24 women led businesses are setting their foot down in eastern Ukraine

For the second time, the Estonian Refugee Council, Garage48 and Unity for the Future Charitable Fund in Zaporizhzhia, with the financing of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Development Cooperation have continued empowering women affected by the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. After a nine-month entrepreneurship programme, 24 family and micro businesses led by women are working in eastern Ukraine. These businesses are supporting local communities in fields ranging from veterinary medicine, childcare to providing healthy food.

Since 2014, the ongoing armed conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine has left more than 2 million people in a vulnerable condition, facing daily challenges. The Empowering Women Entrepreneurship Programme is designed for women in eastern Ukraine. The participants have either been displaced, living in the contact line, have lost or are taking care of disabled family members, being the sole provider for the household or have been greatly affected in some other way as a result of the conflict. The COVID-19 pandemic has added another difficult layer of challenges for the people in the region. On the other hand, for the programme this has opened the opportunity to expand and support more women. Compared to the on-site event in 2019, three times as many participants were accepted into the programme last year.

It is difficult to compare an on-site event to an online hackathon. One thing is for sure. The online format expands the reach of participants and the impact a programme like this can bring. For the whole organising crew across three organisations, our clear and instant goal became to accommodate as many participants as we could, in order to ensure maximum support in kick-starting their micro and family businesses.

The Empowering Women Entrepreneurship Programme began in April 2021 with a 2-day pre-event where we welcomed 130 active participants. Out of 600 women who applied to the main programme, nearly 200 were selected to participate. 64 teams attended a 2-week long programme to advance their skills in business development, branding, marketing, design skills, financial and legal knowledge, pitching, prototyping and teamwork.

Women empowerment was working on so many levels and we couldn’t have done it without our lead mentors’ power team: Maria Yarotska, Valeriia Holierova, Olesya Shablia, Maryna Goncharenko and our host Maarika Truu, workshop conductors and mentors Lucine Ayanian, Piruza Harutjunjan, Tamara Ogorodova and Mary Vydysh and our expert mentors Tamara Bezljudova, Olga Hoch, Anzhelika Samuilova, Evgenia Trofimova, Iryna Krepchuk (Hopin), Terje Trochynskyi, Nataliya Nakonechna, Katerina Moskvichova, Yuliya Rudyk, Maryna Mruk, Marina Shutova, Sementyi Lobach, Gevorg Mkrtchian. Oleksii Tribusian, and Karina Voyt.  

Empowering Women Entrepreneurship Programme hackathon finals in May 2021.

"While the Estonian Refugee Council has supported micro- and small-sized enterprise development in eastern Ukraine since 2016, this entrepreneurship programme has been by far the largest and most ambitious. 64 teams with almost 200 members took part in the intensive two-week programme and 24 best teams received asset-based support and mentorship to make their business ideas succeed. This level of support has led to amazing results: all supported businesses are growing and developing, already employing additional staff and investing their profits to further expansion. It's truly great to see such resilience and will to succeed of women who live in such difficult circumstances"

- Eero Janson, initiator of the programme, Director of Estonian Refugee Council


24 women-led family and micro businesses received monetary grants for the provision of needed equipment or renovating facilities and mentoring support for six months. This helped the women get their businesses going by raising their technical skills and capacity for production, finding customers, and expanding their team.

Map of the 24 Empowering Women Entrepreneurship Programme 2021 businesses in eastern Ukraine.

The mentoring programme after the 2-week hackathon was led by Unity for the Future Charitable Fund in Zaporizhzhia city. They have been most dedicated and relentless in providing the teams with excellence in mentoring. They have pinpointed and engaged top specialists from Ukraine to support the production technology and business development of these women entrepreneurs. With a 100% success rate, we can safely say that our dear partners in Zaporizhzhia have become a very unique business incubator for women-led businesses in eastern Ukraine. This is run by Tamara Ogorodova, Oksana Drozdovska, Lydia Yemelyanova, Raiisa Ostapets and Maryi Vydish. 💜

Meeting of the Empowering Women Entrepreneurship Programme partners Estonian Refugee Council, Garage48 and Unity for the Future Charitable Fund in Zaporizhzhia in January 2022.

