Ukrainian businesses from destroyed cities are fighting for survival — and winning


Aeromech separator at the exhibition. Photo by Aeromech published by Свої.City with permission, fair use.

On June 6 and 7, 2023, Kyiv hosted the Skhid Expo (East Expo) exhibition for entrepreneurs from the regions most affected by the war and partly occupied by Russia: Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya. From 2017 to 2021, the exhibition, initiated by the UNDP, was held with the participation of entrepreneurs from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which have been affected by the war and partially occupied since 2014. Some of the businesses that were represented at the exhibition this year had to evacuate and rebuild almost from scratch twice already. 

Свої.City journalist Hanna Kurtsanovska visited the exhibition and wrote about the entrepreneurs who participated in it. Global Voices is publishing a compilation of three shortened stories by Svoi.City under a content sharing agreement.

Green, organic, and ready to eat

After the occupation of Donetsk and Horlivka by Russia in 2014, sisters Tetiana Chernikova and Valentyna Denysenko moved to Kharkiv and opened a microgreen farm in a nearby village. They named their business Green for you Food. Tetiana says that agribusiness in Ukraine has great prospects if it combines the resources of fertile land and climate with the automation of production processes. 


Tetiana and Valentyna in their farm. From Green for you Food archive, published by Свої.City with permission.

Previously, the sisters had worked in retail and had no farming experience. So first, they learned how to run a greenhouse and looked for partners. They received a grant and invested their own savings to start the business. They rented a house and land plot for the farm and have grown there more than a dozen crops on the principles of organic farming. They sold the products through social media initially and in large retail chains later. At the same time, the sisters began to conduct urban farming workshops for adults and children, including children with Down Syndrome.

Green for you Food was doing well: according to Tetiana, the company was selling about 300 kg of microgreens per month. They planned to expand their product range and open a salad dressing production line. The sisters even received a grant to install a professional kitchen to make new products.

And then the full-scale war broke out. Restaurants that had bought microgreens from the sisters in peacetime began to prepare free meals for the military and civilians. Tetiana and Valentyna gave the restaurants all their harvest. Later, they joined the kitchen staff themselves because of the worker shortage. 

As the city became more and more dangerous, the question of leaving it arose. For the safety of their two children, Tetiana and her husband moved to the town of Orzhytsia in the Poltava region. The sisters evacuated the new equipment there and, indeed, opened a new production facility, not for sauces, however, but for vegetables and fruits and ready-to-eat food in retort bags for long-term storage, which is consumed, for example, by soldiers on the front line, but also by travellers or fishermen.


Tetiana at the Skhid Expo 2023. Photo by Свої.City. Used with permission.

Valentyna stayed in Kharkiv, where she continues to grow microgreens and help those in need.

Building an innovative industrial entity three times from scratch

Aeromech, a research and production enterprise founded more than 20 years ago in Luhansk, is a manufacturer of aerodynamic separators that sort sowing seeds in accordance to their biological maturity. The air flows can process from 1 to 150 tons per hour, depending on the model of the separator. Aeromech has exported its machines all over the world. Oleksandr Chornobai, the founder of the company, told Svoi.City: “In Luhansk, our plant had a large area. The Russian occupiers looted and destroyed the enterprise almost immediately, so we were left empty-handed. We had only a flash drive with the necessary drawings.”

They resumed production in early 2015 in the town of Kreminna in the Luhansk region; for this, they bought two old Soviet workshops with an area of 8,000 square metres and taught and employed 70 people. In 2022, Russian troops destroyed and occupied Kreminna. 

“The electricity went out soon, so we had no way to take the equipment out,” Oleksandr said. “We needed electricity to cut the machines with an angle grinder. And a crane to lift and load them. This is why the production facilities remained in the occupied territory.”


Olexandr Chornobai and a grain separator by Aeromech. From Chornobai's archive, published by Свої.City with permission.

Aeromech had to rebuild from scratch again, this time in the Cherkasy region in the centre of Ukraine. The production area is just 1000 square metres now, and the number of employees is three times smaller than it was in Kreminna, but at least some of them are from the Kreminna facility, meaning there are experienced workers. Production volumes dropped significantly due to the lack of equipment. Now, Aeromech is surviving thanks to orders from foreign partners, which currently account for more than 70 percent of its total contracts. Oleksandr said:

I don't have any plans for the long term, but I do have short-term plans. I would like to resume production of the entire range of separators. At the moment, we have to reject orders because we are unable to produce some of our know-how. I hope that first of all, we will be able to launch the production of a trailer-mounted separator, which is actually a grain-cleaning mini-plant. By the way, the separator is 80 percent made of domestically produced materials and parts.

Ammunition and prosthetics, 3D printed

Serhiy Gakov from Kramatorsk started his 3D.Farm business as a startup in 2016. The PhD in engineering and former lecturer at the local engineering academy, together with a graduate, Bohdan Tristan, wanted to commercialise their own developments in 3D printing technology, which at the time was a novelty in Ukraine.

Initially, Serhiy planned to only provide 3D printing services, but later, they decided to build their own 3D printer, which Bohdan had been working on for some time. 


Serhiy Gakov and Bohdan Tristan. Photo from Gakov's archive, published by Свої.City with permission.

Before the full-scale invasion, the company had developed five mass-produced 3D printer models, 3D mass printing technology, and an innovative platform for STEM education. It also developed electromechanical prostheses. Due to the full-scale war, the company lost the biggest share of its business, most of its partners and partner manufacturing facilities that produced product components. The entrepreneurs managed to save only the engineering laboratory and the assembly plant with a warehouse of finished products. The equipment and components in Luhansk and Kharkiv regions burned down, but the company is still paying off the bank loan for them.

Serhiy said, “In the Luhansk region, we had an innovative platform on which we experimented for a long time. In January 2021, we launched mass production of one of the components for 3D printers there. I don't know what to do now, because no one else in Ukraine is able to do this.”


3D printer that 3D.Farm donated to a school in a village in the Donetsk region among the ruins of the school in 2022. From Gakov's archive, published by Свої.City with permission.

After assessing the losses, Serhiy Gakov decided to reanimate the projects that had been on hold for various reasons, like new visual models for STEM education and elements for orthopaedics and prosthetics. In addition, as Serhiy said, “We have developed a set of more than 50 types of full-size models of ammunition and explosive items for safety classes and mine safety training in schools. We are currently working on training models for deminers and bomb-disposal experts of the State Emergency Service, police and the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

The company currently lacks the equipment and funds to implement all its plans fully. Now, 3D.Farm's production facilities are located in Odesa and Zhytomyr, and Serhiy plans to open enterprises in Germany and Italy.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.