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how female Ukrainian entrepreneurs are navigating war

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

In the pre-war period, the percentage of female-owned and led businesses in Ukraine showed stable growth with women representing 46.6% of all entrepreneurs, an impressive number considering the global average of women owning 36% of small businesses worldwide. Prior to the war, they made up 28% of all micro and small business founders, which had a significant impact on the country’s economy, contributing to 55% of the annual GDP.

One year ago, a full-scale war began and halted their progress. We want to give a spotlight to the stories of how these female entrepreneurs overcome obstacles and continue their businesses to this day.

ZV'YAZANI by Olha Karetnikova and Nataliia Osaulenko- the history of Ukrainian weaving in craft rugs

ZV'YAZANI is a joint brand of Olha Karetnikova and Nataliia Osaulenko, which produces handwoven craft rugs. A business that started as a spontaneous idea, the entrepreneurs recognised a demand for woven rugs in Ukraine and decided to make a unique, high-quality product that is produced using traditional Ukrainian technologies.

The business has experienced many challenges, including a pandemic, an unstable exchange rate, and multiple attempts to enter the international market. However, when asked: what kept you going? They answered: "The desire to develop and channel our creativity, admiration from our customers and our speed of decision-making. This is typical of Ukrainian business as a whole."

The start of the war presented yet another challenge to the business. Although their manufacturers are located in safe regions, the demand for exclusive, high-end products in Ukraine has fallen by 90%. But the entrepreneurs have no plans to give up.

"Nowadays, we plan to enter the global market, export our products and develop a new line of more affordable carpets. There’s still alot to learn and we need support from state organizations, but we will manage. After all, entering foreign markets is also promoting the popularization of Ukrainian culture around the globe. It is an interesting challenge."

- Olha Karetnikova and Nataliia Osaulenko

Marsala by Mariia Maslii- Ukrainian cactus-leather shoe eco-brand

When launching the shoe line, Mariia and her team were looking for an ecological material that was durable and withstood the test of time. They found just that in Mexico. Marsala shoes are made of desserto material based on nopal cactus and are designed with style and comfort in mind.

The Marsala business grew from a small starting capital and gradually their production reached 3-4 thousand pairs a year. Capturing international retailers’ attention with their cactus-leather shoe line, they entered international markets and exported to the CIS countries, the UK and Austria. In Ukraine, they collaborated with the Art Arsenal, drew attention to an exhibition with the Ukrainian avant-garde, and donated to the museum. The brand achieved a lot before the start of the war but had to respond to the new realities very quickly. The business increased its online presence, created a website, and received a grant for a digital platform.

"I noticed that Ukrainian entrepreneurs were very active. We make decisions quickly and are not afraid to actit’s now or never. As for our female entrepreneurs, I would describe them as value-oriented, flexible, and firm. It has helped us to endure the new reality."

Production had to be moved from Kharkiv to the border with Poland. But due to the lost logistics connections and the increased price of materials, the company could no longer maintain the previous level of work and had to adapt.

"We cannot close the business because it employs more than 100 people. We are responsible for them. We started producing shoes for the military and provided more than 1000 pairs. But I see potential there for the future. We plan to produce high-quality shoes for hunting and fishing."

- Mariia Maslii

Collier Doré by Valeriia Solomkina - a new color of Ukrainian entrepreneurship

Collier Doré is Valeriia Solomkina jewelry store, which she started at the height of the war on the 1st of April 2022.

"At first, the concept was focused on gold-plated jewelry. I started my small business when my city, Kyiv, was freed from the risk of an attack. Having lost my job, I decided to try out e-commerce. I found suppliers, came up with a name, bought packaging, developed a website, and launched corporate pages on social media networks. My company is located in Kyiv, and for now, I work there by myselfboth as a seller and as an accountant."

Running a business is always a risk but in times of war and uncertainty, the risk is double. Gradually the small shop has grown and sales have increased. After five months, they’ve launched a new website and extended the product line. Today, the business not only supports itself but also supports others10% of the purchase cost is donated to an animal organization.

"Of course, with an unlimited budget, you can do all of this from the very start, but in my situation, everything happened step by step. These small steps have given me a sense of personal value and proved that I can be an entrepreneur. Life is full of possibilities, so even in the darkest times, find a glimmer of light." - Valeriia Solomkina

In the future, Collier Doré plans to work with people from creative industries, open the market of Ukrainian jewellery brands, and enter international markets.

