This page is optimized for a taller screen. Please rotate your device or increase the size of your browser window.

Fighting on Their Front: Ukraine’s Women Entrepreneurs Are Fueling a Wartime Economy

Three planes flew so low, the house shook. Then the shelling began. When it was over, their house and cars—and those of everyone on the street—were destroyed. Only the door to their home remained. 

Standing in the stone-cutting factory she owns in the Zhytomyr region, Yuliiya Melnyk recounts the trauma her family experienced the morning of March 1, 2022. The interminable few minutes she ran with her husband to shelter in their detached garage—each shielding a child, under relentless fire from above.

Two months after that day, she reopened the factory where her company produces polished stone for custom countertops, steps, and other home and commercial uses. Though her own house is not yet restored, Yuliiya’s motivation to reopen her business reflects those of other Ukrainian entrepreneurs operating in a full-scale war.


“Without work we lose the focus of our lives. We have to work," Yuliiya says. "It provides labor, and we pay taxes, and taxes go to public programs and the Armed Forces.”

She doesn’t fit the image some might have of an internally displaced survivor of Russia’s invasion, which makes the point many female entrepreneurs echo: It’s their business to defy expectations. In Ukraine’s war-affected communities, resilience looks like a 36-year-old woman who shields her children from shelling at night and leads a business by day—as a coffee shop owner, granite supplier, online vendor, or food manufacturer.

It energizes me. To me this is the key need of humanity: Everyone should be employed and able to work; then they have goals.

Ukraine, as a society, has goals. Besides peace, a growing number of citizens envision a future in the EU and NATO. To expand economic security and access to the European market, the country can’t afford to leave anyone out—women, people with disabilities, or veterans. And cultivating Ukraine’s growth is a grassroots effort.

Micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises employ 70% of the country’s workers and represent half of its gross domestic product. Workforce diversity and inclusive growth aren’t just modern values here; they are practical approaches to a larger, stronger, sustainable economy. 

“An economy is strengthened by the more people you can include in it. The more people you can build up economically, the more they can participate in the way government runs, the more resilient your economy becomes,” says Leisa Gibson, Abt’s principal and head of gender, equality, disability, and social inclusion and localisation. She supervises the Good Governance Fund (GGF) Programme in Ukraine, funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. “Every Ukrainian I’ve talked to says that a powerful economy is another powerful weapon against the aggression of Russia.”

What Ukraine’s Future Entrepreneurs Need to Succeed

The extent to which Ukraine’s government and society can nurture private sector growth, foreign investment, and export revenue hinges on its human capital, on its ability to transform and innovate during a full-scale war, and the space and value it creates for women, veterans, and people with disabilities in its economy.

Ukraine will have one of the world’s largest populations living with disabilities. Building a society that accommodates them and transforms veterans’ military experience into relevant job skills is essential for sustainable economic growth—in addition to women’s inclusion in the economy and export markets.

Understanding the needs and incentives of these groups is a top priority for Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation, Ministry of Economy, and the Entrepreneurship and Export Promotion Office. They tasked the GGF team with gathering insights from female entrepreneurs—including those who are internally displaced, veterans, or live with disabilities—to recommend policies and tools for boosting participation in an economy under siege.

“We carried out probably the most comprehensive study of women’s entrepreneurship in the country—under the conditions of a full-scale invasion,” explains Abt's GGF Team Leader in Ukraine, Dr. Nadiia Zaritska. A sociologist by training, she spearheads initiatives to advance domestic reforms and establish transparent and accountable institutions that foster open and inclusive societies.

The team surveyed and followed around 500 women operating micro-, small-, and medium-sized businesses in war-affected communities. Their findings will help the government advance supportive policies and programs to expand market access for women-owned businesses and their products and mobilize foreign investors and partners.

Ventures led by female entrepreneurs provide immediate income, create jobs, and generate export value for Ukraine through diverse products and services. Abt identified several barriers to entry or success for female entrepreneurs. Most frequently reported: limited access to credit, financial services, and expertise; platforms to develop business skills and knowledge; and networking opportunities for experience exchange and mentorship.


