“In Lithuania, I had to start all over again,” Viktoriia, a refugee from Ukraine, begins her story. “We were fleeing a war that had shattered our lives and broken our future. Suddenly, I found myself in an unknown country, among unfamiliar people, with no one to help me. I had no plan, no money, but I knew I had to do something to pay for my medical treatment. I had problems with my spine. I had to survive,” she recalls pensively.

When the war escalated in Ukraine, thousands of Ukrainians found themselves waking up in their worst nightmare. Their lives were abruptly turned upside down. They had to seek shelter for themselves and their loved ones as bombs and shelling were destroying their neighbourhoods. 

Viktoriia arrived in Lithuania with her 15-year-old son from Irpin, northern Ukraine. She only managed to take her cat in her backpack. The loss of her two nephews in a car crash, as Russian troops were advancing in Bucha, had a significant impact on her health. “These are very painful experiences that mark your life,” says Viktoriia. “It’s traumatizing. I still can't hear or speak any languages other than my mother tongue,” she adds.

After two years, she can finally begin to talk about very difficult losses, which she wouldn't have been able to do before. “What matters most is that my family and I are alive,” she continues. “My son saw the war, he saw his cousins die. Yet,  he went back to Ukraine. The independence of his country is important to him.”

Viktoriia is one of 26 Ukrainians who received financial support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Lithuania as part of an initiative aimed at promoting refugees’ entrepreneurship. A microbiologist and a veterinarian by training, Viktoriia couldn’t work in her field of expertise in Lithuania due to the language barrier. So, she decided to make curd pancakes, a Ukrainian specialty.

Viktoriia, Ukrainian microbiologist, has started her own bussiness in Lithuania, she decided to make curd pancakes, a Ukrainian specialty.

“I know everything about food quality, so I am sure that my products are of the highest standards,” she says with a smile. In Lithuania, she used the IOM grant to buy kitchen equipment to make curd pancakes. She built a customer base and is planning to diversify her product line in the near future.

IOM Lithuania provided selected applicants with up to EUR 3,000 euros which could be used to purchase essential equipment, goods and services for starting or developing a business according to a business plan. Entrepreneurship training and individual business mentoring sessions were also organized to help participants prepare their business plans and establish clear business objectives.

“Most of those who applied were Ukrainians living in Vilnius. Some Ukrainians living in Kaunas, Klaipėda and Šiauliai also participated in the programme,” says Eitvydas Bingelis, Head of Office, IOM Lithuania. “Around 40 percent of participants were people who already had business experience in Ukraine, while a little over half, i.e. around 60 percent of the women, indicated that they were starting a business for the first time. Our goal was to help participants take the first steps towards self-employment, and the initial results were successful,” he adds.

Bingelis also noted that participants in the entrepreneurship training continue to support each other beyond this initiative. Some friendships have also developed. "We had the case of some Ukrainians who met through our training and started a business together. They are organising robotics training for children. We are glad that IOM support is bringing Ukrainians who are far away from their homes closer together," he concludes.

Since the escalation of the war in Ukraine, almost 87,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Lithuania. IOM Lithuania has assisted more than 17,000 of them.