Skip to content

Here are 3 Ukrainian female tech leaders worth getting to know

by Liliane Bivings March 8, 2024 7:26 PM 9 min read
Anna Apostol, co-founder of Mate academy. (Mate academy's press service)
by Liliane Bivings March 8, 2024 7:26 PM 9 min read
This audio is created with AI assistance

Support independent journalism in Ukraine. Join us in this fight.

Become a member Support us just once

Anna Apostol says there’s only one thing she doesn’t love about being a co-founder of the Kyiv-based online programming school Mate academy: that people sometimes think her husband and co-founder, Roman Apostol, is the “one who did everything and hired me because I’m his wife.”

“I don’t care, actually. For me, the main thing is what people inside the company think of me,” Apostol told the Kyiv Independent.

Given the paucity of women in high-level tech positions both in Ukraine and globally, the confusion about Apostol isn’t very surprising.

The bright side is that for more than a decade, the number of women in the tech industry in Ukraine has been steadily rising. In 2011, women made up 7% of employees in tech companies. As of August 2023, 33% of the country’s 307,000 tech workers are women, according to the Lviv IT Cluster, a tech association.

Nonetheless, women currently hold less than a third of C-level positions in IT companies. Creating more pathways for women within organizations to move up the ladder is necessary to encourage more women to enter the industry at lower levels, said Nataliya Mykolska, executive director at Diia.City United, another tech association.

Fewer opportunities to climb the career ladder can also mean fewer opportunities for higher compensation. The gender pay gap in Ukraine is currently at 18.6%, according to the Economy Ministry.

Founders of Mate academy (L-R): Max, Anna, Roman. (Mate academy's press service)

The full-scale invasion may also be a catalyst for change. While Apostol says that there are no noticeably sweeping trends at the moment, the difficulties of war have made women she knows more decisive and independent.

That, and fears men could be mobilized means companies are more likely than ever to hire women first.

“(The war) will definitely be an opportunity for more women to step in. It's really sad that opportunity presents itself under these circumstances, but it's typical of war,” Yelyzaveta Cherednychenko, acting CEO at digital media company Tonti Laguna Group, said.

“Ukraine is facing a labor shortage. To grow and have more opportunities, companies have to attract more women,” Mykolska said.

Equality in this industry won’t happen overnight. But there are already women in Ukraine’s tech industry who serve as real-life examples for would-be female tech professionals. Among them are Apostol, Cherednychenko, and Eugenia Zhovnach, administrative director at Zagraya Games.

The three women you’ll read about here have also stayed in Ukraine despite opportunities abroad and the war, and are invested in the country’s economic growth.

While they all feel that their country is moving in the right direction in terms of gender equality, they have no illusions about the work still left ahead.

Anna Apostol

co-founder of Mate academy

Anna Apostol’s first client for what would become Mate academy was quite literally a mate. He was a friend of a friend who didn’t have a job at the time — it was 2014, Russia had just invaded Ukraine for the first time, and the country’s currency and economy had taken a hit.

Apostol had just moved to the U.S. where her husband had gotten a job at Google and was thinking about how she could make tech education more affordable for Ukrainians and create career paths for people who didn’t have formal degrees in computer science. She had gone through a two-month online Quality Assurance (QA) course in a company where she was hired immediately after.

She started to teach her friend QA, which she says she “wasn’t good at.” Her idea was that she’d share her knowledge with him and help him look for a job. They agreed he’d pay her back once he did. The two met every day over Skype.

After 30 job interviews, moving back in with his parents, and holding a night job as a car washer, her friend finally found a job in IT.

“I was happy. I learned the market, and I realized that this model works.”

Anna Apostol (Mate academy's press service)

And thus Mate academy was born. Apostol and her husband and co-founder, Roman Apostol, moved back to Kyiv full-time in 2017.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. I already had my green card, Google had gotten everything ready, and my husband had a good salary.” But they had told each other that after successfully finding jobs for 100 students, they would move back to Kyiv to grow the company.

The business was offline at first, but they quickly realized that if they wanted to scale and raise money, they’d have to move to an online model. Apostol says that they had no examples of what scaling would even look like. “It was scary, we failed at first because our platform wasn’t ready at all.”

Founders of Mate academy (L-R): Max, Roman, Anna. (Mate academy's press service)

That was in 2018. Since then, the company’s classes have been fully online. Students go through a five-month course, only paying once they find employment. Mate academy says it has a 90% placement rate among alumni.

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, the company has grown two-fold to the current size of more than 140 employees. Most of that growth comes from opening a location in Poland that offers classes in Polish for the local market and ensures another source of revenue in an uncertain wartime environment. As of August 2023, Mate also has a Brazil location.

The company has a lot of female employees, a reflection of its management but also its location, Kyiv.

Women make up 54% of all employees, and women hold 52% of 34 leadership positions at Mate academy in Ukraine.

Between 30-40 of Mate’s developers are women, higher than in many companies, and 90% of their designers are women, which isn’t unusual.

Still, Apostol says, even though Mate academy employs lots of women, in her experience women ask for lower salaries than men do and are at times less confident in their performance reviews.

“Some societal changes have to happen in Ukraine to make it more comfortable for women to feel more confident in themselves. But I think it's happening.”

Yelyzaveta Cherednychenko

acting CEO at Tonti Laguna Group
In late 2022, the management team at the Tonti Laguna Group, an Odesa-born digital media company, was looking for a new CEO. After interviewing several different qualified candidates, they were struggling to find a perfect match.

The group has around 85 employees split across five very different companies. The challenge was in finding someone who could manage all of them at once.