Needs of and Challenges Faced by Ukrainian Female Entrepreneurs in the Conditions of the Full-Scale War (

This study by Abt and the Kyiv School of Economics, in collaboration with Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation, Ministry of Economy, and Entrepreneurship and Export Promotion Office describes the state of women's entrepreneurship (micro, small- and medium-sized) in Ukraine, the challenges they face in their business activities, and strategies and solutions the government can support to expand women’s economic potential.

Women from specific marginalised groups reported additional trouble establishing or restoring supply chains and partnerships in rural areas; lack of adequate disability support; less trust in the state and other government assistance; and for female veterans, difficulty transforming military experience into business management skills.

After releasing the report in November 2023, Abt and the Government of Ukraine launched the Women’s Business Empowerment Programme “Grow” (“Zrostai”) under the GGF project to support female entrepreneurs from war-affected communities. They received 193 applications—signaling high demand for these opportunities—and selected 15 for mentorship and training in business innovation and practices.

Modern Lessons on Resilience in Conflict

Farida Borysenko’s coffee shop is a case study in consumer behavior and Ukrainians’ psychological resilience. In a gleaming space, between the rubble of office towers, she sweeps crumbs from tables while espresso machines hiss in the background.

What is the demand for pastries and playdates under invasion? There are few, if any, modern examples economists could use to explain or predict the patterns of demand Ukrainian entrepreneurs are experiencing—but the desire for normalcy and small luxuries seems to sustain Farida’s business, which she named V Momenti (or “In the Moment”). “It’s a break from the bombs and shelling that keep us awake,” she says.

Like Yuliya, Farida was one of nearly 200 women who applied for business revitalization support through GGF’s Grow initiative, which provides mentorship and other resources to help her grow her business.

Her coffee shop is one of over 37,000 new businesses that opened in 2023—more than Ukraine registered in 2021 before the war. Over half of these ventures were launched by women entrepreneurs, many of whom are looking to scale and sell abroad.


Expanding entrepreneurs’ access to export markets in Europe can help compensate for lagging demand at home. Ecommerce skills, digital literacy, and digital infrastructure are all critical to Ukraine’s economic growth and resilience, and improving these is another facet of Abt’s strategic support to Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation.

Abt worked with local partners to develop the Online Entrepreneurs Account, EntreComp+ Online skills assessment, and an online business plan development service. These tools streamline the processes of starting, managing, and expanding businesses and provide personalized support based on the lifecycle stage of a business and offer targeted resources for growth and development. The project also supports improvements to the Diia Business Centers and Association, a digital platform that connects citizens to government services and resources for SMEs.

Overall, to facilitate the ease of doing business, attract foreign investment, and defray costs for entrepreneurs, Ukraine needs to improve its infrastructure—transportation networks, energy systems, and digital connectivity—as well as social reforms that promote workforce diversity and inclusion. Abt is working with Ukraine’s ministries on strategies for all of these, and piloting several strategies with the Government of Ukraine to strengthen export potential of SMEs and their contribution to private sector-led economic recovery.

“The key strength of this program is in the way that it’s building an economy and government processes that are effective, that are transparent, that are inclusive in response to the needs and requests of the government themselves,” says Abt’s Leisa Gibson.


A society in full-scale war at home, millions of refugees, but millions more who have stayed. Many citizens are making the deliberate choice to forge Ukraine’s identity and future in Europe, to work and pay taxes to fund its progress for tomorrow.

“I am fighting on my front,” Farida says, “Working every day. We believe in our future. We are strong. We know how to unite towards a common goal.”

The activities in this article were delivered under the Good Governance Fund projects "Business Revitalisation for Sustainable Growth" and "Support Programme for Female Entrepreneurs in Ukraine - Grow," funded by UK International Development. The project delivery partner is Abt. 

Abt has worked in Ukraine since the late 1990s, supporting reforms spanning health, governance, economic, and social policy and programs. Abt’s Good Governance Fund Technical Assistance Facility Eastern Partnership (GGF TAF EP) funded by FCDO provides technical and governance support and strengthening in Ukraine. After the invasion in February 2022, the GGF programme responded by leading a war-damage assessment that analyzed all sectors of Ukrainian life impacted by the war; developing a small and medium enterprise support strategy focused on women and underserved individuals impacted by the economic downturn; and supporting the Government of Ukraine to adapt the country’s energy policy. 


Work With Us
Ready to change people's lives? We want to hear from you.
We do more than solve the challenges our clients have today. We collaborate to solve the challenges of tomorrow.