How to make dreams come true: stories of successful Ukrainian women


Cooperation between Ukraine and the EU has opened many opportunities for active citizens. Training courses, projects, fellowships and other activities are helping Ukrainians – particularly women – to realise their dreams and ideas.

We spoke with a number of successful Ukrainian women who participated in EU programmes to find out how their experiences have helped to shape their careers.

Inna Hleha: the policewoman resolving conflicts

Inna Hleha is a lieutenant colonel in the police force and has also worked as the head of the communications sector at the Main Directorate of the National Police in the Khmelnytskyy region. In 2016, she decided to participate in workshops provided by the European Union Advisory Mission (EUAM) on training negotiators, the so-called ‘dialogue police’.

“I joined the training because it was a chance to get new knowledge based on the European experience,” Inna explains. “I knew I could use it in my work and to improve my activities.”

The purpose of the dialogue police is to negotiate. They are involved in mass events, where they serve as an intermediary between law enforcement and the organisers of the event.

“People are used to the police being a punitive agency in Ukraine, where everything is resolved with the help of force,” Inna says. “We are trying to distance ourselves from this stereotype and show that the police are a service-providing agency in the field of law enforcement. We are there to provide a service that ensures citizens' legal rights, security, and law and order.”

There is no official ‘negotiator’ position in Ukraine and the dialogue police work on a voluntary basis. They are police representatives who work in different subdivisions, but are trained to volunteer during mass events.

Inna has shared the European methods she learned through the workshops with her Ukrainian colleagues. She has become the trainer of the dialogue police project and teaches other police officers.

Besides the obvious advantages for Ukrainian society, Inna notes a personal benefit from the training as well.

“We live in times where we cannot be satisfied with just the knowledge we gained from university many years ago,” she says. “If we want to be competitive in the market and useful as well, then it is necessary to constantly study and master new things. For me, cooperation with the EUAM became a great chance to gain useful knowledge, develop as a person and keep up with the times.”

Larysa Svyatoshenko: the entrepreneur launching a business at 60

Larysa Svyatoshenko is 60 years old. A successful ophthalmologist, she devoted her life to her patients and spent 30 years working in hospitals and optic shops in her home town of Luhansk.

When hostilities came to eastern Ukraine in 2014, Larysa decided to move to Kyiv. “After the move, I started working for an optician as an ophthalmologist, but I have always wanted to work for myself,” she shares.

With 18 years of entrepreneurial experience behind her, Larysa was well-placed to launch her own business. The problem was funding; Larysa estimated that she would need half a million hryvnyas (equivalent to approximately €15,000) to open her own optic shop. She decided to try and secure this funding through grant competitions.

“I won a €650 grant from an EU-financed project [Supporting Recovery and Sustainable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons and the Conflict-Affected Population in Ukraine] that is being implemented by the International Organisation for Migration in Ukraine,” Larysa says. “Thanks to this financing, I was able to buy a set of optical glasses. These are necessary for the diagnosis of eyesight and the selection of spectacle corrections. The equipment gave me the chance to start my own business, because without it, it was impossible to work.”


After Larysa received the necessary equipment, she rented a room at the opticians where she has been working since 2014. “Now I work for myself two days a week and the rest of the week I work in other clinics that are part of the same chain,” she says.

Going forward, Larysa wants to develop her business further by applying for new grants. “Being 60 is not old,” she says. “This is only the beginning of life.”

Olena Fesenko: the scientist building bridges with Europe

Scientist Olena Fesenko is in charge of the international research and innovations department at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. She has also been successfully cooperating with European programmes for six years.


“When I finished my post-graduate studies I had the choice either to go abroad or develop my skills in Ukraine,” Olena explains. “Here we did not have the right equipment, proper conditions or contacts and so I decided to create a project in order to win a grant from the 7th Framework Programme (FP7), the predecessor to Horizon 2020. Everyone said that it was unrealistic. But it happened.”

Thanks to various international grants like the one Olena describes, two laboratories at the Physics Institute were outfitted with the latest equipment. Under Olena’s guidance, scientists are now studying electromagnetic radiation and researching the optical properties of metals and semiconductors.

