Olha’s Story

Before the war started in Ukraine, Olha lived a joyful life with her husband and 10-year-old son in beautiful Lviv where she ran her own thriving chocolate and pastry shop. Olha loved to travel and had been all around Europe learning how to make artisan chocolates from some of the finest chocolatiers in the world.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, Olha knew she had to protect her son at all costs. “When the war started, my brain started [thinking of] protection and that was the first day of the end of my chocolate studio in Ukraine” Olha noted. When she was offered a ride across the border she made the very difficult decision to pack up with her son as fast as she could and leave the country. Once in Europe, Olha made plans to travel to the U.S. where her brother was living to seek protection, flying first to Mexico and then crossing the border. From there Olha and her son were able to reunite with her brother, who welcomed them to California.

The first few months were challenging, but Olha remained hopeful. Olha lived with her brother for a few months but quickly needed to find work and secure a place for her to live with her son. She cleaned houses and became a delivery driver to make ends meet. Olha was connected with CWS to access support and legal services. Olha recalls how CWS helped her with one-time rental assistance at the moment when she needed it most. The CWS team also helped her file for asylum with the hopes of accessing permanent status in the U.S. “When you have got nothing and after you get something you are so happy with the smallest things,” Olha stated.

One day while she was visiting the CWS office, Olha brought in some of her beautiful and delicious chocolates. The CWS team was amazed and inspired and decided to support Olha in applying for a small business grant through CIELO, a local nonprofit that supports refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs, to get her chocolate business going in her new community.

“I think if you are an immigrant and it’s so hard, you have to be a little bit of a dreamer,” said Olha.

The team at CIELO was amazed and inspired by Olha as well, and she was given funding to purchase professional equipment for her chocolate business and to build her website. Her business is now rapidly growing, with partnerships with some local businesses. Olha is hopeful to one day move from her home kitchen to a commercial kitchen and have her own brick-and-mortar chocolate shop.

You can watch Olha’s story here.