Is it possible for a woman to start a business from scratch with just a strong determination to make big ambitions become a reality? Having uprooted herself moving from East to West of Ukraine, the woman was fortunate to meet a partner who shared her interests and aspirations.
Our team aimed to highlight life stories of ordinary women with unusual life paths and the story of two women from different parts of the country who started their own business impressed us. So, we decided to contact them and they kindly accepted our interview.
Kharkiv Observer correspondent talked to 61-year-old Kateryna Tarasenko-Lisova from Alchevsk, the Luhansk region, and Kateryna Ilkiv, 34 years old, from the village of Oriv, Lviv region, who showed by their example that anything is possible.
Kharkiv Observer: What were you interested in as a child?
Kateryna Lisova: My first wish was to become an astronomer. My sister was six years older and I read her astronomy textbook from cover to cover. Later, I don’t remember who I strived to be but I definitely didn’t want to become a teacher. After school graduation, I decided to pursue the profession of an electrical engineer only because mainly young men majored in it.
Kateryna Ilkiv: I wanted to cast horoscope so we had similar interests with Kateryna Lisova even in childhood as you can see. After that, I wanted to become a designer and later my dream was to join the Army. But eventually, I decided to register for medical college.
Kh.O.: Have you practiced leadership from an early age?
K.L. and K.I.: Definitely!
K.L.: When I was 5 or 6 years old, I was a leader among other kids, later I organized various activities at school until my graduation.
K.I.: Being a young girl I was keen on football and was a defender in our team.
Kh.O.: What did you do after graduation?
K.L.: I worked at Zaporizhia Construction and Finishing Machinery Plant with my husband. I performed tasks at the chief electrician’s department. During this period, I gave birth to two children. Later the marketing department was established, I started working there and, in a year, I became its deputy’s head. During the Soviet period, it was very hard to be a career woman.
K.I.: After graduation from medical college, I got married, gave birth to a child but widowed very soon. I widowed twice and I have three kids.
Kh.O.: Kateryno Lisova, why did you decide to move to Western Ukraine?
K.L.: With the outbreak of the war, I was not in my native town Alchevsk, but in Lyman near Slovyansk, it was called Krasny Liman then, where the fiercest fighting took place. I was there with my son and looked after my 10-month-old granddaughter. But since I’m a person with disability, it was hard: I could not call the ambulance and pharmacies didn’t work either. I would not have survived there, and my children persuaded me to move somewhere.
Kh.O.: Kateryno Lisova, how did you meet Kateryna Ilkiv?
K.L.: I moved to the Carpathian region and met Kateryna Ilkiv who worked as a nurse there. It was hard for me to walk for 200-300 meters and she often provided medical support to me. Moving to another area and physical labor improved my health a lot and now I can easily walk 20 kilometers.
In spite of our age difference, we have much in common. Both of us are interested in painting and have similar music preferences. We enjoy listening to Vivaldi and Bach, Rammstein and rap artists.
Kh.O.: Kateryno Ilkiv, has Kateryna Lisova learned anything from you?
K.I.: I consider, Kateryna Lisova is too trusting and most people can easily lie even looking into one’s eyes. So, I tell her not to take people at face value.
Kh.O.: Kateryno Lisova, was moving to the Carpathian region your deliberate choice?
K.L.: For sure! There were a few reasons for it. First, Lviv is the city that I love with all my heart. Second, I always wanted to live near the forest.
Recently, Facebook reminded me of a post from five years ago when I came up with the idea to move. “January 1 is a great day to start over.” I wrote that my goal was to find a house in a village where I could grow something. Then I was actively looking for a village that would accommodate me. Oriv, Yamelnytsia, Krushelnytsia, Urych were on my list. I’ve never been there, but I started to make calls.
On the net, I found an ad about Karpatsky Polonyny tourist resort where they accepted internally displaced persons (IDPs) that’s why I decided to move there. It turned out that Kateryna Ilkiv was my neighbor.
Due to health problems, I sold everything I had at the outbreak of the war. I possessed only an apartment that cost a few hundreds of dollars since the war has started. I had not had a lot before as being a widow, I had to bring up two children on my own.
Kh.O.: Kateryno Lisova, did you have any savings when you moved to Western Ukraine?
K.L.: I had only a suitcase and a backpack with my clothes. That’s it.
Kh.O.: Kateryno Lisova, can you call yourself a forced entrepreneur? Have you been led into business by the lack of alternative opportunities to make a living?
K.L.: Actually, it’s 50 percent true. To answer this question, I have to go back in time. In 2003, I consciously left my work at the plant. I worked in a commercial firm for a year. After that, I was looking for a marketing expert job. Having 12 years of experience, I was refused as I was 45 then and they employed people under 30.
In November 2004, I created my own business where we grew mushrooms. Unfortunately, this business was ruined as being a woman I was not strong enough to protect it from all sorts of legal and illegal assaults.
Later, my daughter got married and we organized a project firm where we worked together.
Since 1993 I had held leadership positions managing a business is not new for me as I have had a leader’s qualities from an early age.
Kh.O.: What qualities should a female leader have?
K.L.: To start with, you must be responsible for your actions, initiative. If you plan something, you should implement your idea into life at once. The next one is the ability to analyze and listen to your intuition. But the most important is to decide as many people get stuck at the decision-making level. To sum up, to make a decision and start moving to implement the project are the main leader’s characters.
Kh.O.: Is entrepreneurship one of the ways of adapting to new conditions for women?
K.L.: I believe, it’s a very good opportunity to restore their financial positions.
Kh.O.: What problems, fears and worries did you have when you started your business?
K.L.: I can’t say we had any fears and worries because we characterized ourselves as hot-headed. The biggest problem is locals as they just can’t understand why we have to work. Women in the Carpathian region who live in small villages mostly don’t work. According to local patriarchal traditions, women must do only housework.
