Yana Smaglo was woken up on February 24 by explosions. The designer had a successful women’s clothes and beauty business in Kyiv when Russia invaded the country.
“At that moment I hadn’t any thoughts of losing everything because I was so scared,” Ms Smaglo told The Yorkshire Post.
“My friends told me ‘You have 15 minutes, we’ll take you to Lviv.’ I took a small bag with my computer and telephone.”
She made it across the border to Poland and is now being hosted by friends in Huddersfield.
Ms Smaglo, who is originally from Kharkiv, is currently claiming Universal Credit. However, she is keen to “assimilate” in the UK and start paying taxes here.
Ms Smaglo hopes to do this by setting up a wholesale and retail clothing business as well as providing a space for beauty services.
She said: “I want to open my retail and wholesale store and represent Ukrainian brands here. I have friends back home and I would like to help them to work and pay taxes and help the Ukrainian economy. I would also like to give jobs to other Ukrainian refugees here, give them an opportunity to pay taxes and
Currently, Ms Smaglo is looking for financing to help her get her, as yet unnamed, business off the ground. The 30-year-old is looking to raise £50,000 and says she has already got Ukrainian manufacturers and brands lined up that she would like to work with.
The entrepreneur believes that there is a gap in the market with a “real big difference” between beauty services here compared to Ukraine.
Despite this, Ms Smaglo insists that she’s not here to compete with brands and services here.
She added: “I know a lot of women have come here and don’t have a job. Some of them did beauty service before or some of them would like to learn. I would like to give them a job and provide beauty services here.”
Ms Smaglo says she and other refugees fleeing Ukraine are very keen to find work and not be
dependent on Government support.
She said: “You have to understand Ukrainian culture. People from Ukraine work a lot and work hard all the time.
“I know some people who are hosted here in Huddersfield from Ukraine and the first question from those people was ‘where can we find a job’?
“I’ve never lived for government payments. I’ve worked all my life. I know how the economic system works.
“I want to be part of this country and be useful. I know the more taxes I pay, the better my life will be – from the medical system to better transport. This is how an economy works. It’s a simple thing.”
Ms Smaglo is here on a six-month visa with the option for that to be extended to three years. Her intention is to stay in the UK and build a life here.
“If I have a business here for three years it’s a lot,” she said. “I will build my life here. I’m doing it from zero right now. I don’t think that I will move somewhere else or back to Ukraine because I will have already built my life here and I would like to stay.”
While Ms Smaglo has made it to safety, she still has a lot of friends who are living through the daily horrors of war with the hope that it will end some day soon.
Turning attention back to her own future, Ms Smaglo said: “I’m 30 and I haven’t got a home, I haven’t got a job, I don’t have anything here.
“Emotionally it’s not easy but I’m trying to figure it out because I haven’t any other options.”
Staying calm amid the panic of war
Despite prior information that Russia was about to launch attacks in Ukraine, Yana Smaglo admits that it was still a “big shock” being awoken by the sound of explosions.
Crossing the border was an “awful” experience with thousands of people at the railway station in Lviv trying to get to Poland.
“One moment I thought I was going to have a panic attack,” Ms Smaglo says.
“I saw a girl who was like three years old and she was so calm and stayed silent. I saw her and thought I have to be calm.
“If she can stay calm in this situation, I have to also be calm.”