Recovering the economy on a grassroots level - how women in Ukraine start their businesses in the middle of the war

The end of May this year marks 462 days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It also marks 4 years of empowering women in Ukraine to restore their future that has been disrupted by the war in Ukraine since 2014. The Empowering Women Ukraine 2023 welcomed a total of 110 women in central and east of Ukraine to start and relaunch their microbusinesses, continuing the collaboration of Garage48 and Estonian Refugee Council to restore livelihoods and realize entrepreneurial dreams.

Why start a business in the middle of a war?

The Empowering Women entrepreneurship programme has been designed as a means of livelihood support for women and their families, who are internally displaced, living near the war contact line, taking care of disabled family members or who are otherwise socially and economically in a vulnerable situation due to the Russian war in Ukraine since 2019. We have invited women who are in these situations and who possess the necessary technical skills—either through their professional experience or as a hobby—as well as the entrepreneurial spirit, to try whether entrepreneurship is the path for them to overcome the challenges, to recover their income and the ability to provide for themselves and their families. Having piloted the programme in 2019 across Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts and witnessing the success of the participating women, we have continued since and have now reached the women across central and east of Ukraine.

The fourth year of Empowering Women entrepreneurship programme in Ukraine is funded by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and it is a continuation of the collaboration of Garage48 and the Estonian Refugee Council in supporting refugee and female entrepreneurship with a start-up minded approach and the knowledge of female founders and experts from the technology sector. With combining the elements of the Garage48 hackathon with a business incubation programme, we seek to support women in launching micro businesses that have been designed from a problem-solving ground point, based on design thinking methodology, learning how to work with expert guidance and mentoring from the very beginning, which results in sustainable and crisis-resilient businesses.

Recovering the economy on a grassroots level

Participants have entered the program with entrepreneurial ideas primarily from the same industries during the course of the program's four years: agriculture, food production, personal care and beauty services, textiles, arts & crafts, and education. Each year we expand our experience and the programme further, to welcome additional potential female entrepreneurs to shape their business idea, develop a business plan and receive initial funding. And each year we see how the ideas reflect the current needs in the country. The focus this year has been on food production, as business ideas on how to restore and replace the war-disrupted production and supply lines are in the majority. These ideas tap into the critical need and on the other hand make use of often the only resources available in terms of the rich agricultural land.  

Another topic standing out this year has been children’s well-being and education during the war.

Where feasible, female entrepreneurs in the programme set out to create additional jobs to support other people in need and help to recover the country’s economy on a grassroots level.

Glory to Ukraine and glory to Ukrainian superwomen

An amazing group of women from all ages and walks of life from nine oblasts of Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Kyiv (excluding Kyiv city), Kirovohrad, and Cherkasy in Ukraine took part in this programme as individual entrepreneurs, teams and family-based businesses. This year’s highlight has been the solidarity, the care and love the participants have shared with each other. The peer-to-peer learning has added another layer to the educational parts of the programme and it really feels like the participating women have managed to create a tight-knit community and support system with whom to move forward with and to lean on during tough times. The warmth, support and encouragement to follow their dreams came through so strongly even in the fully online setting of the programme.

The entrepreneurial dreams get to go flying on the superwoman capes thanks to the heart, dedication and care the leading mentors keep putting into this programme each year. We love to have you in the Garage48 mentors’ family and we could not run the programme without you - Maarika Truu, Maria Yarotska, Valeriia Holierova, Maryna Goncharenko, Liliia Holierova, Alexandra Iliashenko, Olesya Malevayana, Lucine Ayanian, Ilya Vasilyev and Yelena Zhovnikova!

Empowering Women Ukraine 2023 new businesses lead mentors and the organizing team. 

A total of 31 women and women-led teams with the most developed business plans received starting grants of 1600-2750 USD, which they will be implementing in the coming six months as asset-based investments for creating sustainable businesses, with further mentoring support provided by Estonian Refugee Council in Ukraine.

Although initial funding is often critical for starting with the business in unimaginably difficult conditions such as war, the greatest feedback for us is when the participants gain from the entrepreneurial knowledge and mentoring offered by our very highly dedicated team of mentors, experts and organizers - by supporting them in developing an entrepreneurial mindset and a problem-solving can-do attitude, a hunger for further learning and a support network of fellow female entrepreneurs. We’ve experienced how this can set off people to do great things and develop long-term skills to sail the entrepreneurial world. And we love it when the participants value this for themselves.

-Kadri Tiisvelt - Empowering Women entrepreneurship programme manager at Garage48.

Here are the women, who received starting grants to launch their businesses.

“Вирощування цибулі ріпчастої” is an onion-growing business run by Tatjana. As onion supply from the southern regions of Ukraine has stopped due to the war, she is now set to restore the onion need for the village of Zemlyanka in Sumy oblast with the help of the starting grant.

