War-time effort: A shoemaker, pizza shop and a bakery in Kyiv pivot to serve their country

With war raging around them, they are reminded of just how close the danger is when warning sirens go off in the Ukrainian capital.

They describe it as a high-pitched noise, but they overcome fear because they say the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began nearly 50 days ago on February 24, has given them a new purpose – their community and their country another way to serve.

Before the invasion, these entrepreneurs ran growing startups or family businesses that were passed down through the generations. Their businesses sold products such as bespoke shoes, baked goods and pizza in Kyiv’s historic district, as well as e-learning tools for students, teachers and professionals.

In the midst of the war, they changed their missions and are now using their resources to provide much-needed goods like food, first aid, and even combat boots to the Ukrainian military.

Pizza restaurant preparing packaged meals in basement kitchen

It took just four days for TC Pizza in downtown Kyiv to transform from a local pizzeria into a gathering center for a rotating crew of volunteers who prepared hundreds of boxed meals.

Anton Fursa, a Ukrainian cameraman who co-owns the company, said he closed the pizza shop on February 24 as Russia began its attack on Ukraine.

“Four days later we were open and preparing meals for everyone who needed food,” Fursa said.

Russia’s escalating attacks in eastern Ukraine in recent days have exacerbated food needs, he added.

“We make 500 to 600 boxed meals a day,” he said.

Meals are simple – salad, potatoes and some meat. Volunteer drivers deliver them to hospitals for patients, to the military, and to families and the elderly in need.

The boxed meals contain salad, potatoes and some meat.

Sometimes Fursa accompanies the drivers. The team must carefully look out for hidden land mines along the roads. Last weekend, Fursa returned from heavily bombed areas near Kyiv.

“It’s absolutely disastrous. I went to Bucha and Borodyanka and it’s terrible,” he said. “People were so grateful that we came with food.”

He wants to help while he can.

“I feel like the worst is yet to come, but it’s a lot easier to get through what’s happening to our country if we do something to help people,” he said.

Custom shoemaker who makes combat boots

The Ukrainian shoe brand Kachorovska has been making women’s shoes since 1957.

“A special story for us is that we also made a pair of custom shoes for Olena Zelenska, the wife of our President Volodymyr Zelensky,” said Alina Kachorovska, third-generation co-owner and CEO of the company that runs the company with her husband and her mother.

In its portfolio of leather and textile shoes there is a special product that the Kyiv company has never made before – combat boots.

Kachorovska began making combat boots during the Russian invasion to donate to Ukrainian soldiers.

Like other local businesses, Kachorovska was unaware of the impact Russia’s attack would have on her family business and its 117 employees.

“Our entire market is in Ukraine,” she said. Finally, as the war began, the family prepared to expand the brand to other countries.

“Everything came to a standstill. I couldn’t believe we were at war,” Kachorovska said. As more and more Ukrainians joined the armed forces, her mother spotted a request for combat boots and other items soldiers needed on Facebook.

It got the family active. Kachorovska said some factories have joined forces to pool supplies for the boots.

Alina Kachorovska, co-owner and CEO of Ukrainian shoe brand Kachorovska in an undated photo.

“We already had the leather in our warehouse,” she said. “We used all the supplies and made 1,393 combat boots and gave them to our soldiers across Ukraine for free,” she said. The company also made and donated belts for soldiers.

Despite the turmoil, staying busy and keeping her business afloat is important to Kachorovska personally and professionally.

“If I don’t keep working and helping, I’m broken,” she said. “I have to be strong, support my people and hold on to a vision for the future.”

Bake bread for war needs

Vladyslav Malashchenko opened Good Bread from Good People in Kyiv in 2017. The bakery employs workers with special needs and provides them with specialized training.

The Kiev bakery Good Bread from Good People employs people with disabilities.

“We were doing very well before the war,” said Alijona Martynenko, who is responsible for the company’s communications. The bakery sold cupcakes, cookies, and cakes to both commercial and retail customers.

“But when the war started, we didn’t see how we could continue,” Martynenko said.

On March 10th, the bakery came back to life. She said volunteers and some staff came together to meet a growing need by baking bread.

Vladyslav Malashchenko founded Good Bread from Good People in 2017.

“We’ve gone from a bakery that didn’t bake bread before to a bakery that now bakes a lot of bread,” she said. The company makes up to 700 loaves of bread a day. Last week she donated over 3,000 loaves of bread to Ukrainian soldiers, police officers, hospital patients, the elderly and families with children who stayed in Kyiv during the Russian invasion.

“The community has donated flour and money so we can buy what we need,” she said, adding that the baking will continue until the ingredients are gone.

Education about safety

EdEra, an online distance learning platform, aims to educate people whether in times of peace or war, said co-founder and CEO Ilia Filipov.

Before the war, the Kiev startup developed online courses and textbooks for students, teachers and professionals.

The company had 42 employees and over 400,000 customers in Ukraine. The war abruptly halted its operations.

Ilia Filipov, co-founder and CEO of EdEra, an online education platform.  The branded banner next to him reads

“Our employees have moved to other parts of Ukraine and we have about 10 of them back now,” Filipov said. “Everyone wants to return and we are optimistic that will happen.”

EdEra has also geared the content on its platform towards war education, Filipov said. “We create information on how to provide first aid, how to find bomb shelters, how to prepare for an evacuation. This education could save lives.”

Helping businesses stay alive

Alyona Mysko, co-founder and CEO of Ukrainian fintech startup FuelFinance, wants to ensure companies like TC Pizza and Kachorovska Shoes remain viable and able to do the basic humanitarian work that is becoming increasingly important in Ukraine.

“We provide our services to small businesses in Ukraine free of charge to help them,” she said.

Alyona Mysko, co-founder and CEO of Ukrainian fintech startup FuelFinance, in an undated photo.

FuelFinance has created a “First Aid” resource kit for Ukrainian entrepreneurs, providing information on how to reorganize and keep operating during the war. The company has created a platform to raise funds for small businesses fighting back.

“We are also advising them on how to temporarily relocate outside of Ukraine to Poland and other places so they can keep their business going,” Mysko said. She also wants FuelFinance to stay active and grow during the war, adding more customers in Europe and the United States.

Russia’s invasion only strengthened Ukrainians’ resolve, she said.

“In the first week of the war we were afraid. Now the Ukrainians feel like fighters,” Mysko said. “There is no time to be afraid.”

Leave a Comment