Mila Baraeva is a Ukrainian serial entrepreneur and influencer. Baraeva runs a fashion boutique that curates local Ukrainian brands called ONE:ONE, along with two beauty bars in the western city of Lviv. Now, Baraeva volunteers for the Kryva Lypa fund, and raises money for protective equipment for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. So far, Baraeva has managed to collect more than $30,000USD towards the effort, all while being personally involved in the supply chain and logistics. Here, she shares her story.
“I loved my life [before the war]. However, only now do I understand how cool it was. When visiting Europe, I look at people on the streets and sitting in cafés, and I think, ‘You can't even imagine how happy you are.’ Since 2015, I have been an entrepreneur, and today, I have three offline businesses and two online projects. I am a mom to a son, and I adore my hometown of Lviv. Before February 24, I earned well, bought a cool car, and had many plans for my life—none of which included running away from my country and leaving everything I had worked hard for the past seven years.
I registered an account on Instagram in 2014, and I was one of the first influencers in Ukraine. I didn't have a goal to develop into an influencer. I just enjoyed taking pictures and showing my life, and people liked to watch it, like TV.
Then, suddenly, I decided to quit my job, and start working on my own projects. I shared it all on Instagram—all the ups and downs, I was very open with my followers. I reckon that's how I unconsciously built this personal brand of a bold girl with an authentic vision and, more importantly, someone who can start something from scratch.
I attribute my success to my intuition: I dared to implement my ideas with a well-developed emotional intelligence. Plus, I’m highly organized and mentally flexible. I am in my place where I have found my authenticity and use it to discover myself. Making a profit out of it is a side result, not a motivation.
February 24 [the day Russia invaded Ukraine] is a day when, in addition to fear and panic, I also went through a total reassessment of my values; I understood what is truly important in life and who am I without all the material things. This bottom line allows you to rethink everything like never before.
On February 24, the war began; on February 27, the fund Kryva Lypa provided me with a list of more than 3,000 units of tactical equipment that were needed for the military. So, I began to search for it around the world. I crossed every item off this list of needs and did not stop there.
Up until recently, I lived between Poland and Ukraine. I had to go to Poland to get my son to safety. My mother and her dog also decided to join. We rented a flat in Kraków, and my son attended the local kindergarten. I chose Poland because I knew the language well, as I studied there at the university, and it's not far from home.
I went to Ukraine every two to three weeks to bring military equipment for the fund, to check on my businesses, check in with my employees to support them, and spend time with my future husband [editor’s note: under current wartime restrictions, men under 60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine].
In Ukraine, I had extra hands: a nanny, a cleaner and a personal assistant. And in Poland, I covered all these roles myself. The workload has increased—and my volunteering added to it. Sometimes I do find it challenging to keep up with the rhythm. But the most challenging is being away from home. So, I’ve recently decided to return with my son to Ukraine.
Every Ukrainian refugee will tell you: yes, it is safe abroad, but the soul wants to go home. Only at home do you feel truly peaceful and happy.
I want those who are reading this piece to understand that all this is happening to us, for real. Hard as it is to believe, it’s not a movie. But besides the actual war, there’s also an information war. The world mustn't forget about us. What you can do is continue to talk about the war and the whole crisis it causes, attract the attention of your politicians and do not tolerate the genocide of Ukrainians.
I understand that the ongoing news about the war in Ukraine is tiring. I know everyone getting impatient with us: we take a lot of space in your countries and we’re given some free benefits. Sometimes, we do not behave very politely because of the stress we’re under. But, believe me, very few Ukrainian refugees will decide to stay abroad when the war is over, and all we want is for Ukraine to be safe enough to return home.
Imagine: we have been living in this for three months now. Three months of air-raid alarms, missile attacks and shelling. We have never thought the war would last for more than three days. And now three months have passed. And nobody knows where the end is.
For the rest of our lives, we will be grateful to the countries that sheltered us, supported us and didn't tolerate the enemy who destroyed our cities and killed our children.
All Ukrainians hope for victory over the aggressor. Not peace, not the freezing of the conflict. Victory. Too many people have died to give up. They died for our freedom, for the freedom of Ukraine.
None of us are making far-sighted plans. All I want now is to live at home and wake up with my loved ones, this separation is unbearable. We will rebuild our cities, develop the economy, and raise our children.
The only wish I have is a safe home.”