The nine-month programme took place fully online. Therefore we were more than excited to have the opportunity to meet our partners and four business teams during a visit to Zaporizhzhia this January. We took a day to visit alumni and headed first to Mirnograd city in the Donetsk oblast.

Mойдодыр cleaning service is the first of its kind in Myrnohrad, a city with a population of ca 50 000 people near the contact line in Donetsk oblast. After taking part in the programme, twins Lidia and Alla purchased additional equipment with the start-up grant and have employed three more people within a couple of months. They used to be physical education teachers, but the low salary and the wish to start their own business motivated them to get started. The school they used to work at is in the back of their mind as the next potential client. The cleaning service is a brand new service in their city. They are aware that the competition will come one day. Meanwhile, they are focused on growing their customer base. Their big dreams right now are to get a second car and to grow the team to 10 employees. They have good connections at the local employment centre to exchange info about employment opportunities, training and programmes for women in the area.

Team Mойдодыр’s Instagram post about their start-up grant win (Alla on the left and Lidia on the right).

Лабораторная диагностика team is running the only veterinary clinic in Bakhmut city, near the contact line in Donetsk oblast. For the ca 72 000 people in the city, they are the only clinic offering care for pets with their medical proficiency level. The clinic is also a grooming salon and a pet shop. The business owners Daria and Maksim are a young married couple with two little kids who met as veterinary students in Kharkiv. With the start-up grant, they've purchased more medical equipment and renovated additional rooms. They now have their first employee and an intern. At the moment they are working every day as it is hard to find additional people with needed qualifications. Their next investment dream is an x-ray machine to detect and cure bone fractures etc.

In Druzhkivka, Irina has started fulfilling her lifelong dream of opening a children’s daycare centre called Teddy. She moved here from the non-government-controlled area in Donetsk in 2018. With a background as a primary school English teacher, her daycare centre focuses on teaching children English. Additionally, they take care of children with special needs. Building a customer base and finding needed specialists like a speech therapist are ongoing challenges for her. Having rented and renovated 2-floor premises for the centre, a summer program and further renovations for air conditioning are the next steps for making the business sustainable. In the city with ca 50 000 people, Irina is still getting to know people and building a new community for herself.  

                                                       Teddy founder and CEO Irina welcoming us during our visit.

GreenFarm is a team of mother-in-law Alia and daughter-in-law Olga in Kramatorsk. Alia left Donetsk when the war started in 2014. Back then, she didn’t realise that she would never be going back. The idea of growing microgreens started during the COVID-19 pandemic from the wish to provide healthier food and vitamins for all family members. With the Empowering Women programme they built a vertical microgreens farm into one room in their apartment and have established agreements with several restaurants in the city, where they are now sending their beautiful greens.

Alia and Olga welcomed us at their vertical microgreens farm in their home.

“Experiencing the results of the 2021 programme is nothing but inspiring on so many levels. Going fully online and offering support in local languages, taking on three times the teams and losing limits on the fields of business were challenges overturned into boosters for the teams. Most importantly, it is the women leading the businesses that show us all how it’s done, despite the most difficult circumstances.”

Kadri Kõivik, Garage48 Project Manager for the Empowering Women Entrepreneurship Programme.

If you want to learn more about the teams we visited, we’ll post a video about them on the Garage48 YouTube channel soon.

The Empowering Women Entrepreneurship Programme is happening again in 2022 fully online and even bigger than before. Six open workshops on entrepreneurship will take place in February-March. These are open to everyone interested in knowing more about what it means to run a business. After that, we’re welcoming 60 individuals or teams with new business ideas and 30 existing business owners to our two entrepreneurship programmes in April and May. The top 31 entrepreneurs move forward with establishing their business with the support of grants and mentoring programme.

Registration is open and more info is available here:

Meet the Entrepreneurship Programme 2021 successful businesses:

Аленкина грядка

Elena, Lyudmila and Dmitry are growing an assortment of fruits and vegetables, including cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, apples, cherries and more in Kamenka in Donetsk oblast.

Cервисный центр по техническому обслуживанию и ремонту компьютерной и оргтехники

Ekaterina and Dmitry run a service center for the maintenance and repair of computers and service equipment in Zmiiv in Kharkiv oblast.

