Oksana with flowers from her greenhouse which she grows in Donbas - a conflict-affected area in Ukraine. O LOSHAKOVA/ICRC

A blooming business in Donbas: A family grows flowers at the contact line

For more than six years, the Yasynskys have lived off the flowers grown a mere few hundred meters from the front line. The science of flower farming had to be mastered from scratch in extreme conditions: without power, under shelling, and on next to no money.
Article 01 November 2021 Ukraine

The amateur florists live in Trokhizbenka, Luhansk region, Ukraine. More than 2,000 plants have now been planted in their greenhouses they built by themselves.

Thanks to a grant from the International Committee of the Red Cross they grew further, building another greenhouse, buying soils and equipment.

"Chrysanthemums blossomed recently," Oksana says, inviting us to come into greenhouses. Inside, they are like a botanical garden: the magic of flowers, their perfume and rich palette make one forget about being almost broke, and that here people still spend some nights in the basement.

Next to the chrysanthemums, there are pots with begonias, cachepots with carnations, pelargoniums and mandevillas. New seedlings currently take up a third of the space; primula plants already have a few early leaves each and should come into bloom by March.

"We started with 200 seedlings in 2015," Kostiantyn recalls. "I had lost a job because the city where I worked ended up beyond the line of contact. So, my wife suggested giving flowers a try and I supported her."

Currently, almost all of the couple's free time is dedicated to working in the greenhouses. Quite often, they toil until midnight preparing soils, sowing, replanting etc. Almost all of the plants are watered manually to protect the flowers from diseases. And once cold weather sets in, firewood should be added to the greenhouse heating oven every two hours, so Kostiantyn barely sleeps.

"On winter days, the warmth of the sun is almost always enough, but as the sun goes down, work begins. It's like a baby: keeps you up all night! For you have to keep an eye on the temperature in the greenhouse, especially when it's freezing cold," Kostiantyn explains.

They sell the flowers at a market in - Sieverodonetsk, currently the regional administrative centre, around 70 km away from their village, and also find clients via their Facebook page.

"Not all plants can be shipped. It's down to packaging. However, we have learned to pack some of them, like pelargoniums, to prevent damage in transit, and are trying to sell them online," says Oksana.

Oksana and Kostiantyn will keep selling chrysanthemums for about a month. They say they bloom long and sell well: "People buy them for flowerbeds, verandas, balconies, or simply as gifts. When nature loses its colours, when it's cold and sad, chrysanthemums are like small suns in flowerpots: they cheer you up and make you happy."