Yuliia Bozhok was living in Ukraine with her husband and teenage son in February last year, running a small cleaning business in their hometown of Sumy, just 30km from the Russian border.
An hour after Russia’s invasion began on February 24th, her town was occupied and, she says, her “life was ruined”.
Leaving behind her husband, who enlisted in the Ukrainian army, she and her son moved across Europe to Ireland to start over.
Now living in the village of Hookless in Wexford, she has rebuilt her cleaning business and hired four other Ukrainian women living locally. Up and running only for six months, she has built up a book of clients and is already making a profit.
“I hope that my small business will grow to a big company, that I will hire more people and spread my business,” she tells The Irish Times, sitting in a function room of the Riverbank House Hotel in Wexford on Friday.
Ms Bozhok was one of many Ukrainian entrepreneurs on the panel for a Women in Business event later that evening organised by Wexford Local Development to offer advice to others who have moved here since the war broke out, and who are eager to start their own business.
Some 90,000 people have arrived into Ireland from Ukraine since Russia invaded, leaving behind homes, families and in many cases careers and businesses they had spent their lives building.
Since April 2022, more than 32,000 people from Ukraine have attended employment support events organised by Intreo Public Employment Services. The largest proportion (31 per cent) of people have previously worked as “professionals”, while 62 per cent have at least a Level 7 NFQ qualification.
Julia Syrotenko is a community integration support worker with Wexford Local Development, and moved to Ireland from Berdychiv in Ukraine 14 years ago to join her husband, who was already living here. The organiser of Friday’s event in Wexford, she said that she has met so many Ukrainians who ask the same question – how do I open a business here?
“It’s really difficult to start again. I think it’s good to invite girls who have already opened businesses to explain and answer those questions,” she said.
“I [also] want to show to all people the Ukrainians who have opened businesses in Ireland, who employ other people, pay taxes and do their own job and business,” she added.
Yuliia Soloviova said she and her husband always dreamed of opening a beauty salon together in Ukraine, where they lived all their lives until they fled to Ireland just before the war started.
Now she is set to open the doors of YS Beauty Studio in Waterford in October, with a business strategy to reach profitability within 10 months, and hopes she can inspire other Ukrainians to see that “it is possible”.
“In Ukraine, I worked as a beauty therapist. It is our dream [to open a salon] and my mission to help people to feel themselves beautiful,” she said, adding that she hopes to have a positive response from Irish customers next month.
Also working in aesthetics, Yulia Zhuravlova had her own business in Odessa providing electro-stimulation therapies. Having arrived in Ireland a year ago, she has started a company here with her husband, To Be First Consulting, to offer similar beauty therapies in a salon in Waterford.
She said she hopes to offer advice to others trying to navigate the paperwork and administration of starting a company here.
“We understand that we can’t come back in Ukraine because we don’t know when the war will stop. We love Ireland and we love Irish people. It’s very nice for business and I think that in Ireland [business] will be good,” she said.
Nataliia Slyusar came to Ireland from Odessa, where she worked all her life in graphic design. She and her business partner Lucy Summers, from Waterford, have now built their own workshop where they run their business, Sisters Ink, producing prints and artwork of landmarks around Ireland.
Ms Summers said the response has been “amazing” at craft markets and Ms Slyusar says any entrepreneur from Ukraine with a business idea should not be afraid.
“I do not hope [for the future of the business], I am sure; all will be good. Irish people like our postcards, our prints, and I am sure all will be good. If you have an idea, if you have a lovely hope of a job, you do not need to be afraid,” she said.
Also attending the event, Yana Gontar from Wexford-based volunteer organisation Sunflower Ukrainian Hub said it was important to support organisations like theirs, which help bridge the gap for Ukrainians arriving here and trying to rebuild their careers.
“We want support from Irish Government, from Irish people, for the Ukrainian community, so they can be strong. We want to explain and show Ukrainians that [they can] integrate in Irish communities and Irish life and to start living a full life in another country,” she said.
“It is hard to [find] good work because you must learn [what is] not your native language, and for us it’s important to help everybody who needs help, and show to the Ukrainian community that you could do this ... that [Ireland] could be your home,” she added.