The most important benefit of this programme for me was meeting women facing similar challenges and developing connections which feel like the support of a family. Seeing that we share the same hesitations and worries made me realize the temporary nature of many challenges and I regained 

my attitude to life of "let's do it and let’s do it today".


"Лабіринті позитивних емоцій" / “Labyrinth of Positive Emotions” is a newly created tourist location in Poltava oblast, run by Natalia and her family. They entered the programme to add a new branch to their business and start offering hearty and healthy snacks for the children and adults visiting the 1-hectare labyrinth with recreation areas, custom-made full-size board games and interactive quests. Waffles with various fillings, soft ice cream, refreshing juice, coffee drinks, and natural, environmentally friendly teas will soon be available.

“Milovarro” is set to become an exclusive handcrafted soap brand, building on Kateryna’s hobby of the past four years and her master’s degree in technological engineering, with specialty in the chemical technology of organic substances. As her objective is to have a nationwide sales reach, Kateryna intends to use the initial award as a springboard for a larger production.

The Empowering Women entrepreneurship programme gave me an understanding of what running a business actually means and how 

to make it into a reality with a systematic approach. I got all parts of 

the puzzle that I was missing before.


“Lightwood” shelves for children’s books and toys, boxes for storing toys, decorative wall panels, accessories for photo sessions and magnetic alphabets from wood and plywood are handcrafted by Iliona and her father in Zaporizhzhia oblast for the past four months. They don’t intend to become a large furniture factory with standard templates, but wish to become sustainable and keep a personalized approach and inscriptions on the products.

“Смаколики pets” natural treats for animals from meat, by-products, and vegetables are made by Olena in Poltava oblast, without adding any preservatives. She intends to implement the starting grant for a wider offering of natural and healthy delicacies that are currently lacking from the market, and produce locally, thus having a friendlier price compared to imported goods.

Julia and Maria want to start a family business called "XARISMA" in Zaporizhzhia that sells women's clothing, shoes, and accessories. An environment for gathering where customers can experience the feminine attributes of the store, such as beauty, originality, floral scents, and heart-to-heart conversation. Additionally, they plan to hold women's gatherings and talks, team up with regional Ukraina firms, and hold meetings with experts to help customers develop their own personal style based on the studio shop.

Elena’s “ChikaMa” high-quality children’s clothing brand offers wonderful and exclusive clothes at affordable prices in Dnipropetrovsk oblast.

“ЕкоВсесвіт'' healthy food is craft produced by Svitlana with the help of her family in Poltava oblast. Bread with sprouted flax and buckwheat, meticulously dried vegetables, dry soups made of dried vegetables and greens, sugar-free granola, yeast-free bread, and concoctions made from dried berries are all included in the collection.

“Baranenko_org” will become an interior design service in Kyiv oblast, focusing on the design of storage systems and organizing of space.

“Креветочка” wants to establish an eco-aqua farm for the cultivation of giant freshwater shrimp in the city of Zaporizhzhia. Natalia will provide the region with live, high-quality shrimp at an acceptable price, taking into account the reduction of logistics costs, with consistent access to the market of Ukraine and Europe.

“Beauty Time” offers skin and body care services such as a selection of cosmetics, cleanings, peelings, care procedures, mesotherapy and revitalization and others in Dnipropetrovsk oblast. Irina’s goal is to make women and men happy, increasing their self-esteem and helping to solve cosmetic problems. She believes that with the positive development of the business, she will be able to also create new jobs.

“Пані Джерка” organizes mini-workshops for the production and sale of craft meat snacks with the recipes of Julia and her team in the city of Bila Tserkva, Kyiv region.

“Вишитий джинсовий одяг” modern casual and business-style women's clothing with elements of Ukrainian embroidery are created by Maria in Kyiv oblast. Her goal is to promote national motifs and history through the creation of embroidered designs on denim as she sees that there is a lack of original clothing with national motifs at an affordable price.

"Одегія" family business in Dnipropetrovsk oblast creates and sells clothing designs by applying designer prints to ready-made t-shirts, hoodies, long sleeves and sweatshirts. Larysa says that the range and the quality of the print are what sets them apart from their competitors.

“Let's Play” is a board game based on interaction bots, offering distraction and stress relief from the war, designed by Maria in Kyiv oblast.

“Сімейна кондитерська” pastry shop specialising on macarons and mousse cakes will be opened in Zaporizhzhia oblast by Olga and her family.

“Свічковаріння” is the first studio in the city for the production and sale of interior perfumed candles and their accessories. The theme of candles will be a harmonious continuation of Natalia’s own work as an interior designer and as the co-owner of a furniture company. The creation of a workshop of craft products will take place on the basis of an already physically existing furniture studio.

“SPOGAD” is a sustainable, circular, and slow fashion brand handcrafted from 100% locally recycled plastic. Born into the war, the brand was founded by three women in Dnipropetrovsk oblast with backgrounds in social innovations, sustainable design, marketing, and writing. Their accessories are iconic objects that create stories with their owners, serving as artifacts, memories (in ukr: spogad), and the collective cultural heritage of Ukraine.

