Entrepreneurs in a City on the Front Lines of Ukraine Adjust to Constant Threat of Missile Attacks
KRAMATORSK, Ukraine —
In a city filled with damaged buildings, a ruined pizzeria serves as a poignant reminder of the sudden loss of lives and livelihoods.
In June, a Russian ballistic missile hit a well-liked restaurant in eastern Ukraine, resulting in the deaths of 13 individuals, including a celebrated Ukrainian author and multiple teenagers. Among the casualties were seven employees.
Today, new flowers and messages have been arranged at the location of the former entrance. A shirt, worn by the waitstaff, is displayed at the impromptu memorial with the words “We will always remember.”
“As a business owner, I am saddened by the loss of property, but the most valuable thing that cannot be recovered are human lives,” expressed Dmytro Ihnatenko, proprietor of RIA Pizza.
The severely damaged structure in Kramatorsk highlights the significant dangers faced by businesses in this conflict-affected city in the Donetsk region. However, this has not dissuaded numerous other business proprietors from resuming operations and serving customers in the last year.
According to the city council, there are currently 50 restaurants and 228 shops operating in Kramatorsk. This is three times the amount of businesses that were open at this time last year. It is believed that most of these establishments were previously in operation before the war and have since reopened after temporarily closing.
Olena Ziabina, the chief administrator of Kramatorsk’s White Burger restaurant, stated, “We acknowledge the potential risk, but we are willing to take it as this is our livelihood. We must work wherever we are located, and this establishment is our deliberate decision.”
Before the war, the White Burger chain primarily operated in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. However, due to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022, it was only able to reopen in Kramatorsk. In order to sustain the chain, two new restaurants were opened in the capital city of Kyiv and Dnipro.
The restaurant in Kramatorsk is the most profitable location for the chain, despite its prices being 20% lower than the restaurant in the capital.
According to Ziabina, despite the attack on Ria Pizza, the operators of White Burger did not contemplate shutting down their restaurant in Kramatorsk. She shared that she shed many tears upon learning about the incident.
The economy of Kramatorsk has adjusted to the effects of war. The city is home to the regional headquarters of the Ukrainian army, and its cafes and restaurants are primarily visited by soldiers, journalists, and aid workers.
Frequently, Ukrainian women journey to this location to spend a few days with their spouses and significant others.
The soldiers humorously refer to Kramatorsk as their version of Las Vegas, where they can find all the necessary “luxuries” such as tasty food and coffee. However, the restaurants only serve non-alcoholic beer due to the city’s close proximity to the battlefield.
The urban roads are largely deserted, save for military vehicles. The remaining locals steer clear of large gatherings and congested spaces.
However, the current situation is significantly different from the initial stages of the war, when businesses in Kramatorsk were forced to close their doors, leaving tens of thousands unemployed and factories shut down.
Oleksandr, who preferred to be referred to by his first name due to safety reasons, stated that the city can still be revisited due to the efforts of the military.
Oleksandr is one of the co-founders of a military store in Kramatorsk that caters to soldiers. He stated that he only adds 1 hryvnia (2 cents) to the manufacturer’s price as a markup. His main goal is not to make a profit, but rather to supply the military with essential equipment.
Numerous individuals value the fresh employment options that have arisen with the resumption of operations in stores and dining establishments.
However, Tetiana Podosionova, who is 54 years old, mentioned that there are limited choices for individuals in her age group. She spent 32 years working at the Kramatorsk Machinebuilding Plant, which was forced to shut down due to safety concerns when the war began.
Podosionova expressed her desire to continue working at the factory until she retired. However, due to the current job market, she has had to seek employment in the restaurant and retail industries, which she has no prior experience in.
After much searching, she landed a position at Amazing Fish Aquarium, which had reopened after several months of war. The aquarium boasts a large collection of rare fish and numerous parrots and continues to welcome visitors, providing a source of relaxation for those affected by frequent missile attacks.
However, there is a risk associated with every business that reopens. Despite this, Ihnatenko, the owner of the pizzeria, continues to visit his damaged restaurant daily when he is in Kramatorsk. He is uncertain of the reason but appears fatigued and speaks softly.
Similar to numerous other entrepreneurs, he viewed the effective retaliation by Ukraine in the nearby Kharkiv region in the previous year as an indication that normalcy could potentially be restored in Kramatorsk.
He clarified that it felt more secure in this location as he stood amidst the debris of his eatery.
He currently has no intentions of reconstructing and reopening once more.
The unfortunate situation he went through highlights the difficulties business owners encounter in maintaining their operations.
He stated that a missile could arrive at any given time.