The Estonian Refugee Council, together with its co-operation partners, has been organizing entrepreneurship programmes for women in Ukraine since 2019, on its own also earlier. The programme is intended primarily for those who have lost their income because of the war and who wish to become micro or small entrepreneurs.
The entrepreneurship programme is not just mentoring, creating businesses and generating a source of income. By learning and working together, participants often become friends and good acquaintances. Thus, women in different companies have been a big support for each other in the escalation of the war, providing accommodation and help in escaping and helping with humanitarian aid.
Veterinary clinic in Bakhmut (in the Donetsk oblast), which gained momentum thanks to the Refugee Council’s entrepreneurship programme in Eastern Ukraine.
Since February, women who have participated in the programme in previous years and successfully built their businesses have approached the situation creatively and continued their activities in the best possible way - for example, one woman fled to another city and continued her nail technician career there, another started sewing underwear for soldiers instead of costumes. As of mid-May, we know that 14 of the 24 companies run by women that received support last year have now fled, seven have remained in their homes and there is currently no information about the fate of three teams.
Brief descriptions of last year’s participants in the light of the current war:
Anastasia, who moved from Donetsk to Volnovakha in 2014, created a nail studio with the help of the project. As the war escalated, she was unable to continue her activities because her hometown had become a battlefield. She hid in the basement for three days until she was safely rescued by women who had participated in the entrepreneurship programme at the same time as her. One of them also offered her a safe refuge. By now, Anastasia has moved to Poltava, where she continues her work as a nail technician.
Olga, who moved from Donetsk to Yalta in 2014, started a company that produces eco-friendly fruit and vegetable snacks. When the war broke out, she started actively helping internally displaced people as a volunteer - organized food, hygiene products and other necessities mainly for mothers with children.
The women of Trinity in autumn 2021.
Olena, who moved from Donetsk to Kramatorsk, co-founded together with two other refugee women a company called Trinity, that creates theatrical costumes, special designs and more. At the beginning of the war, she chose a new direction and began sewing underwear for soldiers. As of now, she has stayed in Kramatorsk.
In 2021, Olga turned her hobby into a business, making tailor-made clothes for pets. When the war broke out in Melitopol, her family decided to stay there. "We are cut off from the world and we have no idea what is going on elsewhere. We walk around the city to find internet just for a while. It is almost impossible to withdraw cash from ATMs. Everything is expensive, there are no medications. Humanitarian aid does not reach us - all things are promised to be brought to the city, but they are sold out immediately. It is impossible to call an ambulance and it is not very clear what is going on in the city. I haven't packed my sewing supplies yet because it gives me activity and income. We don't dare to leave the city because civilians are being shot on the roads."
Alia and her family moved from Donetsk to Kramatorsk. With the support, they started a small business to grow seedlings for sale to restaurants. At the beginning of the war, they remained for a while in Kramatorsk, but some time ago they evacuated the Donetsk region together with their daughter-in-law. "My sister and her children miraculously escaped from Mariupol, but unfortunately I have no information about my mother and grandmother who lived in Mariupol. I hope they are alive.”
Read more about this year's entrepreneurship programme for women here: The Estonian Refugee Council Helps Women in Ukraine Start Their Own Businesses to Ensure a Sustainable Income.
The project partners are Garage48 and Unity for the Future. Most of the entrepreneurship programme is financed from Estonian development cooperation funds, but Estonian companies also can support Ukrainian women in starting their businesses. Such support can take various forms, such as presenting special prizes or participating as mentors. If you are interested, contact the Estonian Refugee Council at firstname.lastname@example.org.