On February 24th, 2022, Alisa woke up at 4.20 a.m. to the sound of explosions in her hometown of Kharkiv, Ukraine. That’s when she knew she had to leave to protect her family. 

“There was a tense atmosphere everywhere, a kind of anticipation of something in the air,” she recalls. Terrified of being under Russian control, her family immediately began packing up their stuff to leave. 

Alisa arrived in Greece with her husband and three children on April 13th, 2022. She made a decision, along with her husband, to open a private company so that they could provide for their three children. “I was raised enough as an independent person, a freedom-loving person. To work 24/7 or not is an absolute freedom of action.”

Alisa adjusts a flower centerpiece on the table of an apartment.
Alisa puts the finishing touches in the apartment she decorated for her airbnb business.
Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki for the IRC

Alisa first became an entrepreneur after she encountered discrimination when applying for jobs as a new mother. Since then, she has worked as an independent interior designer in Ukraine for over 20 years. Alisa owned her own studio until 2010 when she decided to enter the tourism industry.

Her new entrepreneurial idea is to combine these experiences with her husband’s experience in real estate to start a home-staging business in Athens. 

Alisa explains the difference between interior design and home staging, “A home stager doesn’t follow fashionable trends as with interior design, because trends constantly change. Home stagers create a versatile space where you can find a variety of different interior styles.”

Alisa reads a newspaper while sipping a coffee in a cafe.
Alisa likes to use natural materials of the best quality, such as natural wood, or fabrics such as linen, silk, and cotton to decorate the homes she creates.
Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki for the IRC

While Alisa was researching how to set up her business with her daughter, they found an advertisement on Facebook for the IRC program Craft Your Business (CYB), which provides training for young entrepreneurs to hone their business ideas and make them into a reality. “The coaches and teachers were professionals,” Alisa says. “We were given maximum economic and entrepreneurial information so that we could take our idea seriously and implement it ourselves.”

The course, which is part of the wider Resilient Futures Program operated in collaboration with Citi Foundation and Alba Graduate Business School, also provided Alisa with advice on taxes and other legal matters that proved helpful in the foundation of her new business.

Alisa picks up a couple of plants while shopping.
“I like to make people happy. I love the hospitality field.”
Photo: Sumaya Agha for the IRC

Alisa says that although Ukraine will always play a large part in her life, she and her family have adjusted well to the Greek lifestyle; “In our beloved Ukraine, from point to point, we run. It often happens [in Greece] that people don't rush anywhere, but they get everything done. This way of life suits me.”

Wanting to be useful to others and knowing the feeling of not being safe in one's own home, she strives to ensure the atmosphere she creates makes her clients feel safe and comfortable. Her mantra is simple: treat others the way you would want to be treated.

Alisa understands the difficulties that millions of refugees face every day in attempting to adapt to new environments; to understand how things work so they can find solutions to problems that arise. To help with this, Alisa offers some advice: “You need to make new friends, you need to get in touch with people, you need to get to know not only people who speak your language. You need to expand your social circle.” 

She loves working with her husband and hopes one day that her daughter can join the family business. She knows many others can benefit from the opportunity the CYB program gave her and hopes more people will apply for it. “I'm just pleased with the fact that I did this work, and I know that I did it well.”