These stereotypes make our work much harder as we have to break them every day. There are two parts of it: first, a woman can be an entrepreneur. We are still called “homeless” as both of us have no roofs over our heads. Kateryna Ilkiv’s house burnt down and this fact helped us to kick start our own business. The second thing that encouraged us to run business was the information that IDPs can get microgrants to start a business and we decided to apply for it.
Kh.O.: Kateryno Lisova, what did you do for a living after you left Lyman in 2014?
K.L.: Since I have moved to the village of Oriv, Skolivsky district, Lviv region, I rented a small house with Wi-Fi access and started working as a copywriter. Initially, I did not want to change anything in my life but then we grew vegetables, were given a goat and a dog and that was the start of our business.
Kh.O.: When did you start your own business? What has been achieved during these years?
K.L.: We started our business from scratch in Tukhlya, Skole district, Lviv region, in 2015. Kateryna Ilkiv and her kids ran out of the burning house and only things they were wearing left. I brought only clothes with me. We had neither furniture nor household appliances. We have lived without a fridge for a year.
Since that time, we have got four microgrants for business development.
Kh.O.: Who developed your first business plan?
K.L.: As I have a marketing degree, I wrote a business plan but Kateryna Ilkiv took part in creating it too. We managed to make it in just a few hours and submitted a request to the grantor just within minutes before the deadline. Without waiting for a response spending only pension benefits and thanks to the support of friends and neighbors, we started buying up goats from farmers. Since then, we bought a milking machine, refrigerators, and other dairy equipment and importantly we started increasing our livestock.
On October 18, 2016, we consider the start of our farm business as we registered our first individual entrepreneur. Since December 2019, we have been registered as two family farms under the Goats’ Farm of Two Katerynas’ brand.
Kh.O.: Who does the physical work at your farm?
K.L.: We distributed our responsibilities. I usually milk and feed goats in the morning and look after farm animals. We have a horse, geese, turkeys, a dog and four cats. Kateryna Ilkiv produces cheese and usually milks goats in the evening.
Also, 17-year-old Kateryna Ilkiv’s eldest son who studies in the college in Stryi and my fiance who teaches at Lviv university help us with farming and household chores when they come to the farm.
Kh.O.: How many people work on your farm?
K.L.: Two people as according to the law, we aren’t allowed to hire regular workers at the family farm. We can offer jobs only for seasonal workers.
[Kh.O.: According to Article 3 of the Family Code of Ukraine and the “Law on Private Farming,” a farm is considered a family farm provided that any farming activities are solely performed by an entrepreneur and his or her family members, and such entity is called a family farm with no legal entity status.
By Article 27 of this Law, the work of others at the family farm must be carried out solely on a seasonal basis, and only work directly related to farming and requiring special skills may be carried out.]
Kh.O.: How has the product range expanded since the start?
K.L.: Initially, we sold milk, then we started producing various kinds of cheese including feta. There were two types of cheese: white classic and smoked ones. Kateryna Ilkiv’s smoked cheese is considered unique for Ukraine by sommeliers.
Now, we produce 14 kinds of cheeses in summer and seven in the winter period. We aren’t going to copy the cheese of famous brands. As Kateryna Ilkiv is a very creative person, she always experiments and invents new varieties of cheeses.
Kh.O.: What activities does your farm offer?
K.L.: One more activity that our farm offers is tourism. It includes tours, tasting, culinary tourism, hiking in the mountains, selling souvenirs. Tourists look for something authentic that’s why we conclude contracts with woodcarvers and people who can make local food. In turn, we sell these items to the tourists.
There are not any proper cafés in the village that’s why we organize picnics for the tourists on the farm.
Kh.O.: Do overseas tourists visit your farm?
K.L.: We have tourists from a wide range of countries including New Zealand, Canada, Pakistan, Turkey, the UK, Poland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and others.
Kh.O.: Does your business grow fast?
K.L.: I can’t say so as everything is going hard and slow due to lack of funding. On the other hand, we have a great desire to develop. We are advertised as a community of Eastern and Western Ukraine.
Kh.O.: Are the media interested in your farm enterprise?
K.L.: We are rather popular as we are a bright example that it’s possible to start a business from scratch having only an idea, hands and desire to work. More than 50 media wrote about us, 20 TV studios made programs about our farm including German and British media.
Some journalists first come to us as volunteers and then shoot programs about our work. I can recall a German female journalist who took pictures which were further used for making banners and magnets, a Czech volunteer made furniture and a Polish man extended electricity to the farm.
Kh.O.: What are your plans for the future?
K.L.: We aren’t happy with what we currently have. We got a piece of land in the Carpathians and ordered the new farm project as we still rent the farm. Apart from the farm, we aim to build two houses to live in.
This year, we are going to establish another branch of our farm in the village of Urych, Skole district, Lviv region, near the Fortress of Tustan. About 140,000 tourists visited this area last year. We were invited to create a tasting room and a house-museum there. This project will be implemented starting from spring 2020.
Moreover, we are going to establish a tourist attraction at the farm which includes a petting farm, tasting and farm’s popularization.
Since Soviet times, farming has been ruined and we want to make it honorable, profitable and interesting.
We are not going to create a factory but just stay a craft cheese dairy.
Kh.O.: What would you wish our readers?
K.L. and K.I.: Make your dreams come true, don’t live in dreams but move further, be determined, ambitious and active and any challenging ideas will become reality.
Text: Natalia Ivanova
Photo: Kateryna Lisova, Kateryna Ilkiv
The material was prepared as a part of Gender Sensitive Space of Modern Journalism, implemented by the Volyn Press Club in partnership with the Volyn Gender Center, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Internews international organization.