Organic Snacks Здоровая Жизнь

Olga, Elena and Larisa are making organic dried snacks and pastilles out of local fruits and vegetables in Jalta in Donetsk oblast. Follow them on Instagram: @organic_snacks_ua

Бизнес - развитие семейной пасеки
The family of Marina, Vladimir and Tatyana run a vertical apiary with 145 stores of beehives in Zaporizhzhia oblast. In addition to honey, they produce beeswax, propolis (bee glue), pollen, and jelly.

Married couple Yana and Yevhen run an incubator for chickens in Bakhmut city in Donetsk oblast. They take into account seasonal requirements and offer better quality, price, delivery and discounts for their poultry.

Виготовлення напівфабрикатів з натуральних продуктів
Olena and Yuliya produce tasty, healthy and semi-finished food products in Vuhledar in Donetsk. Currently, they focus on making delicious dumplings.

Виробництво (пошив) одягу для тварин
Tetyana and Yevhen create handmade clothes for animals like knitwear, overalls, vests, hats etc in Melitopopl in Zaporizhzhia. Follow them on Instagram: @okstanika


Еко вкусняшки
The family business run by Tetyana, Lyudmyla and Mykola makes lozenges, sweets and dried snacks from fruit and berries in Sofiivka in Dnipropetrovsk. Follow them on Instagram: @eko_vkysnyashku


Мобільний коррекційно-розвиваючий центр
Natalia, Velntina and Daria run a development centre that offers services such as psychological counselling, speech therapy and art therapy to name a few, in Mariupol in Donetsk.

Всiм добра
Valentyna, Iryna, Natalia and Tetyana opened a sewing atelier 2 kilometres from the border and conflict zone in Orlivske in Donetsk. At the moment, Всiм добра is the only place in the region where people can get their clothes fixed, resized and made.

Оздоровчий спа кабінет «Гармонія»

Veronika and Yulita opened the Harmony Wellness Spa to offer balneological services, phytosauna, pressotherapy (lymphatic drainage massage), applications with therapeutic mud, cosmetic wraps and cosmetic services for facial care in Selydove in Donetsk.


Olena, Oleksii and Tamara produce and sell natural and tasty milk, dairy products and cheeses from their own cows and goats of the family farm in Lukasheve in Zaporizhzhia.  Follow them on Instagram: @gurmeeko

Підтримка населення в кризі – подолання наслідків конфлікту та покращення якості життя людей, у сфері подолання труднощів та самозахисту 
Natalia, Valentina and Valentina tailor, fit and repair clothes to help improve people’s quality of life in Kostyantynivka in Donetsk oblast. They started out with simpler products and are working on transitioning into more difficult techniques.


Anastasia and Olga run a nail studio in Volnovakha in Donetsk oblast, where they take care of the aesthetic beauty of nails and heal pedological problems.

Хакуна Матата

Yana, Olena, Oleksandr and Tetyana opened a family centre in Kostyantynivka in Donetsk oblast where they organise a variety of children’s events. By combining four event organisings into one, they are able to offer more diverse events than their competitors.

Follow them on Facebook: hakunamatata.ha

Творча майстерня по виготовленню та брендуванню текстильних виробів

Svitlana, Olena and Yuliya run a creative workshop on manufacturing and branding of textiles in Kramatorsk in Donetsk oblast. In the workshop, they focus on theatrical costumes, machine embroidery, sublimation, and tailoring.

Тепличный бизнес
Anastasia and Alexey own a greenhouse business in Khabarovsk in Donetsk oblast, where they grow high-quality berries and vegetables.

Фізеотерапевтичний комбайн
Olena and Kateryna use a physiotherapeutic combine for ultrasounds and electrotherapy in Komsomolske in Kharkiv oblast. The benefits include pain reduction, scar treatment and increased joint mobility.

ФітоАромоКлуб Пані Лавандова
Lyudmila, Anastasia and Halyna produce different products, host workshops and sell souvenirs – all out of lavender in Berdiansk in Zaporizhzhia oblast. Follow them on Instagram: @panilavandova 

About the author

kadri tiisvelt

Kadri is the COO of Garage48 with years of experience as a hackathon organizer and community builder. She loves to create and bring together supportive environments for starting entrepreneurs who wish to make their ideas into valuable services and products. 🌸

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