Ukrainian entrepreneur uses flower business to bridge gender gaps during wartime


Yuliia Zavalniuk is seen at the Ukrainian flower-growing farm Villa Verde. Photo courtesy of Villa Verde
Yuliia Zavalniuk is seen at the Ukrainian flower-growing farm Villa Verde. Photo courtesy of Villa Verde

“A business is not just about making money. It also has obligations to bridge gender gaps and empower women”, says Yuliia Zavalniuk.

Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Zavalniuk operated a successful flower business in the village of Kolonshchyna, in Kyiv Oblast. During the early days of the war, Kolonshchyna was occupied by Russian forces and a rocket blast destroyed much of the farm.

Only a few hundred flowers were saved out of tens of thousands, and important technical equipment including heating and refrigeration systems were destroyed. Zavalniuk estimated the total damage from the war to be about 300,000 euros (USD 322,939).

Her team resumed work in July 2022, and began selling peonies and lilacs to local florists.

“Our goal is to rebuild and maintain our status as a model local flower producer, despite a decrease in consumer power,” Zavalniuk said. “The farm has 4.5 hectares of arable land, and up to six permanent workers help maintain it. Villa Verde creates official jobs, supporting Kolonshchyna’s economy and residents.”

Zavalniuk is leading efforts to transform the business by implementing the Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs), a set of guiding values established by UN Women and the UN Global Compact. One key initiative has been providing employment opportunities to older women; in 2022 and 2023, she hired two older women farm workers per year. 

Zavalniuk also participated in the Women's Economic Empowerment Congress, organized by UN Women in Ukraine. During a panel discussion, she shared insights about rebuilding her business from the ground up, and the challenges she has encountered during the war. She also participated in training programs under UN Women's “Empowerment of Women in Business” initiative, with the goal of guiding her business to become socially responsible and inclusive.

“We aim to not only produce quality flowers for florists and create job opportunities but also to promote local production”, Zavalniuk said. “My current priority is to completely revamp the business within the next two years.” 

Zavalniuk said her business’s work aimed at empowering women was “a logical step towards the democratic development of Ukraine.”

She added, “One cannot aspire to build partnerships with European countries while being guided by stereotypes.”

This article is prepared as a part of the initiative “Empowering women in business” implemented within the framework of UN Women’s project “Transformative approaches to achieving gender equality in Ukraine” with financial support from Sweden, and in cooperation with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.