Ukrainian refugees launch businesses and build a new community in Moldova

[Also available in Russian and Romanian]

Prior to Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Evghenia enjoyed a comfortable and secure life in the southern city of Mykolaiv. She shared her days with friends and her mother, while finding fulfilment in her work as an art teacher. 

After her city faced relentless bombings, it became too dangerous for Evghenia to stay in her home. Together with her mother, Evghenia fled west, joining 113,000 other Ukrainian refugees in Moldova, the majority of whom are women and girls.

Olesea Kolomiets ran a chocolate factory in Odesa, Ukraine, and has now launched a new business in Moldova.
Olesea Kolomiets ran a chocolate factory in Odesa, Ukraine, and has now launched a new business in Moldova. Photo: UN Women Moldova

Upon arriving in Moldova, Evghenia was unsure of how to navigate the next steps in her life until she found the SheLeads Project, a training programme that offered 10-day courses in business and entrepreneurial skills. The courses, along with her work volunteering to teach arts and crafts classes to children at a refugee centre, inspired her to start her own art business in Moldova.

“During the course, I was taught how to start my business project in Moldova, how to make the necessary calculations, draw up documents”, she said. “I learned about the opportunity to win a grant and decided to try to make my dream come true. I did it!”

After attending the courses, Evghenia said, “I gained the skills and courage to open my own art centre, and to share my passion for art with children in my new home.”

She works as a professional art teacher while launching Art Time Studio, a space where children can learn art skills and express themselves, which has also received support through a small grant from the SheLeads Project. While attending courses, Evghenia also received tailored psychological and mental health counselling conducted by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

“My work is a hobby that I have been doing for many years. It is a place of comfort where I share my knowledge, skills, energy, joy and fulfilment”, she said. Of her work with refugee children in Moldova, she added, “The appearance of a smile on the face of a sad child gives me a dose of inspiration and fulfilment.”

SheLeads operates in six regions of Moldova and is implemented by UN Women through the Association for Business Formation and Development in partnership with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Casmed, and Everyone Contributes for Change, with financial support provided by the Government of Japan.

Evghenia is among 121 women who participated in the SheLeads Project from October to December 2023. Of those attendees, 88 women received mental health support services as part of the project, and 41 businesses have been launched as a result of the trainings.

Marina Sergheiciuc described how she created classroom resources, including personalized books to teach her kindergarten students in Ukraine. When she was forced to flee from the war, she also found the SheLeads Project in Moldova and was able to get back on her feet.

Through the program, Marina said, she was “able to acquire the necessary equipment to further develop my games and place them in groups on social media.”

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to put my ideas into practice”, she added.

Olesea Kolomiets, who ran a chocolate factory in Odesa, Ukraine, had a similar, if quite unique, story.

“In March 2022, I arrived in the Republic of Moldova and within 15 days, I had already reopened my business here, but I still couldn't fully find my place”, Olesea said. Through the SheLeads programme, she was able to take advantage of business opportunities in Moldova.

“I have acquired equipment to organize master classes and chocolate tastings for children and adults, both amateurs and professionals”, Olesea said. She became a member of the Sommeliers Association for Chocolate in Moldova and became the country’s only chocolate sommelier. She now regularly organizes tasting workshops and collaborates with restaurants to create unique gastronomic experiences, from conception to menu creation.

Seeking to have a greater impact, she also worked with the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Moldova, a UN Women-supported local group, to provide physical therapy to Ukrainian and Moldovan children with special needs.

She added, “I am very grateful to the SheLeads Programme for all the opportunities it has offered.”