These Ukrainian designers have fled their homes and country, but their jobs are still intact.
When Russia invaded Ukraine over a month ago, the owner of Lener Cordier Textiles Company transferred some of his employees from his site in Kyiv to his factory in Hazebrook, northern France.
“When the war started, they did not go to work. I was panic-stricken, I was very, very scared and — as I have a family, two daughters and a granddaughter — we decided to leave Kyiv,” Nadia Kotova, a former employee at the Ukrainian site, said.
“Frederic Lener asked if we wanted to escape. I accepted, and we left immediately for Lviv, we stayed there and then we went to France.”
“I didn’t want to leave because we had all our family there, my husband, my son-in-law, my brother. I did not want to leave. However, since there is work here and to keep my children safe, we made this decision. It was difficult but we made the decision to leave.”
“I have mixed emotions. Fear and joy, because my children are protected here, but my heart is over there because over there is our home, our relatives,” she said.
“We watch the news constantly, we saw that the building next to ours was bombed, it is scary. It’s really difficult to live with this mixture of emotions,” Kotova said.
Specialising in coats, jackets and trenches, the majority of the Lener Cordier company wares were manufactured in Kyiv.
To sustain production, CEO Frederic Lener said he needed to act fast.
“What would we do today if our Ukrainian office closed down? What do we do, when will this happen? This matter was raised very quickly. Most of the people who are here in France had already decided to leave the country,” he said.
“So, when they left for Poland, I told them: ‘In this case, come to France, we will try to organise housing. These are people we have known for more than 20 years — they are employees, collaborators and even friends, so this is an obvious approach,” Lener stated.
For now, the Kyiv branch is still functioning and while Lener hopes the production will continue, supplying his workers and Ukrainians with humanitarian aid has become a top priority.
Lener said his company is sending about one truck per week, with the latest round of aid being the third convoy he organised.
“We are very concerned about how we will organise ourselves in the future, but quite honestly, the keyword at the moment is solidarity on all levels: on the human level, on the humanitarian level and on the solidarity level,” he explained.