In the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk and the region, it is hard to find a person who has not heard about Nadiya* Stefurak, a Paralympic sportswoman, world medalist in biathlon, who presented Ukraine at the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver.

She is well-known for her sports glory and charity work with children with disabilities. IOM, the UN Migration Agency, is honoured to have Nadiya among its grantees, supported with grants for self-employment.

Nadiya was enrolled into the IOM’s programme designed both for people displaced from Crimea and Donbas and vulnerable members of communities which host them across Ukraine. She successfully defended her business plan and received a knitting machine. It now takes a prominent place at Nadiya’s modest house in the village of Zaberezhia, where Ukraine’s Paralympics star lives with her elderly father.

The machine allows producing custom-made clothing and earning some additional income to Nadiya’s pension of UAH 1,500 (USD 57) only.  “Now everyone wants to have something unique,” Nadiya demonstrates some of her products, explaining how she came up with different patterns. 

“When I got injured in 1998, I did not have a wheelchair for two years. Then I started to learn hand knitting and take some orders. It was such a hard work that my eyes hurt,” Nadiya recalls.

Then was the life-changing meeting with the local representatives of Malteser International, Order of Malta Worldwide Relief, who helped Nadiya to start her rehabilitation and sports career.

As a well-known Paralympic athlete, Nadiya was invited to deliver motivational speeches at schools, and finally, after 2010 Paralympics, she decided to retire from sports and dedicate herself to working with children with disabilities. She runs a charity Svitla Nadiya (Bright Hope), which takes care of 120 children from Bohorodchany district, including 30 who are bedridden. Excursions, master classes, hygiene items – Nadiya is extremely busy fundraising for the charity.

There is also a rehabilitation room and a massage therapist is visiting at home those who cannot come to the centre due to their health condition.

“I explain to the parents that their children need to work, and work, and work. The sport I was doing requires enormous work,” says Nadiya. “A problem is that parents of children with disabilities often feel sorry for them. My situation was different, my mother died and I understood that I should take care of myself.”    

This resilient woman has been taking care of herself for many years. Recently she bought additional equipment for her knitting machine to be able to produce more knitting patterns, and saves money to buy additional punch cards to expand her small business step-by-step.

However Nadiya’s main wish is to find two or three more knitting machines to be able to organize master classes for children with disabilities who have an interest in gaining practical skills. “The children come of age and should find some work, but nobody wants to hire them. I just don’t see any other option for them but to pass some informal vocational training and get self-employed,” she says, her eyes are shining with determination. 

“Knitting would be also an option for their mothers to have some income and diversity in their lives, as when there is a child with a disability in a family, the mother usually fully dedicates herself to looking after the child and is not able to find a job.”

Soon after the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of the conflict in the east of Ukraine in 2014, IOM, the UN Migration Agency, started providing grants for vocational training, self-employment and micro-entrepreneurship to internally displaced persons. Later the programme was expanded to include vulnerable host community members as well, in order to avoid possible tensions between local population and the newcomers. As of May 2018, almost 7,000 small grants have been awarded on a competitive basis to empower conflict-affected people and vulnerable host community members, create income-generating opportunities or improve chances for employment, and help them to become more self-reliant and economically independent.

* The Slavic name translates as ‘Hope’