The city of Gudermes, the third most important city in the Chechen Republic with a population of over 57,000 people, is located 40 km away from Grozny. Larissa lives in the very center. “This is very convenient,” she tells us, “My store is located only a 15 min walk away.” We agree to see each other there. Larisa offers to meet us at the shop entrance so that we do not get lost in the labyrinths of the local market.
The moment we see her at work, it immediately becomes clear why the customers in her store enjoy chatting with her while shopping, telling us a lot about her warm and open personality.
The shop for women
The store, Larissa’s pride, was established in 2019 with the support from the ERRIN programme. Larissa entered the reintegration process when she decided to return to Chechnya after seven years spent in Germany and was assisted by the local Caritas’ partner. Opening a clothing shop for women had always been her dream. She decided to go for this specific type of activity as she had past experience with a similar type of project and she knew well how to start a clothing microbusiness.
Soon after coming back, she started to get in touch with friends and relatives, to find out how the business scheme in the clothing trade looked like following her absence. She needed to know where the best place for her to rent a shop was, and which types of clothes were required on the market at that moment.
Also, Larissa found a person who decided to support her and invest into her business, which topped up the ERRIN reintegration grant. All details were discussed with the Caritas’ partner office in Grozny, and a business plan was drafted. Together with the local staff, she visited multiple potential locations and took a final decision.
“I love selling things,” she explains, “When I choose clothes to sell in my store, I imagine how the woman who will wear it will look like. I visualise which model is suitable for whom, how long, what color and what pattern it should be, what kind of collar or sleeve it should have. It’s like being a fashion designer, except that you don’t invent anything new, but simply use what you have. It is very interesting to see how people choose their clothes. Sometimes I recommend them something other than what they choose themselves. I don’t have a goal to sell something whatever it takes. I really want the customer to wear the clothes that will fit them very well. Because when they then hear the feedback about their new purchase, they will have confidence in me and will recommend me to others. I want to build a reputation as a good store, a store with taste.”
Larissa says that her products are different from the assortment of other clothing stores, as she opts for more conservative, moderate outfits. She is interested in the business and the selling process, leading it with passion. Daily expenses such as rental, cleaning and purchasing new products demand a lot of work from her, but thanks to her dedication her place is competitive among other bigger shops in the region.
Return to Chechnya
After finishing work, we head to Larissa’s home. She turns out to be not only a successful business woman, but also an excellent hostess; her cozy apartment makes you feel immediately at ease. In one corner of the place, she points out to the pile of bags, “Since there is not enough space in the store, I keep part of the goods in this room – the goods that are not needed in the store at the moment.”
We gradually move to the kitchen, as she begins to prepare food, talking about the difficult twists and turns of fate that had brought her first to Kazakhstan and then to Germany.
Although she admits she is happy with her life back in Chechnya, the beginnings were not easy.
“When I returned home from Germany after all these years abroad, my son Ibrahim, who was 8 years old then, had to adapt to living in our homeland. For some reason, it seemed more difficult than for other returnees, I sometimes thought that we would never manage to get used to it. My son had difficulties learning his mother tongue, since we did not speak it abroad. Later, I came to the conclusion that I should have come back earlier and this way my son could have learned his native language faster.” Larissa also mentions her daughter and grandchildren who stayed behind in Germany.
“When I lived in Germany, I felt free, and had more perspectives. In any case, that was what I thought in the beginning. But as the time passed, I started being afraid. Afraid because I was in a foreign country far from my home, afraid for my son’s future, afraid for my son blaming me to have taken him away from his home country. All these fears made me decide to return. Thanks to my relatives, friends, and Caritas people, our reintegration process was quite smooth. Without all these people, we would not have been able to reintegrate well.”
Back to the roots
Going back to the roots turned out to be an empowering experience for Larissa. “Here at home, I feel strong and independent. I could start a business myself, manage my own life, make plans, set goals and achieve them,” she says and adds, “This understanding did not come to me immediately, though. Our life is our most important teacher. Difficulties are not only an obstacle, but also steps to personal development, it all depends on how you feel about it. I think a lot, I reflect on my life, on what happened to me, what was done well and what could have been done differently, in which ways there was God’s providence in certain things, and what I will still have to go through.”
Larissa has a lot of plans and ideas in her head, driven by the ambition to succeed in her business. “My greatest desire is to expand my business,” she tells us, mentioning two other stores she already opened in the towns of Pyatigorsk and in Gudermes.
“This entire experience has made me stronger, and I know now what to do to move forward in life. I really feel I have managed to improve my son’s life. Regardless of the difficulties in the beginning, I am happy to be back.”