Eight refugee entrepreneurs: from adversity into empowerment – in photos

Jun 18, 2024 | News

Refugees in London who have become entrepreneurs share their stories as part of Refugee Week

A photo series celebrating Refugee Week (17-23 Jun) features eight London-based entrepreneurs who are refugees.

Photographer JJ keith has collaborated on a collection of portraits with The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network. These are part of a larger project – Open Britain, which is about more than 100 migrants of the first generation in Britain.

Open Britain and TERN are offering the opportunity to support refugee businesses through Anqa, Europe’s first online market for refugee businesses. TERN will launch this marketplace in 2020.

Isobelle Fored, TERN’s head of community ventures, says that everyone should have the right “to follow their aspirations”. “Each TERN xOpen Britain story highlights the dream of a local entrepreneur and follows their challenges to make it real. Together, we can build a society in which every refugee has an equal chance to build a livelihood.

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Akbar Majidova, the chef who achieved success in the UK culinary scene

Akbar, an Uzbek chef, has established a successful career in the UK. Together with his wife Sanobar he runs A Taste of Samarkand, with the goal of showcasing their culture’s culinary tradition and preserving it. Sharing food, especially the signature rice dish, palav, in Uzbekistan is a sign of hospitality, unity, and compassion.

Akbar and Sanobar participated in Food Power, TERN’s programme of incubation for food and beverage entrepreneurs with refugee backgrounds. They won awards for their dishes as well as for their inspiring stories. They want to not only promote their delicious food, but also contribute to society in areas like education, arts, and music, and support women and children back home.

Oleksii Chaiun and Oksana chaiun: the founders of an innovative family firm

Oleksii and Oksana Chaiun met in Ukraine while working at an electrical retailer. Oksana arrived in the UK three months after the Russian invasion with her 18-month-old Yeva, and 14-year old Artem. She had been separated from Oleksii more than a year.

Oksana had a dream of being reunited with Oleksii and starting a business together. Oleksii began working at a friend’s furniture factory while still in Ukraine, and showed Oksana oak homeware prototypes. In 2023 Oksana visited Oleksii in Ukraine. She brought back some of the lights, and they were sold out instantly. Their hard work, expertise, and talents all came together to create Light Craft Family – handcrafted LED nightlights that cast a warm light in familiar shapes.

Their mission is to “make any space feel like a home”, just as their family feels at ease wherever they are together. The Chaiuns’ vision is to have their nightlights spread love, peace and light. Not only to support the Chaiun family, but also to support the industry in Ukraine, by manufacturing the oak parts there and hand-assembling them in the UK.

Olena Nesterenko – finding the stage again

When the war in Ukraine began, everything changed for Olena, a bubble show artist. In April 2022, she arrived in the UK under the Homes for Ukraine programme with “two daughters and a small bag” as well as a few documents. She was able to find a job quickly as a teaching aid. Olena hesitated to continue with the bubbles. It didn’t feel right. She realised, however, that her passion would be the best therapy for her mental health. “When I perform, I still get this special feeling. “If I am in a bad temper, have bad feelings or feel unwell, it all passes quickly,” she says.

Max: Healing through photography and art

Max arrived in the UK as a refugee in 2015. Max’s post-traumatic disorder reached its peak after five years of waiting for asylum. He would have nightmares about his persecution. To cope, he hung signs and Union Jack flags in his government-sponsored bedroom. The signs read: ‘I am Safe’ and This is Not Real’ to help him recover after he woke up at night. Max was supported by the Helen Bamber Foundation both in terms of his mental and physical well-being and his legal status as a refugee. Max credits a photography workshop named Photo Nomad for helping him “turn his life from darkness into light “.

Razieh Raazati, the clinical psychologist turned ceramicist

Razieh Riazati, who previously taught pottery to children in an Iranian orphanage, has now established a ceramics company in the UK, Raaz Pottery. Razieh Riazati continues to teach pottery and is working with TERN in order to sell her artwork through Anqa Collective as well as more widely. Razieh says that the clay and earth are different in the UK. This reflects her adaptation to a new life. “Migration can be difficult. Even the simplest things need to change, such as our habits and lifestyle.

Veronika Shmorhun: uncovering hope in nature

Veronika Shmorhun, a student of fashion design and graphic design, was studying in Kyiv at the time of the Russian invasion. She was also pursuing her MA in graphic designing. She spent two weeks living under Russian occupation, before fleeing through Poland and catching a flight to London. She began painting to find some respite. Her primary subject is nature. She was inspired by the burning grain fields, broken trees, and bombing that are the reality of today’s Ukrainian landscape, as well as the hope and calm provided in the UK forests and parks.

In less than two years, she has produced four exhibits, including a show at the Saatchi Gallery. She has also made the black outfit and headdress pictured as a modern tribute to her homeland. She wears a traditional colour combination: black, which represents ploughed soil, sadness, and darkness, and red, which symbolizes love, fire and life. Veronika works with TERN in order to build her profile as an artists, and also develop a career as post-production compositor.

Vladimir Kolodin: uniting people via music

Vladimir Kolodin, who was gay but not openly so in Kazakstan, faced oppression and continued persecution after the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2016, he was forced into leaving his comfortable life” to flee to the UK. Vlad studied psychology in Kazakstan and hung out with underground drummers and shamanists. He also played a variety instruments as a hobby.

Vlad’s Kazak qualifications were not recognized in the UK. This limited his work. He continued to learn and play new instruments, and realised he could combine music with his passion for helping people’s mental wellbeing. He founded FaerieMystic which uses a mix of indigenous instruments, acoustic instruments, and diverse spiritual traditions in order to create transcendental, spiritual music that is designed to bring people closer together and improve mental wellbeing.

Vlad believes that the queer community can also benefit from a spiritual focus. He is working to help this community by creating an environment of joy and safety for people of all sexualities and genders. Vlad is working on his vision for Faerie Mystic with TERN. He hopes to create a community-building festival.

Yeukai Taruvinga: empowering young people in London

Yeukai is an activist, entrepreneur, and founder of Active Horizons. She fled Zimbabwe due to political unrest, and spent nine long years in the asylum system. She now leads Active Horizons in London, a youth-led organization that empowers migrant and refugees young people. She also runs Shumba Boutique where she creates vibrant African clothes and supports women in Zimbabwe. The clothes can be purchased through TERN’s website.

All photography by JJ Keith

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