Ukrainian entrepreneurs start anew as refugees in Anchorage

multiple people standing, smiling, and clapping
The graduates of the Set Up Shop program celebrate on June 13, 2023. (Dev Hardikar/Alaska Public Media)

A group of Ukrainian refugees, some with years of experience as entrepreneurs, graduated from a new business training program in Anchorage this week.

“When the war happened, and they had to uproot their lives and move to Alaska, they [had] to start that business over from scratch,” said Emily Cohn, a spokeswoman for Set Up Shop, one of the organizations sponsoring the training. “And now they’re working under a new country with new systems for permitting, for credentials, and, you know, resources they need to start all over again.”

Close up of a woman with black hair
Olena Kolisnyk, founder of Aesthetic Nails, on June 13, 2023. (Dev Hardikar/Alaska Public Media)

Set Up Shop runs the training program with Catholic Social Services, which resettles refugees in Alaska.

Olena Kolisnyk is one of 11 entrepreneurs who graduated from the recent class. She’s been doing manicures and pedicures for 25 years, and just last Friday signed a lease to open her own business in Anchorage, called Aesthetic Nails. She’ll operate within the storefront of Lola’s Salon and Spa.

Kolisnyk said the Set Up Shop training provided practical advice.

“The biggest thing they will teach you is how to advertise your business here in Alaska, how to find new clients, new customers and how to do the bookkeeping and pay attention to the receipts and taxes and stuff like that,” Kolisnyk said, through an interpreter.

Kolisnyk markets on Instagram and Facebook and through word of mouth. She doesn’t speak fluent English yet, so she serves primarily Ukrainian clients but hopes to expand her business as her English improves.

A woman in a suit stands next to a sign advertising "Ukrainian Bakery."
Anzhela Hulchuk gives her business pitch at Set Up Shop on June 13, 2023. (Dev Hardikar/Alaska Public Media)

Other program participants have started businesses providing construction services or selling traditional Ukrainian baked goods. 

Catholic Social Services has resettled more than 600 Ukrainian refugees in Alaska since the start of the war last spring.

Michael Fanelli reported on economics and hosted the statewide morning news at Alaska Public Media. 

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