La Soka, a Breton company in solidarity with its Ukrainian employees

It didn’t take long to decide and act: the day after the Russian offensive in Ukraine, Société kaolinière armoricaine (Soka) decided to close its factory in Kazatin, 190 km southwest of Kiev, to protect its site and its employees. But also to offer refuge to the families of its 70 employees. The latter, mainly men, have mostly mobilized in defense of their country. But not his relatives, who managed to take the roads of Brittany.

We necessarily feel a responsibility towards them, we cannot be insensitive to the fact that they find themselves in such a situation. And we are lucky to be an SME, the decision-making circuit is short “, explains Séverine Dudot, general manager of this company for the extraction and production of kaolin, soberly, a refractory clay that is used in the manufacture of ceramics and that is used in the composition of paints, rubbers or even non-chemical treatments for cultures.

Established 70 years ago in Quessoy, a town of 3,800 souls in the interior of Saint-Brieuc, Soka, which employs 80 people on site and generated 17 million euros in revenue in 2021, has been present since 2003 in Ukraine, a country rich in Minerals Resources.

Even if Kazatin” not in a very exposed area During the war, 100 people chose to board buses chartered by the company to escape the conflict. Some were left in Poland, Germany, Paris… and 60 arrived in Quessoy on March 10: half women, half children and a few elderly people. To receive them in the best possible way, the company and its leader started and organized a vast solidarity movement. ” Fortunately, because we wouldn’t have made it on our own “, says Séverine Dudot.

Housing, food donations, school, day care

When they arrived, everything was ready. The municipality of Quessoy had urgently rehabilitated and equipped, thanks to donations, three unoccupied houses that belonged to it. Three others were borrowed from surrounding localities. Each family has one bedroom and shares living rooms. To respond to the first needs, Soka installed a clothing and food store on its premises, supplied by individuals, companies, supermarkets and local producers.

“It’s wonderful: there is always someone who helps us” – Gisèle Baudet, elected representative of Quessoy

The population shows solidarity daily: on weekends, residents invite families to lunch, offer activities and tours. Farmers leave potatoes or eggs on their doorstep; the baker from Quessoy gives unsold bread, the butcher’s meat…” It’s wonderful: there’s always someone who helps us “, rejoices Gisèle Baudet, one of the three elected officials from Quessoy who manages the reception for Ukrainians. Séverine Dudot, she would like this wave of generosity” continue in other topics ” and ” make you think a little about what we are capable of: with a little humanity, doing every little thing, we can deal with a lot of problems “.

This proactive woman was also careful to structure long-term care. because even if the objective is to get them back on the bus as quickly as possible “, she wants to be realistic in the face of a “ conflict invading “. A week after their arrival, all Ukrainians had their temporary residence permit. The children quickly went to school, while the little ones were recently in nannies, employed by the association Solidarité Soka Ukraine, created to carry out initiatives in favor of the newcomers. French classes were created. Sports clubs welcome children for free. Two nights of concerts raised money to buy used cars to go to work.

work for everyone

This is the boss’s other hobby horse: professional integration. ” I explained to them that they were going to end up with 200 euros in subsidies per month. Morally, there is also a very positive effect of work, which gives the feeling of becoming useful. “, implores Séverine Dudot. In addition, they wanted all the work “, ready ” all purposes “, she says:” They are also thinking about the consequences, on their return to Ukraine, of having something to rebuild. “.

In this region close to full employment, Ukrainian women “respond to a real need”, notes Séverine Dudot

The businesswoman mobilized her network to organize a job-dating, starting on March 22, bringing together companies in the sector that need manpower. In this region close to full employment (5.8% unemployment), Ukrainian women respond to a real need “, observes Séverine Dudot. Today, four work for a large producer of aromatic herbs, two in a tourist biscuit factory, three care assistants in a nursing home, another three have joined local factories, in packaging or quality control…

Mariana, Anna and Vita, Ukrainian refugees who arrived thanks to Soka, in front of the company where they work in Plérin, near Saint-Brieuc.

Fabrice Picard

All are on a temporary basis, to facilitate hiring and be able to carry out several short missions. In order for the integration to go smoothly, support is provided for taking the job: Soka’s bilingual employees stand by the recruits’ side when they start, to pass on instructions.

Anna, her cousin Vita and her friend Mariana, meanwhile, were taken to a design office that specializes in mapping water or telecommunications networks, which they are helping to update. Trained as a web designer, ecologist and bricklayer, the three thirty-year-olds are learning a new profession here. The girls want to work.” not to be a burden to the community says Anna, informed of the convoy to Brittany by her mother, a Soka employee. ” We like it here a lot, but we want to go home. As long as there’s war we can’t, so we have to adapt “, she continues.

Ukrainian factory restarted “in degraded mode”

What benefits us here is unique: everything was fast, well organized in advance. My friends don’t have such conditions “, compares Irina Kowalenko. Director of the Ukrainian website, she is now dedicated to supporting her countrymen: she drives them morning and evening, organizes job interviews, attends them at their debut…” It is very important to work, to do something for the community, but also to stop watching the war news and be depressed. “, she says.

Soka also contributes to the defense of the city, providing what to make sandbags or metal barriers.

There, Soka solidarity is also exercised: two trains, fueled by donations and prepared by Breton officials, transported food aid, hygiene products and medical equipment to Poland and Kazatin. Others will follow.

Soka also contributes to the defense of the city, providing the means to make sandbags or metal barriers. ” Our backhoe loader is used to dig trenches to protect the village “, completes Séverine Dudot, who decided to restart the factory in early April”, in degraded mode to sustain the economy. With its employees mobilized by the war, the city of Kazatin made available “ people too old to fight “. It remains to guarantee the shipment of products, hampered by the conflict. At the same time, Soka has to deal with the increase in demand for mineral materials”, fed by the war », explains Séverine Dudot. Definitely on all fronts.

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