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Ukrainian family fleeing war hopes to revive swimsuit business on Vancouver Island

Now settled, the family launched a fundraiser to help reboot their business, BabyLadySwim

Anna Starodubtseva never imagined owning her own business. In her hometown of Kharkiv, Ukraine, she began sewing clothes for her daughter when she was born, but it was her swimsuit designs for young girls that quickly gained popularity.

But when war broke out near Kharkiv on the morning of Feb. 24, the fate of her business and family’s lives were forever changed.

“We got up at 4:50 am and heard the sound of bombs,” her husband Nick Starodubtsev said in a phone interview, from their home in the District of Saanich. “We understood this is a war.”

Soon after the Russian invasion began, the couple and their 10-year-old daughter, made the decision to flee their home country.

Leaving behind everything and everyone she knew wasn’t easy — but for her, it was just as hard leaving behind the business she started from her home eight years ago.

The family set their sights on Greater Victoria when the Canadian government announced new immigration pathways for Ukrainians. But with little money and no direct route, their journey wasn’t simple.

Starodubtseva’s husband had to sell the car gifted from his father-in-law just to purchase plane tickets — the same one his daughter was born in. “It was more than just a car. It was a part of our family.”

After spending two months anxiously waiting in Germany, they finally obtained their visas and arrived in Victoria on June 21. Now Starodubtseva is aiming to relaunch her swimsuit brand, BabyLadySwim, on the Island.

Back in Ukraine, her business started small — with three household sewing machines, a few pieces of fabric and just nine square metres of space to work in.

READ MORE:Langford team returns from Ukraine trip

It wasn’t long before her operation successfully expanded to include eight industrial sewing machines, thousands of yards of fabric and a new office.

Now living with a host family in Cordova Bay, she needs equipment — industrial sewing machines, cutters, printers and a heat press — if there’s any hope of reviving her business.

Last week she launched a fundraiser because she’s unable to receive a business loan to purchase all the necessary equipment to set up manufacturing.

She’s asking the Vancouver Island community to help her reach her goal of $35,000 to re-establish her manufacturing operation.

Despite the challenges of rebuilding their lives in a foreign country, Starodubtseva and her husband are grateful for the warm welcome they’ve received in their new home.

“We knew that starting over in British Columbia would be hard,” he said. “But the community in Victoria is amazing. This isn’t our home, but we feel like it is.”

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Inside BabyLadySwim’s workshop in Kharkiv, Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of Anna Starodubtsev)