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Maud Joseph: Women running businesses during war deserve special recognition

August 6, 2022 6:43 PM 4 min read
Silhouette of a woman behind the Ukrainian flag. (Halfpoint Images/Getty Images)
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Silhouette of a woman behind the Ukrainian flag. (Halfpoint Images/Getty Images)

The morning of Feb. 24 served as a test for every Ukrainian.

Many women were faced with having to protect both their own and their children’s lives, as well as those of their small businesses and team members.

Such stories of female entrepreneurs in Ukraine inspire me and I want to share them with you.

‘Created by Women’

Four years ago, the Franco-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry launched the “Created by Women” competition to contribute toward the development of female entrepreneurship and gender equality.

The Chamber’s Businesswomen Committee, which created the competition, is comprised of high-ranking female entrepreneurs, from presidents to CEOs, that want to support women entering the world of business.

In Nov. 2021, we announced a new call for applications, in order to support female entrepreneurs who were undermined by two years of the pandemic, disprove harmful prejudices about women in business, inspire women to start their own businesses, and celebrate women’s entrepreneurial achievements.

While Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine complicated the process, as both the jury and participants were scattered around the world, we decided to resume the competition.

Now, more than ever, the competition’s participants needed financial and moral support to continue running their businesses amid the war.

Ten women made it to the final round of the competition, with entrepreneurial projects: a pediatric clinic, herbal cosmetics, reusable feminine hygiene products, wooden puzzles, a ballet studio for adults, a craft cheese factory, leather manufacturing, a French language school, a clothing and accessories recommendation system, and a “museum of darkness,” where visitors are guided through dark exhibits by blind guides.

Supporting the frontline

When Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine began, Marta Kondryn’s Shuflia leather factory started to produce military and three-point weapon belts at the request of Ukraine’s Armed Forces.

Kondryn insisted that she did not want to derive funds from Ukrainian volunteers from whom so much was already asked. Therefore, she asked foreign friends to donate toward the purchase of necessary materials.

As a result, her leather factory managed to send Hr 400,000 ($10,776) worth of materials to the frontline.

On the weekends, Kondryn organizes training for internally displaced people, through which they can master a new trade or make themselves a keychain or wallet.

Shuflia’s products will soon be displayed in the Ukrainian section of Paris’ largest department store, Galeries Lafayette.

Strength in creativity

Olha Shurova, the founder of the Musique de Langue French language school, said the school recruited twice as many students at the start of the war in March than in previous periods.

Among the students attending the school are those who have been forced to flee to French-speaking countries, although most attendees are Ukrainian.

Shurova said their motivation to study French is the realization that you must live in the present and not delay your dreams.

After a temporary pause induced by the war, Andriana Malsa’s pediatric clinic continued to accept patients in Lviv. In 2021, her clinic organized the “School for Children’s Cardiology.”

Malsa says that, should she win the “Created by Women” award, she will direct the funds toward the purchase of diagnostic equipment and the training of future pediatric cardiologists.

Yana Sytnichenko’s company Creatif Wood produces wooden puzzles in Brovary, Kyiv Oblast. Her products are sold at Christmas markets in many Francophone countries and are in high demand.

Creatif Wood resumed operations three weeks after the war started, meaning Sytnichenko’s company continues to provide jobs, pay taxes, and support Ukraine’s economy.

Starting anew

Inna Skarzhynska, who produces herbal cosmetics through her brand Vesna, relocated her business to Lviv after Russian troops looted and destroyed her shops and laboratory in Bucha, Kyiv Oblast.

“They stole everything they could steal,” Skarzhynska said. “What they couldn’t steal, they broke.”

Before Russia’s war, her company had been growing rapidly: Vesna launched a franchise, had three stores with over 50 partners, and its products were sold on mainstream commercial platforms and distributed to beauty salons and hotel chains.

Now, Vesna has been reduced to a family business – its employees have fled and Skarzhynska, her daughter, and her son-in-law are the only ones keeping it operational.

However, at the onset of Russia’s war, Skarzhynska started to produce a “front kit,” containing a healing ointment, a hand cream, and a face cream with sun protection, which is sent to the frontline free of charge.

“I wanted to participate in the collective, majestic victory of Good over Evil, so we immediately decided to work for the military,” Skarzhynska said.

“We have already sent over 2,000 kits as part of a charitable contribution from our business. The number is growing every month.”

2022 competition winners

I admire Ukrainian women!

Despite their concern for the safety of those close to them, as well as themselves, they have continued to volunteer and grow. Their devotion and love for their country and businesses are inspiring and deserving of respect.

Supporting female entrepreneurs during this period is especially critical, as many have had to uproot, preserve, or completely restore their businesses.

Through the “Created by Women” award, the Franco-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry wants to provide these women with the support, both moral and financial, to continue and improve their businesses.

The competition’s winners were announced on July 15, 2022: Andriana Malsa’s pediatric clinic won first prize, Yana Sytnichenko’s Creatif Wood came second, and Inna Skarzhynska’s Vesna came third.

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