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Stories that you confided to us

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Yevhenii Khliebnikov
age: 33
"I never would have thought that shells would explode and the ground would shake from the explosions"

Yevhenii founded the Precious Plastic Laboratory, where plastic garbage is turned into beautiful and useful items: lamps, glasses, jewelry, even street furniture and paving stones. Yevhenii designed the equipment and developed the technological processes. Local people bring him plastic. In 2014, Yevhenii quit his job as photographer in Donetsk.

Each person should look for his/her mission, apply his/her skills, understand the purpose in life and just be useful to this world. Finding this way finder inside is the hardest part.

I was born in the city of Kirovske, Shakhtarsk District, Donetsk Oblast. I lived there until I went to study in Donetsk. I have a wife and two children. My older six-year-old son was born in Odessa. As well as my three-month old daughter.

Bustling life in Donetsk

I studied at Mykhailo Tuhan-Baranovskyi University of Economics and Trade of Donetsk, Faculty of Marketing, Trade and Customs Affairs. Many opportunitied have openned to me. I had various jobs: I worked as a waiter, bartender, handed out flyers, organized parties, and hosted events. I participated in auto and motorcycle races. I arranged cycling festivals.

Then I developed a passion in photography and started traveling. Since 2012 I have lived in two cities: Donetsk and Kyiv. I had a photography office in Donetsk. I and some friends of mine rented an apartment together. Parents stayed in Donetsk Oblast, and I visited them once or twice a month.

I never would have thought that shells would explode and the ground would shake from the explosions

A shell fell near the parents' house

The first time I encountered war when I visited my parents at Easter in 2014. I saw checkpoints, people wearing masks near the Regional Administration building. Surely, it was creepy.

I didn't take anything from my office in Donetsk. I do not feel affection to these things. Anyway, if I died, I wouldn't be able to take it with me. That is how it was. I was in Crimea, and I saw what happened there before. And I understood that it would come to Donetsk sooner or later. The scenario is the same. I didn't know that there would be so many shells exploding around, and spurts would be heard so loudly, and the ground would shake from the explosions...

I never would have thought that shells would explode and the ground would shake from the explosions

I watched my parents suffer a lot when a shell fell near the house. The roof was torn off, the windows were broken. The damage to the house was grand.

So they collected everything that was in the car and left for  Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Then they left for Russia. They moved in just a week or two. They took everything that could fit in the car and on the roofrack. We thanked God that everyone was alive and well, although there was a dangerous situation there.

Not the center and not the outskirts

I always liked it here, in Odessa. We chose Odessa, because it is located neither in the center nor on the outskirts. At that time, I took up art photography. I photographed artists, galleries, exhibitions. And in 2014, exhibitions were promoted actively in Odessa. There were a lot of things related to art.

I was comfortable here then. I had many acquaintances and many opportunities. Renting turned out to be convenient. It seemed like the entire universe supported me.

At first, we lived with some friends, and then we moved to our own apartment.

Why do people behave so barbarically about the place they live in?

I traveled a lot, mostly hitch hiked around Ukraine. I had a creative, free project. I saw a lot of dumps near roads and a lot of cities having similar garbage problems. I got concerned. Why? Why? Why? Why are people so barbaric about the place where they live?

When my son was one and a half years old, we moved to a remote village in Ternopil Oblast. The village was called Vertelka. I decided that we should live in the country in order to drink clean water and milk, and stay away from the polluted city,  'the supermarket life' – that's what I called it. 

And so, in the spring, when we went to the forest, I saw the same problem was in all cities I visited. So I realized that this problem was everywhere. And you can't get away from it. No matter where I moved, I knew that I couldn't close his eyes or put on blinkers. This situation was the same everywhere.

I felt kind of ashamed in front of him that the woods were clean and water was clean in my childhood. I knew that apparently he would have a different childhood. Logic suggests that my generation  has brought the world to this state with our actions or inactions.

ВWhen I got home, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I didn't want to post write Facebook posts about how bad and piggishly people were. I wanted to do something real — to start developing plastic recycling.

If people have flown into space, fly helicopters, learn Chinese, do complex things, then recycling plastic is like recycling metal. Overall, these are normal physical actions. You just need to plunge into [to the problem].

It was strange why something like that hasn't been created yet. Why do they accept metal, glass,  glass, paper at reception points, and do not accept plastic? Why? After all, this would seem to be oil. This is a valuable resource. It is a resource that is running out.

Garbage? Benches, vases, paintings, and even an operating table!

I started looking into this issue. I had Internet at home. And I came across a young Dutch engineer Dave Huckins. I went to the factories and saw that plastic recycling existed. But why wasn't plastic recycled if there were so many factories? Do you see any logic here? So he proposed a format for recycling plastic by local workshops. A small workshop can take a certain type of plastic and produces certain products. 

I never would have thought that shells would explode and the ground would shake from the explosions

He made his own workshop, posted drawings of machines, equipment, and technology on the Internet. So he said, "Come on, guys"  let's work together to improve the equipment that we already have. Come up with new ways and technologies for recycling plastic.

And, thus, we will be able to show people that recycling plastic is possible. We can use it to make interesting, functional, durable, and solid things. And we will be able to do something that plants will never be able to do.

For instance, I am sending a bench to Lviv today. It has gray-black and black-and-white facades. A factory will never make such a colouring. The way an artist mixes oil to get a certain colour, so I mix the proportions of plastic.

Now we are making custom badges, decorations, lamps, bike parks, musical instruments, nunchucks. We make gym rings, swings for playgrounds, vases, hairpins, paintings, pencil cups, and chairs. Once a veterinary clinic ordered a table for animal sterilization.

Providing a chance to be useful

I downloaded the drawings on the Internet. I could figure them out. I discovered how different crushers worked. I started experimenting. I didn't have a budget, I went to the market in Ternopil and brought some hardware. A skilled turner lived in a nearby village and did what I asked.

I made the first pieces of the equipment. They were manual and didn't have engines. But I made sure they worked. It was in 2016.

In the summer I finished the equipment and in August I moved with this equipment (a small hand crusher and a small hand extruder) to Odessa.

I stayed at my friends'. We held master classes in their Odessa courtyard. Children came, crushed their own caps and made their own products. Everyone liked it, and I was so inspired by people's interest. It gave me strength! Maybe it was because I did not get much support in Ternopil.

Roughly speaking, we have mountains of plastic that people bring us. We sort and process it. We create beautiful things: benches, decorations, etc. There is a type of plastic — disposable tableware, packaging, children's toys. Toothbrushes refer to illiquid plastic. I stored this type of plastic. No one takes it for recycling. And there was an opportunity to develop a new technology with the help of a single grant and turn this entire illiquid into paving slabs.

I never would have thought that shells would explode and the ground would shake from the explosions

I suggest treating plastic not as garbage but as raw materials, and give it another chance to be useful.

We are improving all the equipment. We are realists. We work on it and see our weak points. I have a team of guys who are also interested in becoming experts in this direction. We create things, understanding how engineering approaches work or should work.

Find a way finder inside

Each person should look for his/her mission, apply his/her skills, understand the purpose in life and just be useful to this world. Finding this way finder inside is the hardest part.

Don't expect everything to be easy and simple. Just accept the fact that difficulties may come on the way. You can't do it superficially. You need to go deeper and devote a certain part of your life to it. To achieve success, you need to work.

I never would have thought that shells would explode and the ground would shake from the explosions

Interviewer Oksana Maslova

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