That’s when the group’s founder Oleksiy Borsch and parent company Netpeak founder Artem Borodatiuk turned inward to their COO Yelyzaveta Cherednychenko, realizing she was the only one for the job.

After all, Cherednychenko had spent seven years with the company, first as a part-time copywriter before leaving her doctoral studies in fermentation and winemaking to build a content department from scratch in 2018. She also wore the hat of SEO project manager at the company at one point.

She was made COO in early 2022 just before the start of the full-scale invasion. At the end of 2023, she was offered the position of acting CEO.

About her new role, Cherednychenko says, “It’s exciting to have the opportunity to be part of decision-making, but I’m still adjusting — I also have very, very strong imposter syndrome. So I'm battling that as well.”

Yelyzaveta Cherednychenko (Tonti Laguna’s press service)

As both COO and acting CEO, Cherednychenko was part of transforming Tonti Laguna formally into a group of companies in 2022. Part of her work has been building the workflow for opening up new companies. Further down the road, Tonti Laguna wants to open at least one new business per year.

“I'm really proud of the process that we built,” she told the Kyiv Independent, adding that the team’s hope this year is to slow down a little bit and take stock of everything currently going on before expanding further.

Since Tonti Laguna’s products are mainly B2C and target the U.S. and U.K., it was less affected by Russia’s full-scale invasion than other companies, Cherednychenko said. It was even able to take on employees who were temporarily let go from other companies struggling during the war.

“One of them stayed within Tonti and I'm really happy about that. He started as a specialist and now he's a team leader. He developed his career further at our company.”

Netpeak, Tonti Laguna’s parent company, stands out among tech companies — around 52% of its more than 1,000 employees are women. Cherednychenko is so used to it, that she’s surprised every time someone asks her why that is.

“It all comes from our leadership. Our values are really focused on soft skills,” Cherednychenko said, adding that the portrait of skills the company looks for in candidates means that gender doesn’t matter that much. “But we all have our biases, of course,” she said.

Working meeting at Tonti Laguna’s office. (Tonti Laguna’s press service)

Overall, Ukrainian society has a long way to go to create diverse and inclusive workspaces Cherednychenko said. She was a part of the search for a new CEO before being offered the position herself and remembers how few women applied.

It’s critical to keep encouraging women and supporting programs that do more to balance the scales in society, she said.

“At Netpeak we have this mission to go from the third world to the first. With that comes human rights.”

Eugenia Zhovnach

administrative director Zagrava Games

Eugenia Zhovnach, administrative director at Rivne-based mobile game developer Zagrava, says that she is a “little surprised she’s a woman in tech” given her accountant background.

Her career in the IT industry started 14 years ago, “randomly,” when an old friend of hers asked if she knew any good accountants for a job with an American company that had an office in Rivne. Zhovnach wasn’t very satisfied with her job at the time and proposed she take up the offer herself.

After the original company closed a couple of years after Zhovnach joined, the core team decided to stay together and start Zagrava Games. Four years ago, the Dublin-based mobile games developer Playrix made the company an offer to merge. The two companies combined have over 200 employees.

Zhovnach went from accountant to founder, to her current position as administrative director. She and the company’s CEO Oleksiy Mykhasyuk split the management responsibilities — Mykhasyuk is on the product side, while Zhovnach oversees administration.

She says that the team at Zagrava has built a socially responsible business, one that reflects on the ways it can have a positive influence on the development of the region and local community.

This may be one of the reasons the company’s employees asked to open the office back up just a few days after the start of the full-scale invasion saying they felt safer and cared for there. Entire families with their children were coming to the office in those days — “It was really a time of support for one another,” she said.

Ninety percent of the company’s employees who fled after the start of the war have returned, including Zhovnach and her son, who she felt should be with his father.

“I also felt responsible for my colleagues. I didn’t want to appear like a manager betraying her team, sitting in a warm, safe place, while they are here struggling every day with the challenges of the war.”

Eugenia Zhovnach (Zagrava Games press service)

While she lauds the qualities that she says make Ukrainian IT workers unique, such as their ability to go above and beyond and to think outside the box, she laments the fact that “men are still very much the drivers of business” in Ukraine and that there are so few women in tech.

“In 14 years, we’ve only had one female programmer,” she said, adding that while the team is split 48% women to 52% men, there are no women in purely technical positions currently.

The war could change things, she thinks. As men cannot travel abroad to meet with potential investors or partners, that job is now being passed on to women.

But for Zhovnach, the biggest sore spot working in IT is the lack of Ukrainian-made tech products. Even if a product is fully developed in Ukraine, the company belongs to other jurisdictions out of the country, a sign that there’s a lack of trust in starting companies here.

In the meantime, Ukrainian women who are trying to balance work and family also have it particularly rough.

“Sometimes it's very hard because you give yourself completely to your work and then every day you go home and have to do housework and take care of your children instead of resting.”

“But this is the superpower of our strong women.”

‘She needs armor.’ Female Ukrainian soldiers call for equality
Many passersby raise their heads when walking past the Princess Olga monument in downtown Kyiv. Some even stop, gazing at the statue with surprise. Although it has been there for years, it seems the monument has never gotten as much attention as it has in recent weeks. In early September,

Support independent journalism in Ukraine. Join us in this fight.
Freedom can be costly. Both Ukraine and its journalists are paying a high price for their independence. Support independent journalism in its darkest hour. Support us for as little as $1, and it only takes a minute.
visa masterCard americanExpress

Editors' Picks

Enter your email to subscribe
Please, enter correct email address
* indicates required
* indicates required
* indicates required
* indicates required
* indicates required


* indicates required
* indicates required


* indicates required
* indicates required


* indicates required
Successfuly subscribed
Thank you for signing up for this newsletter. We’ve sent you a confirmation email.