- By Carmel O’Grady
- BBC World Service, daily business correspondent
When Anastasia Kuzmina and Oleksiyi Danko are awakened by the sound of bombing, they immediately decide to leave Ukraine. They join some eight million Ukrainian refugees, who have struggled to find a safe place to live and work.
The couple arrived in the UK where they found “caring” and “supportive” people. But finding jobs has been difficult. So they started their own business.
Ukrainian refugees spread all over the world. This is the story of how many people find ways to make a living in a new place.
“It was a really difficult time for us.”
In Ukraine, Anastasia worked as a lawyer, and Oleksey was a qualified pharmacist. They also dry clean furniture to earn extra money.
When the bombing started on February 24, 2022, Anastasia said, she knew she did not want to live in a war zone.
The couple had friends who had moved to England, so they applied on Facebook for a sponsor – and eventually made it to Southport, Merseyside.
“It was a really hard time for us,” says Anastasia. “I stopped wearing makeup, doing my nails, doing my hair… and it took me six months to freshen myself up, to understand that I was safe.”
Anastasia tried to get a job as a lawyer, but since the UK has a different legal system, she couldn’t, so the couple decided to use their skills in tandem and start a cleaning business.
They made flyers and were surprised to get calls from people who wanted things cleaned, things that weren’t really dirty.
“Once Alexei went to clean a little sofa and then this lady gave us beautiful flowers because she wanted to support us, she wanted to help us and she had a really good heart,” she says.
They hope to continue to grow the business. “In England we have another life, we have a chance to develop and grow,” she says.
I know I can have a better life
Yulia left Ukraine three months after the start of the war.
She found a sponsor in Nottingham, England and drove for three days with her two daughters and their dog. Yulia asked us not to use her last name because her husband is still in Ukraine.
After returning home, she was running a successful wedding dress business and was suggested to revive the business by her sponsor.
She says: “It’s a crazy idea, but I think I can try… My career is my life.”
A friend of Yulia’s husband, who was driving to the UK, brought all his sewing machines, fabrics and mannequins and Yulia hoped to get some orders.
“It’s not easy because the trade system in England is different, not like in Ukraine,” she says.
Yulia struggled to make her wedding dress project a success, but decided to use her skills and passion to get a job as a full-time seamstress.
Yulia says that although it is disappointing not to be able to continue her work, she is happy with her new life.
“We have a beautiful place, we have a nice working family… I do what I love to do so I can say I am lucky.”
She says she will try again, with more time, to get her business off the ground.
“You have to keep your mind busy to feel better.”
Polina was preparing her dance school’s children for a competition when Russia invaded Ukraine.
“The war started and everything I planned makes no sense,” she says.
Polina lived next to a tank factory in Lviv and soon realized that this would be a target. The next morning, she left for Poland, and a month later joined her sister, who had been living in Canada for some years.
“It was really hard mentally because you’re still part of Ukraine and you’re here in Canada and it’s totally different,” she said.
“You have to do something, occupy your mind to feel better,” she adds.
Polina got a job as a recruiter, but her passion was teaching dance.
She rented space in a studio and began ballroom dancing, teaching Canadian and other Ukrainian refugee children.
“I feel the energy exchange with the kids,” she says. “It is something that makes me happy.”
“I just feel this fear inside of me.”
Volodymyr and Regina Razumovskaya left Ukraine a year ago.
They were already evicted from their home in Donetsk when Russian separatists seized the area in 2014 and their businesses were devastated.
The couple fled to Kiev, where they set up another business selling factories.
But when Russia invaded, the family had to flee again – this time to join friends in Perth, Western Australia.
“Can you imagine leaving your house? Leave your job? Leave your friends?” Regian asks.
“Even a year later, I still feel this fear, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Regina says the welcome they received in Australia made them believe they could do it again.
Vlodimir now works full time because the company in Ukraine does only 10% of what it did before the war.
Regina told us: “When you trust that you have a future, you buy plants.
“Ukrainians are so exhausted, they are so tired of war that they have lost confidence.
Additional reporting by Alex Bell and Jess Coyle