Thank you for believing in us and in the cause we defend because it's much more than just business. It's about developing innovative 

industries and showing all the world how colorful Ukraine is, and how Ukraine fights.


“Бізнес у гаражі: виробництво продукції на лазерному верстаті” is Elena’s business in Dnipropetrovsk oblast that focuses on the production of plywood accessories such as home accessories, toys and other children's products and furniture. She creates high-quality, sustainable, and durable plywood products that are a great choice for people who want to live more environmentally and stylishly.

“WHEELNY” is a team-based business from the Kyiv oblast. Anna and her team create adaptive clothing for people with disabilities who use wheelchairs. The clothes are built structurally correctly for the sitting position of the body. The biggest problem that they solve is the convenience of movement in a stroller.

“47°NORTH” is Anna’s business in the Cherkasy oblast that produces and sells scented candles from ecologically clean wax (soy, palm, coconut, beeswax). One of the 47°NORTH features is hand-painted planters and Annas’ aroma compositions for candles.

“Smakuye” bakery in Kyiv oblast produces lactose- and gluten-free bakery and confectionery products.

“Сонце Фрукт” in Kharkiv oblast produces healthy goodies. Natalia started doing her business 4 years ago, on maternity leave - cooking for family and friends. "Sun Fruit" is aimed at the production and sale of fruit pastilles, chips, meat jerky, and other assortments. The niche of Natalia’s products is that it is all-natural, with the absence of sugar, preservatives and dyes. When the war started she was forced to leave her home with her small child. Now that she has regained her strength, she wants to do her favorite business and relaunch her production.

“Світ дверей” family business in the north of Kharkiv oblast produces steel doors. The family is from North Saltivka district, which was most affected by Russian shelling. After the residents left, there were a lot of robberies, especially where the door was easy to break. “Світ дверей” plans to produce high-quality steel doors of increased strength with delivery and installation services.

“Parfumepassion” is an online perfume store, where the client can buy original perfumes, both in full-size bottles and smaller quantities.

“Лаванда” is a team-based business from Poltava oblast. During the war, preschool and educational institutions in the city were transferred to remote mode, leaving children and mothers lacking live communication. “Лаванда” team offers short-term care for 3-4 and 5-6 years, enabling mothers to leave their children with qualified specialists who will conduct educational and entertainment activities. The environment is completely safe for studying and staying, hosting a professional equipped bomb shelter.

“MY Petrykivka” products featuring the Petrykivka painting, that is included in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO, are made by Vladislava in Dnipropetrovsk oblast and can be ordered as unique craft items for an individual customer.

"Розумне читання" smart reading online courses for primary school students are developed by Olga in Dnipropetrovsk oblast. She has developed all classes from her own experience as she has been working as a primary school teacher for more than 15 years and 4 of that has been done online. In the conditions of war, the issue of children's safety is key, so online education is definitely an advantage during such times.

“Сад Ірги” will become a garden for growing Irga with the subsequent sale of fresh berries and berry products. Irga is a new niche culture in Ukraine. Irina’s berries are made into jams, syrups, frozen and sold for the needs of the confectionery industry, as fillers for yogurts and other food products. The business will create jobs for 2 families of forced migrants from Donetsk.

We are in Kyiv now, we are renting an apartment and our business is at square one. In 2027 in Tallinn in the biggest supermarket, there will be great boxes with berries with a description of Thank You Garage48 

and Estonian Refugee Council. These Ukrainian berries will be sold in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and other European countries. 

Thank you very much!


"Ідея" is a children's creativity studio in Kyiv oblast. Viktoria has 7 years of teaching experience with children. During the last year, she organized a creative studio for the individual preparation of children for school and also conducted various master classes in decorative and applied arts such as soap making, threading, non-traditional drawing techniques, wool felting, decorative clay, manufacturing of products from natural materials, and others. Now she will be able to run the studio in permanent bases and expand her client base.  


Learning-creative laboratory (LCL) offers educational and consulting services in Dnipropetrovsk oblast. The uniqueness of Olga’s project is the combination of cognitive and creative components such as art therapy, music and visual facilitation with the individual approach to the audience and customization of content to the client's needs.

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Many of us became more confident and brave during the programme. All the ideas are so sunny and bright, that sometimes it’s strange that in such time we allow ourselves to have such dreams and to realize such ideas.


We wish only the best to all the amazing Ukrainian superwomen that took part in the Empowering Women Ukraine 2023 entrepreneurship programme!

Re-watch the award ceremony with the demos of the starting grant winners

Facebook live

Stay tuned for the second part of the blog, focusing on the entrepreneurship programme for launching existing women-led businesses in Ukraine.

The Empowering Women Entrepreneurship Program is organized in the collaboration of Garage48 and Eesti Pagulasabi / Estonian Refugee Council, and is financed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

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