Three Ukranians who fled war are rebuilding their lives after finding work and falling in love with Sheffield

Three women who arrived in Sheffield after being forced to flee their homes in war-torn Ukraine are now flourishing, after finding work with a specialty coffee business in the city.
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Sheffield is very cosy and very green’

After extensive research into UK hosts, friends 29-year-old Mariia Semenchuk and Inna Draganova, aged 32, arrived in Sheffield on May 16, three months after Russia invaded their home city of Kyiv in Ukraine.

The pair describe being ‘immediately greeted with warmth’ by their host family in Broomhill.

(L-R) Inna, Mariia and Yuliia are all flourishing after being given work at CAWA coffee in Sheffield(L-R) Inna, Mariia and Yuliia are all flourishing after being given work at CAWA coffee in Sheffield
(L-R) Inna, Mariia and Yuliia are all flourishing after being given work at CAWA coffee in Sheffield
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“It is like our extended family,” said Inna, adding: “We cook together, eat together and go on weekend trips together. We rotate the daily cooking because Mariia and I like to cook... all Ukrainians love to cook!”

Such is the bond in the house, that the family occasionally drives both women to work, and more recently took them to watch a live football match during the Women's Euros.

Commenting on their first impressions of Sheffield, Inna said: “Sheffield is very hilly! Yes, we have hills in Kiev, but we've definitely slimmed down since coming here.”

Mariia added: “Yes, Kiev is massive, so Sheffield feels a lot smaller, but it's very cosy... and very green.”

Mariia at work at CAWA Coffee's headquartersMariia at work at CAWA Coffee's headquarters
Mariia at work at CAWA Coffee's headquarters
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After settling in to their new lives in Sheffield, the pair set about finding work.

Mariia, who has a Masters in marketing, and interior designer, Inna, were soon given housekeeping positions in a Sheffield hotel, enabling them to support themselves and send money home, but regarded the work as a ‘stepping stone’ and Mariia began scouring the city for other opportunities.

The search led her to Sheffield artisan bakery/speciality coffee roaster, CAWA, which means ‘coffee’ in Ukrainian.

Mariia sent her CV to the firm, even though there were no advertised vacancies at the time.

Inna is CAWA's Assistant Bakery ManagerInna is CAWA's Assistant Bakery Manager
Inna is CAWA's Assistant Bakery Manager
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Within days of receiving the CV, CAWA co-founder Galyna Hayat invited Mariia for an informal coffee and chat.

CAWA boss ‘taken in’ by ‘bright, enthusiastic, enterprising pair’

“During my first phone call with Galyna, I took a gamble and mentioned my friend, Inna, who also wanted to leave the hotel,” said Mariia.

This led to both Inna and Mariia being invited in to meet with Galyna, who describes being ‘taken’ by the ‘bright, enthusiastic, enterprising pair’.

CAWA Coffee's shop in Broomhill, which is the business's first branch and opened in 2017CAWA Coffee's shop in Broomhill, which is the business's first branch and opened in 2017
CAWA Coffee's shop in Broomhill, which is the business's first branch and opened in 2017

After being impressed with their CVs Galyna decided to create two new positions specifically for Mariia and Inna in CAWA’s head office, as Marketing Assistant and Assistant Bakery Manager, respectively.

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Galyna, who also has Ukranian heritage and emigrated to the UK in 1997, explained: “As a business owner, creating opportunities that didn't previously exist is deeply rewarding.”

She added: “Nurturing fledgling talent is at the heart of CAWA, and we're now in the comfortable position where, thanks to the support of our wonderfully loyal customers, we've grown to five shops. We have the resources to develop bright individuals and integrate their valuable skills and expertise into our business.”

A spokesperson for CAWA said: “Within days of joining CAWA's head office, the two friends shone. Mariia, showing an immediate flair for graphic design, now oversees the development of CAWA's visual assets; including A-boards, menus and in-shop digital screens.

“Meanwhile, Inna coordinates the day-to-day bakery operations — a key role given that CAWA operates a 20,000 sq ft bakery in Tinsley; from which they supply artisan breads and pastries to their five coffee shops as well as hotels, restaurants and independent cafés across the country.”

‘They’re incredibly determined women so they learn quickly’

Yuliia Sharmankina was fast-tracked into CAWA Coffee's barista trainingYuliia Sharmankina was fast-tracked into CAWA Coffee's barista training
Yuliia Sharmankina was fast-tracked into CAWA Coffee's barista training
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Accepting full-time roles with CAWA meant that Mariia and Inna had to suspend their English lessons, but fortuitiously, Galyna is a qualified English teacher and promised to personally provide the pair with an ‘English education’.

“In the early stages of their employment, I translated between them and the rest of our team,” Galyna said.

She added: “But they're both incredibly determined women, so they learn quickly. I've seen a huge improvement in their spoken and written English, although they sometimes struggle with the northern dialect!”

Buoyed by Mariia and Inna’s success in their roles, Galyna posted a vacancy for a barista in Ukrainian Facebook group which helps new arrivals to find work and stay in touch with family and friends.

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Yuliia Sharmankina, aged 23, demonstrated excellent spoken English, and was fast-tracked into CAWA's barista training.

A CAWA spokesperson said Yuliia ‘excelled’ — completing a two-week program in just one week.

Yuliia, having moved into her fourth week as one of CAWA's friendly shop crew, said: “Every day is different and every customer has a story. I enjoy that a lot and want to thank CAWA for making me feel so welcome."

‘Every day I’m inspired by their passion and endurance’

“From a company culture perspective, Mariia, Inna and Yuliia's talent serves only to enrich our already multicultural company,” Galyna said.

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“Over the years, I've seen many highly-qualified immigrants come to England and not secure comparable jobs, having to work as delivery drivers instead. Of course, all work has value, but in many cases, immigrants have multiple degrees — some being senior managers and even doctors.”

On the future of CAWA's three new recruits, Galyna says she is ‘optimistic’.

She continued: “The Ukrainian people deserve peace and freedom. I consider it my responsibility to ensure that while they're with us, they feel safe, comfortable, supported and valued. Every day I'm inspired by their passion and endurance. I wish to thank them sincerely for their beautiful contribution.”

CAWA can opened its first branch on Fulwood Road, Broomhill in 2017, before expanding with a premises on Division Street in Sheffield city centre, two shops in Chesterfield and one in Nottingham.

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