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These days, printer Denys Pidchenko’s company is printing lots of stickers with patriotic slogans, as well as mugs emblazoned with “Glory to Ukraine!”, and embroidering phrases in support of Ukraine onto blue and yellow T-shirts.

Pidchenko is the head of CMYK, a printing enterprise he founded in Slovyansk in Donetsk Oblast more than ten years ago. His company used to be more engaged in making advertising and printing products for outdoor advertising, digital printing, and the design and interior decoration of stores and offices.

But that changed with the onset of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine at the end of February, which uprooted Pidchenko, his family, and his whole business from Slovyansk. Now they’ve relocated their business, and with their new range of products they’re doing all they can to raise the country’s patriotic spirit, in the hope that Ukraine will achieve victory and they can return home.

Humble beginnings

The story of Pidchenko’s business started a decade ago, when he decided to open a computer club with photocopying services in his hometown.

“At first I worked together with my wife and focused more on (attracting the custom of) local students,” says the entrepreneur. “We only had a printer, a photocopying machine and six computers.”

To expand his business, Pidchenko would regularly go to various training sessions, business exhibitions and seminars, including those organized by EU4Business following the signing of Ukraine’s Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade agreement with the European Union. This helped him find new business partners and customers, as well as get information about how to do business in the European market.

Piece by piece, Pidchenko built up an impressive array of equipment in his workshop ­– from professional laser printers and large-format printing machines, to an embroidery machine for putting badges and logos on T-shirts and other clothing. Over the years, his small business grew to be able to perform an entire range of printing and advertising services. Pidchenko hired new employees, training most of them by himself. They started to receive orders from international customers.

“Over the previous five years we increased our profits eightfold and opened two branches of CMYK, in Kramatorsk and Kharkiv,” Pidchenko says. “Now we have clients all over the east of Ukraine.”

Forced to move

When Russia launched its full-scale war on Ukraine, the entrepreneur, his wife and their three children were in Slovakia on vacation.  They were supposed to return home on Feb. 28, but couldn’t due to all flights into Ukraine being cancelled.  Instead, they went to Poland and stayed there for almost a month to take stock and decide what to do next.

Eventually, Pidchenko decided to leave his family in Poland, and to return by himself to Slovyansk to attempt to save his business. He hoped to transport at least some of his equipment from the frontline town and start from scratch somewhere safer.

“After some effort, it became possible to evacuate nearly all of the equipment,” Pidchenko says.

“At first we considered moving to Ternopil or Khmelnytskyi (oblasts in the western part of Ukraine). But then a university friend called me and told that a lot of people from Slovyansk were moving to Kropyvnytskyi (the main city of Kirovohrad Oblast in south-central Ukraine). We started looking for a place and in the end decided to go there.”

At first they rented some storage space, then after a week they found an office and started to evacuate all of their equipment. Pidchenko drove his minivan from Slovyansk to Kropivnitsky and back about twenty times, he says. Several five-ton trucks were also needed to move everything.

“The biggest machines weighed up to a tonne,” Pidchenko explains. “We took those out last. These were four large-format printers to make boards more than three meters wide. There was also a laser printing machine that supplied the whole of Donetsk Oblast with receipts. We could make 250,000 receipts a day. It’s one of the fastest printing presses there is.”

All of the equipment was loaded by hand, as it turned out that under martial law there was a ban on the use of cranes in Donetsk Oblast.

A new start

Pidchenko finished transporting all of the equipment in early May, and began to set up his new printing workshop. The process has been slow and difficult, and he has had to contend with staff problems: some of his employees have remained in Slovyansk, while others have moved abroad.

Nevertheless, in June the company reached the milestone of making 20% of its pre-war profits. With this profit level, the company was able to restart paying off its loans, and paying wage arrears to staff.

Now the focus is on increasing the company’s output. Old partners are returning, and placing orders. And despite the ongoing war, Pidchenko is already looking to the future: He plans to open a branch of his business in Poland and bring in more business from customers in Europe. He also hopes to find more new customers for the print shop in Kropyvnytskyi.

Meanwhile, Pidchenko is also hoping Ukraine defeats the Russian invaders soon, so that he, his family and his business can return to his native Slovyansk.

“We’ll definitely start working there again,” he says confidently.

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