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Ukraine Connect Founder Liza Kozlenko: Navigating Life Amidst Conflict
In the midst of conflict and chaos, Liza's startup, Ukraine Connect, emerges as a guiding light, bridging the gap for foreigners seeking a lifeline in Ukraine's tumultuous landscape.
In the dynamic realms of the internet, with me situated in Kosovo's Gjilan and Liza in Ukraine's Kyiv, we venture into a nation eternally contending with the looming spectre of conflict. Our dialogue ushers us into the presence of Liza Kozlenko, an extraordinary Ukrainian entrepreneur and the creative force behind Ukraine Connect. Her narrative unfolds as a testament to unwavering dedication, adaptable prowess, and an abiding love for her motherland.
The Journey Begins in Spain
Liza's journey during Ukraine's 2014 uprising was a unique one. At the time, she was pursuing a master's degree in Barcelona, Spain, through the prestigious Erasmus Mundus program. She was among the few Ukrainians to win this EU scholarship. Although she had a burning desire to join her fellow Ukrainians on the front lines of the revolution, her academic commitments kept her in Spain.
Her scholarship demanded her full attention, and leaving would have meant sacrificing her academic pursuits. The revolution and subsequent annexation of Crimea by Russia unfolded while she was away, leaving her feeling helpless as she watched the events from afar.
The Longing to Return Home
After completing her master's degree and marrying another Ukrainian Erasmus Mundus graduate, Liza found herself living in Poland with her husband. While she appreciated the opportunities in Europe, she longed to return to Ukraine, feeling more at home there. The couple decided to move back in 2016, seeking a better future in their homeland.
Liza's return to Ukraine coincided with a period of political and social awakening in the country. Ukrainians were beginning to appreciate their culture, products, and businesses, marking a shift away from Russian influences. However, the narrative of Ukrainians being inferior to Russians persisted, especially in regions with strong Russian propaganda.
Liza acknowledges the pervasive impact of Russian propaganda on Ukrainian society. For years, Russian narratives portrayed Ukrainians as inferior and derivative from Russians, influencing public opinion through media and politicians. Even Liza's own grandmother fell victim to such narratives, believing in Putin's benevolence until her final days.
This psychological manipulation persisted in regions more accessible to Russian media and narratives. Liza emphasized the importance of acknowledging that there was a failure on Ukraine's part, as well as on the part of the world, to prevent the conflicts in Donbas and Crimea.
A Unique Perspective on Conflict
"Even though we live under drones and missiles, we still enjoy our daily lives. It's hard to explain, but Ukraine is full of beauty, resilience, and opportunity." - Liza Kozlenko, Sept 2023.
The interview also touches on the complexities of individuals' perspectives within conflict zones. Liza recounts a conversation with elderly residents in Eastern Ukraine who, despite knowing that the bombings came from Russia, hesitated to place blame on the Russians, reflecting the deep influence of propaganda on their minds.
She shared her own experiences of living under constant threat from Russian missiles and drones while still going about daily life. Her message to the world is that life goes on in Ukraine amidst the conflict, with people living, working, and enjoying the simple pleasures of daily life.
Volunteering and Journalism in Conflict
Liza's involvement in volunteering and journalism during the conflict provided her with a unique perspective on the war. She began by volunteering with the Red Cross and helping foreigners who struggled to navigate the complexities of life in Ukraine. This experience led her to realize the need for a service that could assist foreigners with daily tasks and acclimatization to Ukrainian culture.
She recounts her personal experiences, including surviving a missile attack on a television tower and providing assistance to her wounded ex-husband. Liza's dedication to helping others during these turbulent times ultimately shaped her decision to launch Ukraine Connect.
The Birth of Ukraine Connect
Ukraine Connect, Liza's brainchild, emerged from her interviews with foreigners who found themselves overwhelmed by the language, culture, and logistics of life in Ukraine. Recognizing this gap, she set out to create a systematic and efficient service that could assist foreigners in various aspects of their lives in Ukraine.
The startup provides services such as translation, interpretation, document assistance, online shopping, and more. With a team of five people working remotely, Ukraine Connect aims to make life in Ukraine more accessible and enjoyable for foreigners, ultimately sharing the beauty of the country's culture and history.
Challenges and Hopes for the Future
While Ukraine Connect has made a positive impact on foreigners and garnered positive reviews, Liza acknowledges the challenges of running a startup in a country marked by conflict. She hopes that more foreigners will overcome their fears and visit Ukraine, experiencing the vibrant and resilient spirit of its people.
Liza emphasizes the importance of supporting the Ukrainian army and charities, dispelling misconceptions that such contributions support violence. She calls for unity in helping Ukrainians defend their country and rebuild their lives amidst the ongoing conflict.
The full interview with Liza will be published this weekend in THE FRONTLINER Magazine, showing her story which is a testament to resilience, adaptability, and the power of entrepreneurship in times of adversity. Ukraine Connect serves as a bridge between cultures, offering assistance, and insight to foreigners while celebrating the rich tapestry of Ukrainian life.