Fleeing from war and starting a business: Stories of internally displaced persons who founded their businesses with EU support (part I)

05-12-2018

What difficulties people, who were forced to leave their own homes due to hostilities, encountered? Where they found strength to open their own businesses and how EU helped them?

On 10 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year, the Declaration celebrates its 70th anniversary. Among the fundamental rights claimed in the Declaration is the right to an adequate standard of living.

As stated in Part 1 of Article 25 of the Declaration: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Ukraine’s internally displaced persons (IDPs) have faced various challenges after moving from the country’s conflict zones: from struggles to find decent housing, pay for food and clothing, to difficulties finding decent employment to provide for the family.

This article describes some of the difficulties these people have encountered, where they found the strength and inspiration for their own businesses, and how the European Union has helped them. We spoke with successful entrepreneurs who were able to move from occupied territories and start their own business with the EU’s support.

Larysa’s journey from financial director to dietician

Larysa Shyriaeva was a financial director at a construction company in Luhansk. She left the city in June 2014, following the onset of the conflict in the region. She moved to Kyiv together with her company, so she had a job straight away. That is when she started thinking about starting her own business.

“When I was on maternity leave, it completely changed my way of thinking about my life,” she says. Larysa was looking for natural sweets for her child and realised that there were very few of them on the market, so she decided to start baking healthy cookies.

“In reality, I have been baking cookies and other healthy treats all my life, I love doing it. I just never had the courage to leave my permanent job and do this seriously.”

Larysa had been baking for about a year and learned about a possibility to receive a grant at the same time. At first, her husband, who is also an entrepreneur, asked for financial assistance. Since Larysa used to work as a financial director before, she helped him develop a business plan and explained how to promote his project.

“And he got it [financial assistance]! So this pushed me to apply for a grant myself and turn my hobby into a small business,” Larysa explains. “I was baking cookies; I created new recipes almost every day. I won a grant from the EU for 18,000 hryvnyas (€567) and bought equipment and natural ingredients with the money.”

According to Larysa, she had enough clients – mainly young mothers.

“The cookies I made were light, so they were not harmful for the figure or health. However, I was lacking knowledge in nutrition science, so I could prove to my clients that it was safe from the medical point of view, which is why I decided to study dietary science professionally,” she says.

Larysa found a great course. The money that she had saved from selling her cookies was invested into her training. “During the six-month course, I got so excited about dietary science that I decided to concentrate only on it. I have been working as a dietician for two and a half years already.”

Now, the entrepreneur has her own client base; she works with young mothers, helps them develop their diets and their children's diets. “It often happens that I come to the client's house and the first thing I do is show them exercises which can help them lose weight. I tell them that changes are possible only when diet and exercise are combined at the same time.”

Yuliya left behind a successful business in Donetsk and ventured to open a new one in Kyiv

Yuliya Turdo, her daughter, husband and niece moved to Kyiv back in May 2014. They stayed at their friends' summer house all summer.

“We thought that we would go back home soon. However, it became clear in the autumn that we had to organise our lives there in some way. The children started school. And we realised that we had to do what we knew how to do,” she says.

The family ran two businesses in Donetsk: Yuliya's husband had a shop selling decorative mirrors and Yuliya and her sister founded a foreign language school in the city centre.

“By 2014, the school was quite well-known,” she recalls. “We had just won a tender to cooperate with kindergartens, we had put enormous efforts into it. We never went back…”

According to Yuliya, the school still exists and people keep calling her. “We speak to them, set up a meeting and when they ask us where we are located, we give them our Kyiv address,” jokes Yuliya.

The sisters opened the Golden Age school in Kyiv in November 2014. “I learned about EU grants on Facebook. I saw a post from the IOM and noticed that their office was located next to ours. I decided to go and find out what it was.”

At first, Yuliya's sister applied. She won, so Yuliya also decided to try. She won too. The grant was for a standard amount of €2,200. It is not provided in cash, but rather in the form of the necessary equipment.

In total, the sisters managed to get about €5,000. “It was enough for us to buy some main equipment, study materials. We brought something with us as well. Of course, we would like to do more, to renovate the office or to move to a larger space, for example. But we are a bit nervous about investing large sums when we are not sure what will happen tomorrow.”

Yuliya says that students with whom they have been working for a few years appreciate the fact that their prices are quite low. “We try to make the process of learning foreign languages comfortable for the people, so that they feel as if they are at home. Our groups consist of no more than six people, we do lessons on Skype, various messenger [applications] and so on,” she says.

***

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) – the United Nations’ Migration Agency – has been implementing the EU-funded project “Facilitation of the rehabilitation and sustainable resolution of the problems of internally displaced persons and victims of conflict in Ukraine” since 3 January 2017.

This two-year project aims to help internally displaced persons and members of host communities. The project includes support for social cohesion measures, business training and the provision of grants to promote self-employment and micro-entrepreneurship. It also helps NGOs and volunteer associations that work with internally displaced persons and promotes the development of an improved monitoring system for the integration of displaced persons.

Author: Uliana Bukatiuk

Article published by espreso.tv in two parts: part 1 (Ukrainian and Russian), part 2 (Ukrainian and Russian)