As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rages on, folks from all around the world have continued to generate meaningful support for Ukrainians in many ways — through humanitarian aid, warm meals, shelter, and even by funding individual Ukrainian small businesses via Etsy, a global marketplace for artisans of all kinds.
When a crisis of this magnitude rocks the global community, it can feel overwhelming and scary to know where the best place is to funnel your time, energy, and support as an outsider.
Direct support to individuals on platforms like Etsy can zoom in and help us see our contributions in real-time, helping people just like us.
When I discovered that shopping on Etsy was a meaningful way to support individual Ukrainians, I hopped to it.
As an avid small business shopper, I use the website to find all kinds of gifts and goodies for loved ones, and I have even begun curating a collection of unique pet portraits of my dog by finding different artists on the platform.
When I discovered Yulia Kosareva’s listing for a custom pet portrait as an option to support a Ukrainian artist, I hit “add to cart” right away.
Although I loved her work, I had no expectations that Yulia would send me a digital portrait during this crisis — or at all. I simply found a piece of work I valued and wanted to play even a small role in supporting this artist.
After I made my purchase, I reached out to Yulia to assure her that the portrait would be a cherry on top and I simply wanted to help her in any way I could.
I was amazed that this woman was living in the middle of a major conflict, and here she was, messaging me within minutes, assuring me that she would work on my order. Again, I told her that her safety mattered most to me, and I had no expectations of her to complete my order.
Even still, she sent me a beautiful digital portrait in a matter of days and thanked me endlessly for my contribution.
For me, connecting one-on-one with an individual at the heart of this crisis put the entire situation into perspective. It gave me an anchor in a sea of information and heartbreak, to connect with someone on this level, to try to help a neighbor, as we both approached this unfathomable situation with the tools at our disposal.
Connecting with Yulia reminded me that below the headlines, statistics, and donations, there were individual people, like this gifted artist, entrepreneur, and mother, who had a story to tell.
Meet Yulia, a Ukrainian Etsy seller using her business to help others
While there are thousands of listings for digital files from Ukraine-based shops, it was Yulia who drew me in. We connected via email, and she graciously shared her story with me.
Yulia owns the Etsy shop YuliaPartyPrintables, and has been a full-time Etsy seller for three years. She creates printable digital files that include custom pet portraits, party supplies, and gifts. As I saw first-hand, the crisis has not stopped her.
“I try to fulfill orders whenever possible,” Yulia said. “Creativity helps [me] not to think about this horror. I am very grateful to all my customers for their support and willingness to wait, as the constant air danger sirens leave me little time for work, but I constantly work when I have the opportunity.”
While more than three million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries since the start of the crisis, Yulia has remained in Ukraine.
She said that she does not want to flee the country with her daughter unless it is absolutely necessary, since it would mean leaving her husband and many relatives who are liable for military service.
Yulia lives in a large regional city amidst many occupied towns and villages in Southern Ukraine. (We’ve opted to not include her specific location for her safety.) She said that since Russian forces have reached her region, she and her family must sleep on the floor of the hallway of their building where there are no windows because sirens sound often throughout the night.
When she is able, she creates custom dog portraits, and her daughter has even contributed a number of hand-drawn illustrations for supporters to purchase.
"Yulia said she received 510 orders at the beginning of March, which is 2.5 times more than usual."
Yulia said she received 510 orders at the beginning of March, which is 2.5 times more than usual. However, sales have decreased again, as she has had to remove some listings to better handle her workload amidst the crisis.
“Due to the war, I have deactivated more than half of my shop’s assortment because I am afraid that at any moment I can be left without communication and let the customers down,” Yulia said.
In addition, Yulia shared that while many essentials are available in the city, food and medical necessities are becoming scarce. She has had trouble treating her thyroid condition, as her medication is nowhere to be found.
Despite this, Yulia sends as much of her Etsy profits as she can to a family of volunteers organizing humanitarian aid in Kharkov. These volunteers do not work for an organization, but are “an ordinary family” risking their lives to support their neighbors by buying and distributing food, medicines, and essentials.
Shopping Yulia’s Etsy shop has become a direct way to fund their grassroots efforts.
"It is a very difficult time. My work saves me from these terrible thoughts and the terrible news we constantly watch. I am so grateful to my customers for this help, as it gives me the opportunity to help other people."
“I admire them and other volunteers, and I am glad that I can help at least financially,” Yulia said. “It is a very difficult time. My work saves me from these terrible thoughts and the terrible news we constantly watch. I am so grateful to my customers for this help, as it gives me the opportunity to help other people.”
How to support Ukraine by shopping on Etsy
Since Etsy has a global reach and makes it easy for creators to sell and distribute their work, this format has created a unique opportunity for shoppers around the world to intentionally choose to shop with Ukrainian sellers. This creative approach to direct financial relief has been referred to as a “hidden infrastructure” for global humanitarian aid.
Although Etsy typically takes a portion of fees from each digital storefront, the company recently announced its plans to credit Ukrainian sellers and cancel current balances of listing, transaction, and advertising fees.
Many sellers ship and distribute their products, making it difficult for those in crisis or those fleeing the country to get their work to customers. This has led to an influx of digital file purchases from the website.
Etsy has curated a selection of these listings from Ukrainian sellers.
However, if you would like to browse independent listings, here are some steps to find some work on your own:
- Search “digital files” on Etsy.
- Click the “all filters” button, and scroll down to “country.”
- Under “custom,” enter “Ukraine.”
These search results will display all digital files created and sold by Ukraine-based Etsy sellers.
When you purchase a digital item, the file will immediately become available for download, meaning Ukrainian sellers can earn money without having to create new products or mail out orders.
These listings often include patterns for crafting, digital art customers can print from home, vector files, recipes, or even just act as direct donations to Ukrainians.
Things to keep in mind when supporting a Ukrainian Etsy seller
While a number of these digital Etsy listings from Ukrainians require little to no additional work for the seller, items like custom portraits or personalized downloads require artists to prepare and create an order. As Yulia shared, not all items will be available or may require a longer turnaround time.
Share their work
After you have purchased an item that supports a Ukrainian maker, share your finds with your community. Sharing helps to generate ongoing support and encourages your network to follow suit. My new print is hung proudly in my home, and I think of Yulia and her family every time I look at it. I hope to share their story any time someone new sees her work.
In addition, follow these artists on social media, and “favorite” their Etsy storefronts (to boost them in algorithms). While the crisis deeply impacts the financial situation of Ukrainians everywhere, so will the period of rebuilding and healing that will follow.
Ukrainians will need continuous economic support, and this outlet is one way to make your donations count on a personal level.
See if you can further support through charitable contributions
Just like Yulia, many Etsy sellers are pouring their funds back into relief efforts. Look into various Etsy listings to see how many individuals you can support with your purchases and donations.
While Yulia supports mutual aid efforts on the ground in her community, she also recommends two official donation sites for international supporters: UNICEF and the National Bank of Ukraine.
“I can’t imagine what kind of life awaits us,” Yulia said. “I try to be strong and not panic so my daughter does not feel my fear. We need to believe that this should end soon.”
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