“I Want to Work and Grow With My Country”: Ukraine’s Entrepreneurs Share Their Stories

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“I Want to Work and Grow With My Country”: Ukraine’s Entrepreneurs Share Their Stories

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On February 14th, designer Svitlana Bevza showed her Fall 2022 collection at New York Fashion Week. Ten days later she woke up at 5am to the sound of explosions near her home in the suburbs of Kyiv, Ukraine.

“I heard explosions, like one every minute for 20 minutes […] I didn’t understand what it was. I thought, Is it near or far? We calmed down, waited, scrolled the news and our government’s websites,” Bevza tells Vogue.

“The next big explosion was much louder […] My daughter was sleeping, and I grabbed her immediately from her bed. We went to the safest place in our house with our family and stood there for 20 minutes.[…] Yesterday, Russia started to shoot weapons at houses and airports. Now, civilian buildings have been destroyed and civilians have been killed,” she told Vogue.

Svitlana is the founder and creative director of BEVZA, a Kyiv-based womenswear brand with celebrities from Sophie Turner to Emily Ratajkowski to Gigi Hadid wearing her designs. But today, BEVZA’s website opens with the following message, “Dear Customers! We are obliged to announce that due to Russian invasion Ukraine is in state of war. All deliveries are postponed. We will get back to work as soon as we can. Love, Bevza team.”

Screenshot: Bevza.com Feb 27, 2022

It reminds me of a story I read about young women in Afghanistan during the withdrawal of US troops in 2021. “I had a very normal life a few days ago, but now I have no work and no classes and I am trying to evacuate people from my city. I’m also the family leader — my dad died last year and I am the sole breadwinner, so I’m looking after my younger siblings and my mother,” one woman shared.

Watching the news of war from the comfort and safety of my own home in New York City, it feels impossible to imagine the fear, anger and disillusionment of having everything, from your home and safety to your plans and dreams, upended in the course of a few days. So I’ve been reaching out to women, like Svitlana Bevza, who suddenly find themselves at the center of this latest war in Ukraine, to hear about the experience in their own words.

One is Alyona Mysko. Alyona is the founder of Fuel Finance, a Kyiv based FinTech startup that acts as a cloud-based financial department for other startups and small businesses.

Alyona was in the process launching a new website for Fuel Finance, scheduled to go live on February 24th, when instead, her boyfriend woke her up with the news of Russia’s invasion.

“We were preparing before this war. We had a plan and prepared backpack with all documents. We checked earlier the nearest bomb shelters and we even had a car with a full tank,” Alyona shared with me via Instagram DM.

I’d reached out to Alyona after seeing this post on her Instagram page with the caption roughly translated as follows: “Late last night we transferred funds from @FuelFinance to our army. This contribution was from each member of our team. At the time we had no idea it would be just a few hours before the war actually started. We all woke up very early today, but we’re keeping calm and assessing the situation. I believe in our Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

After waking up to the news of the war, Alyona started getting calls from her friends and her parents. Soon after, she started hearing explosions herself.

“My parents were also in Kyiv. I decided to take my mom and grandma from their homes. [I’m] now in Western Ukraine, where [I] can feel more safe,” she said. Her father, a rescue worker, remains in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city.

As for Fuel Finance, Alyona sent me photos of what the team of financial analysts are now doing. One cooking for Ukrainian Military Forces. Another out with her family removing road signs to confuse Russian troops.

“Fuel people are in Kyiv, in Western Ukraine, in other Ukrainian cities. Some Fuel people spend nights in bomb shelters. Some are joining Ukrainian Military Forces to defend their country. Some are helping our Ukrainian Military Forces and volunteering. Now we are also trying to help Ukrainian entrepreneurs with financial management. War shouldn’t stop the Ukrainian economy. I am going to continue. Victory will be ours!”

In her interview with Vogue, Svitlana Bevza also shared how the war was impacting both her team and her country. “Every city in Ukraine has sirens a couple of times a day. A lot of people were sleeping in the metro stations, their basements, or the parking lots.

The woman who is our partner in knitwear is sleeping in a parking lot, and our accountant was in the basement. I check the news every minute.

[…] I want to thank our workers in grocery stores, gas stations, and pharmacies who are trying to work.”

When the Russian army started occupying Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine back in 2014, Katya Kononenko, a contemporary Ukrainian artist who lives and works in Kyiv questioned whether she should stay or relocate.

“I live and work in Kyiv. All my [life] I have been living here and I hope I will live many years in [the] future,” she told me over Instagram DM.

“I want to work and grow with my country.”

When the Russian invasion escalated into war across all of Ukraine last week, Katya was asleep in her home in Kyiv. “I thought it was a nightmare. But it wasn’t,” she said.

Her message continued, “These three days I’ve been spending with my parents near Kyiv. I felt and I am continuing feeling lots of emotions from fear to proud, from disgust to enemy to love to Ukrainians. But the main feeling is proud. I am proud of my country. I am proud of my president, of my army, each Ukrainian who helps for our victory. […]

I appreciate every country which support us. It is very important to show, share and send your support to your Ukrainian friends and colleagues.

It’s inspired. Now we are doing everything for your and our victory.

Russian-Ukrainian war is against not only Ukraine. It’s against whole Europe and human rights in the whole world. And in the nearest future we, Ukrainian artists can send our artworks worldwide again.

I [hope] that Ukraine will [be] support[ed] after victory also. Because we will need to rebirth economy and it really helps if countries will buy more Ukrainian goods and art.”

I asked each of the women I spoke to about the support they needed during this difficult time, and they directed me toward the following page of places to donate and stay up to date on the latest news: HelpUkraineWin.org

As a Ukrainian American, I’ve also relied on this list of ways to support Ukrainians from abroad compiled by RazomForUkraine.

Please share these stories and resources and remember to join us for more conversations like this one by subscribing to “Too Ambitious”.

Image credit: Lucy Shires Photography/Moment via Getty Images

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