Horlivka — Toretsk — Severodonetsk — Dnipro. A family bakery undaunted by war

Horlivka — Toretsk — Severodonetsk — Dnipro. A family bakery undaunted by war

Before the war started, Hanna Horbachova lived in Horlivka and worked at a mine. Now she is an entrepreneur and a bakery owner. Due to the Russian aggression, she has switched several cities, lost her premises and equipment, and now she has settled in Dnipro, where she has opened a new bakery, provides jobs for IDPs, and dreams of returning to Horlivka, her hometown. 

The witnesses tell the family's story and show how their bakery in Dnipro works.

The beginning of the war. Horlivka

"In 2014, I was sure everything would end in a day or two. I took photos at the checkpoints because I was convinced they would be dismantled, and I wouldn't even have a photo left. Later we realised that it would hardly end so quickly. In the summer, we were forced to leave because of frequent shelling," - this is how the war began for Hanna Horbachova's family. 

In July 2014, the family moved to Berdiansk because a friend lived there. "A 'banderivka' was hiding us there" [she laughs - ed. note] - a woman from western Ukraine. Then, in October, Hanna was called back to work because the mine had resumed operations. At that time, the fighting was still going on in Horlivka. 

When Hanna arrived in her hometown, she was scared because there were no people but a lot of military equipment and weapons. In November 2014, Ukraine included the Horlivka district in the list of settlements where the state authorities temporarily do not exercise their powers.

Photo: Andriana Velianyk

Station 1: Toretsk

At the beginning of 2015, the family moved to Toretsk, where the woman's eldest son worked. He is a police officer who did not betray his oath and moved there in 2014.

"For two months, I just lay there and did not understand how to move on with my life. Then, a friend of mine called me — he is a doctor who had left Horlivka for Zhytomyr at the time:

- 'What are you doing?

- "Just lying down. 

In a day or two, again: 

- What are you doing? 

- "Just lying down.

- Why are you lying down? Are you feeling sick?

- No, I'm just lying down.  

After a while, he said: "It's like this. If you lie down, everyone around you will lie down. So get up and do something!" At the time, I thought: "Of course. It's good for you to talk, you at least have a pension, and these orcs have even taken away my opportunity to earn it." But he made me get up, and I started looking for opportunities."

The woman heard about business development grants. She won one of them and was trained to write a business plan. Hanna recalls the words of her teacher: "Get free and think about what you can do."

During her training, she realised that she was best at making pancakes. So that's how she started her first business - a cafe called BlinOk at a bus stop in Toretsk.

In 2020, Hanna also opened a grocery store, bringing bread for the locals even after moving to Dnipro. But unfortunately, in February 2023, the Russians destroyed the store.

Station 2. Sievierodonetsk

"The war has been going on in Toretsk for eight years - people have been dying there, and the sound of a tank could wake you up in the morning. It's a small town, so in 2022 my middle son and his wife wanted to move to Severodonetsk, and we backed them up," says the entrepreneur.

Photo: Andriana Velianyk

Hanna's son's family rented a room there, hired a worker, and had just delivered and connected the equipment when the full-scale war broke out on 24 February

In the morning, my son dialled and said: "Mum, they are bombing here". And this is coming from someone who used to live in Toretsk. I said: "Take your wife and dog and leave. It's still quiet here [in Toretsk]." We haven't been to Severodonetsk since then.

The Russians destroyed this building as well.

Toretsk - Dnipro

Panic broke out in Toretsk. Hanna started every morning by searching for products for the store. She would go to Kramatorsk to get yeast and buy it overpriced. She lived this way until mid-March, when she moved to Dnipro. 

"Not all the employees were ready to leave with me, so I didn't close the shop. I removed the stove and the dough mixer to hide it — I didn't think about opening a new bakery. There were still people in Toretsk, so we came and brought goods there. We chose Dnipro because it is relatively close," says Hanna.

Photo: Andriana Velianyk

At the end of March, she started looking at premises and thinking about opening a bakery in Dnipro; she continued to deliver bread to Toretsk. 

"My son and I would drive two cars into the ATB and fill them up with bread. People were happy because it was not so scary at once. When there is no bread, panic sets in, and it seems that there will be a famine. So the locals would freeze it and eat it when there was no more electricity," recalls Hanna Horbachova.

In Dnipro, the bakery opened in the summer of 2022 at 40Zh Gagarina Avenue. "The hardest part," she says, "was daring because you have to take responsibility not only for yourself but also pay taxes, salaries, and find suppliers. Her family is her support and backbone - they work together in the bakery. 

Photo: Andriana Velianyk

One of their goals is to provide jobs for IDPs from the East: "In 2015, I was scared because I didn't know how to earn a piece of bread. It's important to have someone around who can lend a hand and help." 

Today, Danylo from Sloviansk is behind the cash register, Svitlana from Mariupol accidentally baked a sugar-free muffin that customers loved, and the girls from Toretsk "sleep and dream" of returning to their hometown and waiting for the Gorbachevs to open a new store there. 

Hanna's biggest dream is to return to Ukrainian Horlivka and open a bakery there.