“I devoted my PhD thesis to this subject,” Olena says. “It is interesting to me and that is why I decided to continue in this direction. I am the head of the department now, which consists of seven people. Despite the fact that we do not develop devices, our research results have a practical use. They can be applied in medicine and pharmaceutics.”

Participation in these international programmes is helping Olena with networking, finding new scientific subjects and starting new research. “Such programmes prevent the 'brain drain'. If I had not won that first grant, I would probably have moved abroad, but this way I got a chance to develop in Ukraine."

Olena also coordinates the Innovative Management project, which is part of the Enterprise Europe Network Ukraine consortium and promotes communication between scientists and businesses. A platform financed by the European Commission was created containing a large database of scientists, as well as the details of potential investors. 

“For science to be practical and applicable we need to communicate with businesses,” Olena concludes. “Such a platform promotes cooperation between institutes and small- and medium-sized enterprises.”

Oleksandra Bilyaze: the Young European Ambassador promoting European opportunities

Oleksandra Bilyaze is a hardworking young woman who balances a job with her role as one of Ukraine’s 40 Young European Ambassadors (YEAs). The EU-funded YEA project unites 200 active young people in Eastern partner countries and Oleksandra has been participating for two years. Earlier this year, she was named the project’s national coordinator in Ukraine.

“YEAs is a communication project,” she says. “We tell young Ukrainians about the opportunities the EU provides, how to take advantage of them and what they can lead to. We also tell them about joint projects and explain which subjects could be interesting to Ukrainian youth or European colleagues.”

When Oleksandra first learned about the project, she decided to participate in the open competition. Despite the fact that YEAs is a voluntary initiative, she knew it would give her important experience.

“First of all, the project gives me a chance to network with the YEAs from other countries,” Oleksandra says, “and secondly, we get an opportunity to implement joint projects together.”

Oleksandra strives to share European values with other young people. "It is important for me that our young people understand that association with the EU is not only about visa free travel, but also new business opportunities and interpersonal relations. It is another level of political partnership.”

As part of the project, Oleksandra visited Brussels last year. “Out of 60 ambassadors, there were 15 representatives from Ukraine. We visited the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. Additionally, I was able to meet other YEAs.”

This experience helped Oleksandra in her work. "Recently we started the Active Citizens project in Moldova. It is not that easy to implement a project in Moldova from Kyiv. When we started looking for people it was a big bonus for me that I already knew active young people in Moldova.”

Halyna Minayeva: the mayor embracing EU-funded projects in eastern Ukraine

Halyna Minayeva is in her fourth term as the mayor of Chuhuyiv town, which is located in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine, close to the border with Russia. Under Halyna’s leadership, Chuhuyiv has been actively cooperating with European donors and participating in international EU-funded projects for some time.

“In the last three years alone, the town has received about 50 million hryvnyas (equivalent of €1.5 million) of investment through its involvement in international technical assistance projects,” Halyna says.

These projects include the EU-funded Comprehensive Stabilisation Support for IDPs and the Affected Population of Ukraine, and Mayors for Economic Growth (M4EG). The latter project aims to improve cooperation between local authorities and civil society by increasing control, exchanging experience, and developing practical and effective administrative mechanisms for the implementation of local development policies. The ultimate goal is to develop state and private partnerships, and promote the creation of new jobs at regional level.

The town has also participated in the EU and UNDP project Community Based Approach to Local Development Phase III. Through this project, energy efficiency measures were carried out in multi-storey buildings and educational establishments, and a comprehensive city network of video surveillance was created to ensure public order and crime prevention.

“The benefits for the community are obvious,” Halyna says. “The town’s infrastructure has been improved and the urgent issues of the housing and utility sectors are being addressed.”

“Thanks to European projects, I have been able to realise a number of my ideas,” Halyna adds. “As a woman and a mother, my main priorities are the creation of adequate conditions for the development of children and young people. It is very important for me and my colleagues that, thanks to Chuhuyiv’s participation in these projects, we have managed to significantly improve conditions for children’s education and development.”

Author: Daria Tarasova

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