Ukrainians named Young Entrepreneurs of year by chamber

War zone to winner's circle

Tracey Prediger

Their award for Young Entrepreneur of the Year from the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce is proudly displayed on their kitchen counter.

It sits beside a tiny stuffed animal they brought from their hometown of Mariupol, Ukraine.

They were forced to flee just eight short months ago.

“Violence was happening in the streets because people were fighting for food for, especially water.”

Mykola Zrazhevskyi and his business partner Maks Yenin own Yenin art. Studio, a marketing and graphic design company they used to run out of an apartment across from the Drama Theatre in Mariupol. The same drama theatre that became a shelter to hundreds in early March, 2022 and was bombed on March 16.

The only way they survived is because they weren’t home. Zrazhevskyi explains they were visiting friends in another district that day.

“And when we came back home, we saw that the drama theatre was in fire and was destroyed.”

The couple knew they couldn't stay there, they needed to escape.

With nine of their friends, they dug out another friend's car from beneath the rubble. The car was in rough shape. It was dented, the windows were blown out, but it was still drivable.

Zrazhevskyi continues his story of their frantic escape: "We were on the road, and bombs were being dropped. Maybe 100 or 150 metres away."

“And we could feel the shock wave from falling shells and the roof of the car was shaking.”

Max and Mykola only took what they knew they could run with on their backs. Each of them had a backpack filled with electronics and personal documents. Their laptops are their livelihood. They also carried candy that they promised each other would only be used in a dire emergency.

“Sometimes, we went the day without food, but we would still keep those candy bars in the backpack in case we didn’t have any food the next day.”

Once safe in the western Asian country of Georgia, the couple applied for visas to come to Canada. Max’s great uncle had immigrated to Vernon in the 1990s, and his family extended an invitation.

They arrived in May, and the young business owners were encouraged to join the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce, never expecting to be named “Young Entrepreneurs of the Year.”

"We were so surprised, we were shocked, happily shocked," they say.

When asked what’s next for Yenin.art Studio, they are already busy working on a project with the BC Winter Games, and they hope to continue to expand their business while enjoying their new home in Vernon.

More Vernon News