Family Loofa by Tetiana Zhdanova - a business born from 50 seeds

Family Loofa is a family business for natural washcloths and loofah sponges. They operate the largest specialized loofah-growing farm in Ukraine.

"We grow loofah in the picturesque village of Kairy and on the banks of the Kakhovka Reservoir in the Kherson Region. In 2018, we experimented and planted 50 seeds and in 2021 we had almost 0.3 ha for growing loofah. The war brought a lot of damage to our business. We had to halve the area of loofah cultivation to 0.15 ha. There is a high probability that we will lose the 2022 harvest because of hostilities and the ready-made loofah products from the 2021 harvest, worth up to UAH 30,000, remain in the occupied territory. From February 24 2022, we had to stop all sales of loofah and seeds as it was no longer possible to deliver the product."

But the family did not give up. Even during the war, her parents managed to plant 0.15 hectares of loofah in the occupied territory. Now they are waiting for the liberation and return of their children and grandchildren. After the victory, the entrepreneurs plan to increase the loofah farm to 1-4 hectares, establish exports to Britain and the EU, popularize loofah as a eco-friendly substitute for synthetic washcloths, and develop ecotourism.

Frani by Nataliia Mykhailova - a bright Ukrainian phoenix

Frani, a Ukrainian vyshyvanka brand, founded by Nataliia Mykhailova, was born from an embroidery machine and a passion to create. Originally, the entrepreneur made the clothes by herself and sold them at an art market but as demand grew Nataliia was inspired to take more ambitious steps, and the business began to grow.

Gradually, the number of embroidery machines increased to 25 and with that followed the employment of many other women. The business grew to four shops and also made national clothes for corporates and provided tailoring for musicals, dances, and choir groups. However, the war proved to be a terrible blow to this fast-moving business.

“Due to a fire caused by rocket attacks, a great number of embroidered shirts were burned in one of the stores. In another, the goods cannot be accessed. The third store lost its roof after shelling and the goods are in danger of being destroyed. Out of four stores full of clothes in Kharkiv, now we only have enough products to fill one. Due to hostilities, we had to stop sales. It caused serious financial damage to the company and many workers have fled abroad.”

- Nataliia Mykhailova

Nataliia has now relocated equipment to Ternopil and resumed production at the West Business Hub. She opened an embroidery shop there and plans to hire 2-4 people, including internally displaced people. Now Nataliia's shop sells men's, women's and children's vyshyvankas and also accepts unique and custom orders. Despite the difficulties, Nataliia has big plans for the future. The entrepreneur plans to purchase more technological equipment to speed up production, create new samples, have a photoshoot, improve the website and social media networks, and enter international markets.

Recent research found that almost half of the enterprises in Ukraine have severely reduced or completely stopped their work, resulting in 1 million people losing their jobs. Business owners especially took a hit, facing a complete standstill of their business operations and loss of income from one day to another.

These stories demonstrate the unbreakable resilience of Ukrainian businesses and businesswomen in the face of unprecedented times. Inspired by their work and bold ideas, entrepreneurs will strive to continue their businesses. Despite the obstacles, Ukrainian businesses are recovering from the shock and confidently adapting to new realities.

supporting Ukrainian entrepreneurs

In total, 863,455 women in Ukraine work as sole entrepreneurs, amounting to almost half of all entrepreneurs at 46.6%. Here are some ways to support Ukrainian entrepreneurs and talents affected by war:

  1. Share the content of Ukrainian entrepreneurs: it’s free but can really make a difference. Here’s a list of some female Ukrainian entrepreneurs that you can follow.

  2. Buy products from Ukrainian entrepreneurs.

  3. Hire Ukrainians: thousands of Ukrainians have been displaced and lost their businesses, and while many of them have found work elsewhere in Europe, many are still on the lookout.

One year since the war started, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine remains a pressing issue. Displaced Ukrainians and business owners continue to face challenges in finding employment and customers and restoring some sense of pre-war normality to their lives. We're hosting jobs for people affected by the war in Ukraine. To explore jobs or upload your own, please visit our dedicated landing page here.


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