Running a small business is hard work, even at the best of times. Engage in full scale warfare including Russian missile strike that damages your factory and the task becomes even more difficult.
Fadir Tools, a toolmaker from Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, has had a difficult war. When the Russians invaded Ukraine in February 2022, owner Serhii Ivin, 41, closed the factory, retrieved his shotgun and headed to the main administrative building to help defend the city. A few nights later, a Russian rocket lands just down the hall. He spent the next few weeks locked up in the basement.
Although he had joined a full-time Ukrainian army reconnaissance unit, Ivin decided to reopen the forge three months after the start of the war, leaving his foreman in charge of the day-to-day running of the business, which manufactures hand-forged axes. , carving knives and other woodworking tools.
Fadir is one of thousands of businesses in Ukraine that are still open for business, keeping the country’s economy running, despite the many challenges posed by war.
“We pay salaries and taxes, and it’s important that we keep going,” Ivin said during a brief leave from the front. “One day the war will end. We want to save this place and this business and we want to save the team, because people want to eat, they want to have a future. And the rest of the world needs tools.
When they returned to the forge in May last year, they found a Russian missile had landed on one of the outbuildings of the sprawling workshop complex, with the shock wave destroying the roof of the main office .
After repairing the damage, their first task was to fulfill the 600 pre-war current orders. “We had several people and we opened our factory and started placing these orders for customers who had already paid,” Ivin said.
With a very small workforce, they had to wait until October to complete the work. The response from customers, most of whom are in the United States and Western Europe, has been quite positive. “A few people wanted their money back, but most were happy to wait for their tools to be delivered to them, seeing it as a symbol of solidarity with Ukraine,” Ivin said. Some even asked that the money from their orders be allocated to the war effort. Others sent donations. “We used that money to buy the unit, drones and stuff.”
On the day of the Keeper’s visit, the forge was in full swing. In one of the workshops, you could hear the deafening noise of artisans hammering red-hot metal fresh out of the oven into the shape of ax heads; in another, a worker used a strip of sandpaper to give an edge to custom-made woodcarving knives.
But it was impossible to hide the challenge facing the company. “It’s more difficult than before the war because people don’t have confidence when it comes to buying something in Ukraine, because they think war is everywhere. It is difficult for them to understand that Kharkiv is now rather calm. The missiles keep hitting, but life goes on,” Ivin said.
The online marketplace they were using even put a warning on their page about the dangers of shopping in Ukraine. In response, they launched their own online store to try and sell directly to customers.
Everyone who works at the factory has been affected by the war.
Sergei, 35, a leather worker who makes the cases that protect the sharp edges of tools, was in Kharkiv when the invasion began, but the next day he traveled 100 km southeast to the city of Izium where his parents lived. Ten days later, the city was occupied by Russian forces. He and his family spent the next nine months underground before Ukrainian forces liberated the town. During this time, the Russians searched the house twice. Her brother and brother-in-law served in the Ukrainian army, but the Russians did not find the medals her parents had hidden. Sergei’s brother-in-law died fighting in Marinka, Donetsk Oblast, in June.
Four other workers are still serving in the Ukrainian army. One of the carpenters, who makes the ornate wooden handles of the tools, was injured in fighting near the fiercely contested town of Bakhmut in June when a mortar shell landed near him.
Andrei, 26, worked as an ax and knife sharpener. He joined a territorial defense unit and was killed in the battle for one of the villages east of Kharkiv during the first month of the invasion.
Raw materials are another issue. “We have some problems with the metal, because before the war all the high-quality metal in Ukraine came from Russia – they (suppliers) said it came from Belarus or Poland, but everyone knew where he was actually coming. Today, the metal comes from Turkey and Europe, but its price is twice as high as before. But you have to work, so…”
On the other hand, Russian customers are less of a problem. “We were selling a little to Russia. They write to us (again) and ask to buy our tools but we tell them: ‘Fuck you!’