The social enterprise InvaFishki has its own online store of goods for people with disabilities, provides consulting services on the arrangement of public and private spaces and has a wheelchair maintenance workshop.
In April of this year, "InvaFishki" received a grant from the Ukrainian Social Venture Fund, which helped the team to relocate their enterprise to a safer region and ensure the smooth operation of the enterprise. We spoke with the company's co-founder Vitalii Pcholkin who told us about the main challenges of people with spinal cord injuries during the war, what myths surround the topic of disability and his plans for the future.
How was the enterprise’s activity transformed after the beginning of a full-scale invasion?
From the beginning, one of the enterprise’s co-founders joined the ranks of territorial defence and between shifts packed and sent orders. Vitalii himself, with whom we spoke, was with his family in Bucha, which, under tragic circumstances, is now known all over the world. On March 9, Vitalii managed to get out of Bucha and reach Lviv. Despite all the events, the team deliberately continued its work because they understood that society directed all its forces to support the military and provide general humanitarian aid. Instead, the support of people with disabilities has decreased even though their needs have become increasingly critical. It was impossible to find even the most necessary personal hygiene products because all specialized stores and organizations were closed.
"We received a large number of requests and orders. Everything that was in the warehouse was sold literally in the first weeks, there was almost nothing left in Ukraine at that time," says Vitaliy.
Then the social enterprise decided to combine its activities with those of the public organization. Once upon a time, it was the creation of this public organization that inspired the team to found the social enterprise "InvaFishki".
Through a public organization, the team found partners in Europe who helped deliver the necessary goods to Ukraine and start the work of the humanitarian hub.
"We actively talked about our needs. Then, even private individuals who were ready to help and receive people started writing to us. That's how we created a humanitarian hub."
On the influence of stereotypes on the lives of people with disabilities
"In general, rehabilitation in Ukraine went the wrong way at some point, that is, it did not develop thanks to evidence-based medicine but simply turned into something incomprehensible and not always correct. For example, in our country, even in the best rehabilitation centres, people are promised the possibility of recovery for a considerable sum of money, when there are no objective grounds for this. Therefore, a person can wait for a miracle for 15 years, without furnishing their home and without changing their world, sometimes without even being able to get to another room through high thresholds. Then we try in every possible way to explain to the person that they can already live their life to the fullest and feel worthy" - says Vitalii, co-founder of "InvaFishka"
Today, when speaking about people with disabilities in Ukraine, it is also worth understanding that due to the occupation, rocket fire and all other horrors brought to us by the neighbouring invader, unexpected difficulties arose. "When we speak about the war or in our family's case, about the occupation, you need to understand the challenges. When electricity, water, and communications were lost, the only way to get any information was to leave the house and talk to neighbours. Only because we had affordable housing and a ramp that functions without electricity, we learned about the green corridor and the possibility of leaving. It all happened in no more than half an hour," Vitalii, who left Bucha with his wife and reached Lviv on March 9, 2022, tells his story.
Today, not only people with disabilities reach out to the social enterprise, but also their relatives, as well as those who have elderly people in their families. After all, under extraordinary circumstances, a person with any problems in the musculoskeletal system finds themselves in an incredibly difficult situation. "People now understand that if a grandparent can't walk well, in an emergency, it's much easier to put them in a wheelchair and quickly move them to a safer place. This is what we have been working on for years, explaining that it will be better for everyone."
A real story that happened in Chernihiv during the evacuation and shelling: "We had a case when a person was carried on a blanket for 2 kilometres in Chernihiv. They did not make it to the evacuation bus only because it was very difficult physically. Therefore, we had to return this person home and they remained under constant shelling."
The social enterprise "InvaFishka" is real support and help for people with disabilities, especially for those with injuries of the musculoskeletal system. We are proud that there are such social enterprises in Ukraine! In the following publications, we will talk about the main prejudices that the company faced while developing its activities even before the beginning of the full-scale invasion. We will also talk about the real situation with psychological support of people with spinal cord injuries, and how "InvaFishki" changes the attitude of society towards the topic of disability.
Support is provided under the “Collaborate for Impact” project, which is implemented in partnership with EVPA and with the support of DG NEAR EU Programme. The project aims to support and develop social entrepreneurship ecosystems in the Eastern Partnership countries. The main project partners in Ukraine are SILab Ukraine and the Ukrainian Social Venture Fund.