Vinnytsia – Olena, a professional masseuse and beautician, shares her story of resilience and business success at the "Settled Birds" forum for internally displaced people, organized by IOM in Vinnytsia. A mother of three and displaced twice, Olena managed to build a life for herself and her children despite the challenging circumstances of war.
Her story of displacement begins in 2014. Pregnant with her third child, Olena and her family had to flee their native Debaltseve in Eastern Ukraine, when the hostilities drew closer to town. The family started a new life in a small town in the Balakliia district of Kharkiv region.
Olena’s family had a quiet life back in Debaltseve, where she owned a massage parlour and her husband had a construction business. When they fled to Balakliia, they had to find new ways to support the family. Having a medical degree, Olena first got a job as a nurse in the town’s hospital, but her dream was to have her own wellness business, which she opened shortly after.
Olena started looking for funding opportunities and applied for the IOM grant programme for business start-ups, which she successfully received. Olena used the grant to invest in new equipment for her salon, which helped her expand the range of services and allowed her to attract more customers.
The family had a steady income and even bought a house, but, unfortunately, the war caught up with them in 2022, and they had to flee again - this time to Vinnytsia.
"It was harder to move the second time. The Russian troops were already 15 km away from Balakliia, the bridges were blown up. There was only one wooden bridge we could leave through,” recalls Olena.
After losing her business and home for the second time, Olena found herself in a state of despair. The repeated displacement and challenging circumstances took a toll on her family life, eventually causing separation from her husband. To build a new life in Vinnytsia, she knew she had to find a new purpose.
This is how she started practicing body flex, a set of breathing exercises for weight loss and health. Despite the hardships of displacement, Olena wanted to find her place in the new community and through body flex classes she was able to connect with like-minded people.
"I advise anyone who finds themselves in a desperate situation to look for any activity that will help them feel better and make them motivated to face each day," Olena shared with the forum participants.
However, Olena knew that she had to do more to support her family. She also wanted to do more for the community that had welcomed her. She resumed working as a massage therapist.
Her active involvement in the life of the displaced community in Vinnytsia led her to one of the events organized by IOM's partner, "Spring of Hope" NGO. As part of the IOM's USAID-funded comprehensive support programme that she learned about at the event, Olena received the necessary assistance - a laser skin rejuvenation device - to start her own business in Vinnytsia . This gave her the opportunity to open her own beauty studio.
Olena’s small but cosy office has everything you need.
"Olena has incredible hands. I admire her talent and I am happy to come to her not only for face and body massage, but also for cosmetic procedures," says Liudmila, the first client Olena tested her new device on.
The beautician is now diligently developing her business presence on social media, with the help of her eldest daughter.
She also continues to lead an active social life. For two years in a row, Olena has been participating in charity running races and also participates in events tailored for displaced people, gathers groups for joint body-flex classes and constantly pursues various professional trainings and courses:
"My day starts at four in the morning with a run and breathing exercises. I greet the sun every day. I want to have enough time for everything, you know? I want to have time to live. And I also work hard to provide a decent life for my children."
Olena's story serves as an example of how people can successfully adapt and integrate into a new community whilst staying brave and resilient. Now, Olena is happy to share her experience and insights with others - to inspire and encourage not only displaced people but everyone she meets.