She fled her home, abandoned her belongings and escaped Russian occupation in Kherson. Now his small business is booming.

Viktoria Kulakova started her small business in early 2020.Viktoria Koulakova

  • Viktoria Kulakova’s hometown in southern Ukraine was occupied by Russian forces in February.

  • Her craft business was closed and she felt “very real threats” to her life and freedom.

  • In April, Viktoria ran away and restarted her business. She says sales are now booming.

Viktoria Kulakova’s small business went out of business for more than two months as she struggled with the daily task of surviving the Russian occupation of her hometown.

Prior to the Russian invasion, his It’s Craft retail business operated out of a warehouse in Nova Kakhovka, a small, strategically important town in the Kherson region of Ukraine.

When Russian forces arrived in February, Viktoria decided to stay.

Her warehouse was closed as 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 moved around the city delivering supplies, and Russian forces regularly searched his car on suspicion of pro-Ukrainian partisan activity.

The duo, together with Oleksiy Chirkov, who has since left the company, co-founded It’s Craft in the spring of 2020. It is an online store that aims to support small manufacturers producing traditional Ukrainian products.

It sells handicrafts and foodstuffs, ranging from cheese and charcuterie to textiles and wooden crafts, including an engraved plywood map of Ukraine.

In April, Viktoria fled her home in Nova Kakhovka and recovered – and her online store – in a new town. Now, she told Insider, business is booming — and sales have even topped pre-war numbers.

Everything happened so fast

It was only after much hesitation that Viktoria and Pavlo finally decided to flee Nova Kakhovka. They had been warned by friends that their volunteer efforts made them targets for interrogation by the occupiers.

“We were worried about how it might turn out,” Viktoria said, “because we were clearly pro-Ukrainian activists.”

In the end, everything went very quickly. They set off for Uman, a town in central Ukraine that is home to Viktoria’s sister, Iryna, less than 24 hours after making the difficult decision to leave.

Viktoria told Insider, “We only left when absolutely necessary and couldn’t wait any longer because of the very real threats to our freedom and our lives.”

They donated their remains to local charities. On April 23, Viktoria piled into a small car with Pavlo and his family. There was only enough space to bring a small bag, so Viktoria had to leave almost all of her personal belongings and business supplies behind.

March against occupation Nova Kakhovka

Viktoria joined 2,000 residents of Nova Kakhovka to protest the Russian occupation in March.Viktoria Koulakova

Overall, they had a “relatively easy” escape, Viktoria said. Nevertheless, their journey took over 24 hours – at least four times longer than it would have taken before the outbreak of full-scale war in February.

The group spent several hours sitting in a long line of cars waiting to pass through Russian checkpoints. Describing the scene, Viktoria said, “Everyone was pretty quiet. The mothers tried to distract their children. 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 “was not just a religious holiday, but a celebration of freedom”.

A hardened resolution

Before escaping from Nova Kakhovka, Viktoria applied to the Ukrainian Social Investment Fund for financial support to relaunch and relocate It’s Craft. After arriving in Uman, she discovered that she had received 180,000 Ukrainian hryvnia, or about $5,000.

She invested that money, along with her personal savings, in re-establishing It’s Craft. Pavlo remained focused on volunteering, while Viktoria dedicated herself to rebuilding their joint business.

By early May, 75% of its suppliers had closed and many of its regular customers had fled Ukraine. Viktoria worked quickly to source new suppliers, establish collaborations with local manufacturers, and launch a marketing campaign to promote the store to a wider audience.

She also opened It’s Craft’s first-ever physical store in an effort to attract new customers.

Now, six months later, business is booming. Average monthly sales are up, according to bank statements verified by Insider. Viktoria thinks it could be due to a growing patriotic interest in buying from Ukrainian-run businesses amid Russia’s assault on the country.

Viktoria says the It’s Craft range has grown from around 750 to 1,450 products. It is even looking to expand and is considering possible franchises in the Ukrainian tourist hotspots of Lviv and Kyiv.

The invasion of Russia only strengthened Viktoria’s resolve to expand her business. She told Insider, “We want to contribute to the establishment of Ukraine’s national identity and the growth of the Ukrainian economy.”

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