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UCP Wheels’ empowerment programs link people with disabilities and their families to local resources, and establish community support networks to educate and create opportunities. Our program team in Ukraine, together with Ukraine’s National Assembly of PWD (NAPD), conducts professional and vocational trainings, employer sensitization trainings, and small business trainings. Participants of the latter are eligible to enter a mini-grant competition, which provides winners with funding to start their own businesses.

Olena, a wheelchair user, was one of the mini-grant recipients. After being forced to flee her home due to the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Olena and her daughter Natalia settled in the small city of Druzhkivka in Oblast province. Income for the pair was very tight, and having a disability made it harder for Olena to find work. A craft project that Natalia was working on proved to be a major turning point, and the catalyst for a new career.

“It all started when my daughter sewed two soft bunnies,” explains Olena. “Friends mentioned some workshops where you can learn how to manufacture soft toys, and I became interested in it.”

She and Natalia created a line of charming, brightly colored dolls and animals, and Olena discovered that she loved the creative process. She also learned about the opportunity to participate in business training and apply for a mini grant. “Winning the grant was a pleasant surprise,” she says. “I thank all the organizers who helped me buy a sewing machine and an iron. Soon we will create a website, which will have all the detailed information about our products.”

Olena is now selling these beautiful toys at fairs and exhibitions all over Ukraine. She offers the following advice to other people with disabilities thinking about starting their own business, “First of all, do not be afraid. Secondly, use all the opportunities that allow you to make your ideas a reality. Take risks and you will get there!”

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