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Ukrainian Kondra Bag PopUp at FOUND

Ukrainian Kondra Bag PopUp at FOUND

 March 8, 2024

We recently met Alla & Maksym Kondratenko, whose home and business in Kharkiv were destroyed in February of 2022, when the Russian army invaded Ukraine. With the help of JFS of Washtenaw County, they were sponsored by a couple in Saline, Michigan, and are working to rebuild their lives.

Please join FOUND as we welcome Alla & Maksym for a pop-up show on March 23, 24. They will bring a variety of stylish handbags, duffles, purses and backpacks, crafted in Ukraine.

The moving story of their journey is below. Thank you to Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County, for this Feb. 20, 2024 Press Release:

Ukrainian Refugee Family Restarts Life, Business in US

Alla and Maksym Kondratenko’s lives changed forever the morning of February 24, 2022, when the Russian army invadedUkraine. It was the start of a harrowing journey that would eventually lead them to Saline, Michigan. They are trying to create a new life now and reestablish the thriving business they left behind.

The couple’s former home in Kharkiv was 17 miles from the Russian border. They awakened early that day to a red sky and the sound of bombs exploding. They spent the next few days crowded in the basement of their apartment building, without heat, electricity, food, or medicine. Those who left to collect food or firewood risked being shot.

The Kondratenkos had been in business since 2015 and had over 10,000 items on their website. The warehouse containing their company’s stylish handbags, purses, wallets, and backpacks was bombed and destroyed.

If that wasn’t enough, Alla was 37 weeks pregnant with complications. She started to experience severe abdominal pain. They drove seven miles to the hospital in the dark without headlights, which might make them a target. Alla was told she would have died if she had arrived 15 minutes later. Her baby Daiana was born on day four of the war. The hospital had no space for them, so they drove south to Poltava, the town where Alla’s mother’s family lived.

In anticipation of the birth, their three-year-old son Davyd had been staying with Maksym’s parents in the even more precarious town of Izyum, seven miles from the Russian border. In March, Maksym made the perilous drive alone, passing through almost 60 Ukrainian and Russian checkpoints, to pick up his son from the occupied town. His mother evacuated with him, but his father and grandmother refused to leave their house. They said they were too old to start over.

After Maksym’s return to Poltava, the family fled the fighting for Odessa. Then in June, they made the difficult decision to leave Ukraine and everything they knew behind.

The Kondratenkos were sponsored by a couple in Saline, Michigan, who involved over 100 local volunteers to receive them. Alla and Maksym, his mother Olha, and their children arrived September 14, 2022.

In Maksym’s words, they are “starting from zero.” While Maksym currently works an hourly job at Comcast, Alla focuses on rebuilding the business, called Kondra Industries. They are supporting not only themselves, but also their families in Ukraine, the 7-8 friends who help design their products, and all those involved in the manufacturing. “We are like a light in the darkness for them,” says Maksym.

Their stylish handbags, purses, and backpacks are made of high-quality leather, vegan leather, and fabric and are assembled by hand. They feature a variety of colors, textures, zippers and clasps and are a good value at $25-85.

Showing the courage and resilience of many immigrants before them, the couple is not alone in starting a business. Studies show that immigrants are at least twice as likely as the native born to found companies and account for 25% or more of all US business start-ups.

The Kondratenkos are one of the 300-400 refugee families that Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County helps resettle every year. The agency is supporting their efforts through its Microenterprise Development program.

For those interested in purchasing items, the couple will be at the FOUND Gallery, 415 N. 5 th Ave., in Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown the weekend of March 23 and 24. To purchase online, search for "Kondra Bags" on Amazon.