2022, when Kateryna Hilinich first met with a WINGS project coordinator, she felt desolate and devastated. Six months of war, the shelling of her native city of Bila Tserkva, difficulties with earning a living, feeling anxious for her child who needed constant medical supervision. She kept everything to herself, because who do you complain to when the situation is hard for everyone?

But she suddenly opened up at the meeting. "I thought we were going to talk about business, but we talked about me, about what my life is like now and about what I feel."

Hilinich is not accustomed to talking about herself and her wishes.

Since childhood, she loved to draw, but her parents did not share her enthusiasm. "Have fun while you can and then you'll go study for a ‘normal’ profession," her father said. To please her parents, Hilinich earned a diploma in economics. She got married and had a daughter, Mariyka. While on maternity leave, Hilinich tried to come back to what she loved doing most. She took courses in graphic design and even got a job at a printing firm. But sudden news in the doctor's office disrupted all plans.

A daughter to fight for

Her daughter was given a devastating diagnosis. She underwent a difficult surgery and a long recovery period, bedridden for several months. Massages, procedures – all followed by another relapse. All that lasted for six years.

She and her husband broke up, and Hilinich had nobody to rely on. "At times, I totally lost my heart," she says. "But I knew that I had to fight for my child to live."

Going to work was out of the question, because her daughter needed constant care. Hilinich moonlighted, doing freelance jobs. She took on any kind of assignments – from processing photos to drawing furniture assembly diagrams. All the money was spent on treatment.

Only sometimes did she allow herself to do something for herself: She drew small cards with special inscriptions. "I wanted it to be simple words and pictures that would perk people’s mood, such as ‘Good morning!’, ‘I love you!’, ‘I'm sorry!’” Those could not be found in stores, and very soon, through word of mouth, Hilinich began to receive orders for her postcards. She printed small batches in a printing shop and treated them like a hobby, because they did not bring any income.

Hilinich's perseverance helped her daughter's illness recede, and Hilinich began to dream about a more creative occupation for herself.

But then war broke out.

All earnings stopped. Hilinich and her daughter could not relocate to a safer place, because the child had to stay under medical supervision.

Finding hope

When Hilinich saw an announcement about the WINGS project, she was totally confused; she simply did not know how to survive. But she felt better after the first meeting. "Our coordinator Yulia listened to me very attentively. She asked questions about my dreams and wishes. At each session, I saw how other women's eyes began to shine.”

During the Studio of Opportunities sessions, Hilinich learned to set goals and to persistently reach them, and also – something that helped her a lot – to report to her group mates. "It was an incredible atmosphere of female support and friendship that I had never experienced before."

One of Hilinich's postcards. Credit: Kateryna Hilinich

Next was a business training in Kyiv, where, with the help of her trainers, Hilinich made a simple discovery. As it turns out, it is possible to have a creative hobby and grow it into a profitable business, even under the conditions of war.

"I could never imagine that I could mass-produce my postcards and make a profit,” Hilinich says.

Sitting with her daughter in the hallway during air raid alarms, she worked on her business plan. She successfully pitched it and won funding from WINGS to buy equipment. That was how Hilinich got a color printer, and then a cutter, which she had dreamed of for a long time.

Now her apartment houses a real “home-based publishing house," as her daughter says. With her work – sketches, layout, printing – taking place at home, Hilinich can be close to her child.

In recent months, Hilinich managed to increase her output several times and established cooperation with flower and gift shops. Through her pages on social media, which her daughter helps with, she now has customers for her postcards from all over the country.

Hilinich plans to scale up her business and create a specialized website.

Recently, Hilinich released a new series of postcards about Ukraine. "I wanted to find words and images that would inspire and support people." Together with her daughter, she takes some of those cards to Ukrainian defenders who are in hospitals, and distributes some at volunteer centers.

"Thanks to the WINGS project, I know how inspiring support is," Hilinich says. “Apart from practical skills, I got something that is even more important – faith in my strength and in things that I like doing best."