She fled her home, abandoned her possessions, and escaped Russian occupation in Kherson. Now, her small business is booming.
- Viktoria Kulakova's hometown in southern Ukraine was occupied by Russian forces in February.
- Her artisan product business was shuttered and she felt "very real threats" to her life and freedom.
Viktoria Kulakova's small business was out of operation for more than two months, while she grappled with the daily task of surviving Russia's occupation of her hometown.
Before Russia's invasion, her retail business It's Craft operated out of a warehouse in Nova Kakhovka — a small, strategically-significant city in the Kherson region of Ukraine.
When Russian forces arrived in February, Viktoria decided to stick around.
Her warehouse was shuttered while she and a co-founder, Pavlo Yarmii, worked to support their community by buying food from struggling farmers and distributing it to vulnerable citizens.
Pavlo passed dozens of roadblocks every day as he traveled around the city delivering supplies, and Russian forces regularly searched his car on suspicion of pro-Ukrainian partisan activity.
The pair, along with Oleksiy Chirkov, who has since left the company, co-founded It's Craft in the Spring of 2020. It's an online store which aims to support small-scale manufacturers producing traditional Ukrainian products.
It sells artisan products and foodstuffs, from cheese and cured meats to textiles and wooden crafts — including an engraved plywood map of Ukraine.
In April, Viktoria fled her home in Nova Kakhovka and reestablished herself — and her online store — in a new city. Now, she told Insider, business is booming — and sales have even outstripped pre-war figures.
It all happened very fast
It was only after a lot of hesitation that Viktoria and Pavlo finally decided to flee Nova Kakhovka. They'd been warned by friends that their volunteering efforts made them targets for interrogation by the occupiers.
"We were worried about how that could turn out," said Viktoria, "because we were clearly pro-Ukrainian activists."
In the end, it all happened very fast. They set off towards Uman, a city in central Ukraine which is home to Viktoria's sister Iryna, less than 24 hours after making the tough decision to leave.
Viktoria told Insider: "We only left when it was absolutely necessary and we couldn't delay any further due to the very real threats to our freedom and our lives."
They gave their leftover supplies to local charities. On April 23, Viktoria crammed into a small car with Pavlo and his family. There was only enough space to bring one small bag, so Viktoria had to leave almost all of her personal possessions and business supplies behind.
On the whole, they had a "relatively easy" escape, said Viktoria. Nevertheless, their journey took over 24 hours — at least four times as long as it would have taken before the outbreak of the full-scale war in February.
The group spent several hours sitting in a long column of cars waiting to pass through Russian checkpoints. Describing the scene, Viktoria said: "Everyone was pretty quiet. Mothers tried to keep their children distracted. Some people cried. Some people prayed."
They finally reached Uman around noon on April 24, just in time to celebrate Orthodox Easter — a major holiday in Ukraine. For Viktoria, Easter "wasn't just a religious festival, but a celebration of freedom."
A hardened resolve
Before escaping Nova Kakhovka, Viktoria had applied to the Ukrainian Social Venture Fund to seek financial support for relaunching and relocating It's Craft. After she arrived in Uman, she found out that she'd been awarded 180,000 Ukrainian hryvnia — around $5,000.
She put this money, as well as her personal savings, into re-establishing It's Craft. Pavlo remained focused on volunteering, while Viktoria dedicated herself to rebuilding their shared business.
By early May, 75% of her suppliers had shut down, and many of her regular customers had fled Ukraine. Viktoria worked rapidly to seek new suppliers, establish collaborations with local manufacturers, and launch a marketing campaign to promote the store to a broader audience.
She also opened up It's Craft's first-ever physical store in a bid to draw new customers.
Now, six months down the line, business is booming. Average monthly sales are up, according to bank statements verified by Insider. Viktoria thinks this might be due to a growing patriotic interest in buying from Ukrainian-run businesses amid Russia's assault on the country.
Viktoria says It's Craft's range has grown from around 750 to 1,450 products. She's even looking to expand, and is eyeing possible franchises in the Ukrainian tourist hotspots of Lviv and Kyiv.
Russia's invasion has only hardened Viktoria's resolve to grow her business. She told Insider: "We want to contribute to the establishment of Ukraine's national identity and to the growth of Ukraine's economy."
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