Ukrainian refugees whose businesses were halted by the Russian invasion have finally achieved their dream after fleeing to the UK and setting up a candle shop.
Best friends Anna Shtermak, 28, and Nastya Berest, 25, moved to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv last January to open a candle shop.
But when Vladimir Putin’s invasion of their homeland began, they were forced to flee the country for their own safety.
The couple moved in with a host family in Didsbury, Manchester, last May and have now successfully set up VIRA, a candle business.
When Nastya and Anna moved to England, they “didn’t understand or know anything” about how to start and run a business in the UK.
But since launching their business in November, they’ve received numerous requests and are even planning to create two new collections.
Anna said: “We didn’t understand or know anything when we came here and English wasn’t the first language so we had trouble with English too.
“It was hard, to be honest, the first five months.”
She added: “At first we found it very difficult because it is a new country and there are different rules about money.
“We met a Ukrainian accountant too but she has lived here for about 20 years and she has helped us a lot.
“She taught us how to be self-employed and taught us about taxes.
“We were also able to ask our family for help with everything.”
Nastya and Anna make all the candles themselves from scratch, they buy candle wax from a British supplier and melt it themselves.
They then poured it into molds and left it in one of their many designs, including shell, wave, and cube.
Since its launch just over two months ago, Anna said the pair have had “a lot of requests” which have been “very exciting” for them.
She said: “Before Christmas we had a lot of requests and for us, that was very exciting.
“Different people ordering food keeps us busy and it helps us have fun doing it.”
Despite moving to England, the friends said they eventually wanted to return to Ukraine.
But in the meantime, they have plans to expand the business by introducing two new collections in the coming months.
Anna said: “It is difficult to talk about the future because of course we want to go home but we have decided to settle here now.
“But we want to make a new collection for Valentine’s Day and then put out another collection in March.
“We also want to start making soap.”
Liz Nethredt, 40, welcomed the business owners to the home she shares with her husband, Matt, 40, and their three children Grace, 10, Joseph, 7, and Patrick, 4.
When the women moved in, she said, they had a “very basic understanding” of the English language, and couldn’t even understand Liz Scouse’s accent.
Liz said: “When they came, Anna spoke basic English but Nastya wasn’t sure of herself and I think they came with a very basic understanding.
“I went out the window anyway because I pronounce pigeon and glass differently, so for the first month I had to say it with an accent and then pronounce it in Queen’s English.
“We also used a translation app a lot, and we’ve been living on it.”
Liz matched women on a Facebook group of people who wanted to give Ukrainian refugees a home, and now says she’s ‘very proud’ of their business.
She said: “As a family we are very proud of them.
“We had no expectations, we thought they wanted to recover.
“Their lives are already on hold in some ways because they’re not home and they had to come here, but they didn’t let that get in the way.
“They go forward with their ambitions and their dreams, which it would be really easy not to in this situation, but they go ahead with it anyway.”
You can visit Anna and Nastya’s store here https://www.virahello.com.