Ukrainians are incredibly strong in spirit, brave, and heroic. This is confirmed by the story shared by farmer Olena Kirichenko in an interview with

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The Kirichenko family is rather large, consisting of 17 people. Before the full-scale invasion, the family lived in the village of Markove, Kramatorsk district, Donetsk Oblast. Everyone had their own business and, of course, their own mini-farm.

"We all lived in the same village (except for my brother), but everyone had their own house, their own job, their own household chores. We were united only by the traditions that our parents had started - to gather for holidays, to help each other. I worked as an assistant teacher in a kindergarten. But a teacher's salary alone doesn't get you far, so I kept cattle, which brought in income. Besides, what kind of a villager are you if you don't have a cow in your yard? We never sold milk because you usually get paid peanuts for it. I did baking, and my sister processed dairy products and then sold them," says Olena Kirichenko.

Фото: Instagram Кіріченків
Photo: Kirichenkov's Instagram

The family was not prepared for the war, because no one could even imagine that it was possible in the 21st century. After February 24, the Kirichenko family members tried to keep on living: helping the country, going to work, planting a garden, and keeping their household in good condition. Olena followed all the events that took place in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Chernihiv oblasts. She hoped that the war would end before it reached her home village of Markove.

"When the war broke out, we were preparing for Mother's Day in the kindergarten. I remember drawing funny cartoon characters on the windows and crying because we could not believe that the war had come to our homeland. It was a shock."

March 2022 was depressing for the entire Kirichenko family. When they came to their senses, they started looking for evacuation buses and writing down the contacts of those they could contact in case of an attack on Markove village.

Фото: Instagram Кіріченків
Photo: Kirichenkov's Instagram

Then the Kirichenkos heard shelling of neighboring towns and villages. It was then that they began to think seriously about leaving their home village. The last straw was the shelling of Markove village on May 28.

"We went out to meet the cows from the pasture when loud explosions started. I saw big cylinders flying into my mother's street. They hit people's gardens, smashed roofs, and one shell fell near my mother's house, where little Bohdan, my nephew, who is 2 years old, usually plays. It was lucky that at that moment he went with his father to prepare fodder for the cows. The first hour after the shelling was the hardest because we didn't know if everyone was alive. After that incident, we finally decided to leave."

The Kirichenko family gave their cows to a local farmer for keeping. The main criterion for choosing a place to go was to be as far away from the fighting as possible. They chose Poltava Oblast and a rural community because they are convinced that a rural community is development. The community was chosen online.

Олена Кіріченко (Фото: Instagram Кіріченків)
Olena Kirichenko (Photo: Kirichenko's Instagram)

"We chose the Serhiyivska territorial community and have no regrets, in my opinion, it is the most developed hromada in general. Then we found the phones of volunteers and told them that we were going as a big family. They found us an old but warm house built in 1927. They found a truck, but you can't fit much in one truck from five houses. Someone took a washing machine, someone took a refrigerator. The children took beds. They left almost all their lives in Markove. In total, our journey to Poltava Oblast took about 12 hours. The adults arrived in the community at one o'clock in the morning, and the car with 10 children arrived much later because the driver got lost. When we arrived, it was raining, and we were met by many strangers and the owner of the house. They helped us unload the vehicle. Later, when the children arrived, they boiled water and steamed noodles, which was our dinner at three in the morning. We slept on sacks of clothes."

The family has many children to feed, so there was no time to adapt to the new place, Olena says. The first thing they started with was to put the house in order: they settled down, mowed all the grass, and planted a vegetable garden. Volunteers helped with all this. The head of the Serhiyivska community offered to find sponsors and move the family's farm out of Markove village. The Kirichenkos agreed and then decided together that they would focus all their efforts on developing the farm.

"When we contacted the farmer, we found that out of his 18 cows only 6 young ones remained. He had slaughtered them for meat, and the rest were in a pitiful condition. The farmer returned only 2 thousand hryvnia ($54) per head, or 20 thousand hryvnias ($540) in total. You can't even buy a single cow for that amount of money."

Продукція ферми Кіріченків (Фото: Instagram Кіріченків)
Products of the Kirichenkov farm (Photo: Kirichenkov Instagram)

There were almost no cows of their own, so the family bought out someone else's farm. Currently, the farmers keep 14 cows, one bull, and 13 calves. After renovating their farm, the family started looking for opportunities for their development: they registered as a sole proprietorship, started contacting all the NGOs, and won grants. That's how the Kirichenkos got in touch with the Business Community of Rural Women NGO, which provided the farmers with money and mentoring.

"For six months, a marketer, an accountant, and an expert on standards helped us run our business. We used the grant money to build a cowshed. We also chose a new direction for development - we decided to start making cheese. We took courses with Tetiana Dyadechko. However, we have a large family and it is too difficult to start from scratch. We distributed responsibilities among everyone in the family: who milks, who makes cheese, who does the accounting. We pay taxes to both the community and the state. Things are just getting better, and there is still a lot of development ahead."

Despite the fact that many people in Poltava Oblast are engaged in cheese-making, the Kirichenko family has virtually no competitors because they sell a unique product. They make craft cheeses: feta, suluguni, mozzarella, haloumi, caciotta, and more. They also produce traditional dairy products: sweet cream and butter.

Продукція ферми Кіріченків (Фото: Instagram Кіріченків)
Products of the Kirichenkov farm (Photo: Kirichenkov Instagram)

They sell their products in their community and neighboring ones, and sometimes travel to the city. They have their own small online store. Some of the products are sent to the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The family's plans for the near future are to unite the craft cheese market throughout Ukraine. To create a single platform with a good reputation, so that people would come there and know that delicious and natural products are sold here. The main thing is to believe in yourself, look for opportunities and constantly learn, says Olena Kirichenko.

"There is a lot of donor and mentoring assistance available now. All you need is a desire to learn and not be afraid to do something new. It was difficult to combine accounting with cheese-making. After all, we opened a sole proprietorship, paid people's salaries, made quarterly reports for employees, annual reports for ourselves, paid taxes, filled out declarations. But over time, we figured it out, because impossible is nothing."