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Valeria Samborskaya, Business Link

Valeria Samborskaya is the CEO of Ukrainian educational advisory company Business Link, which she runs together with her mother, Tatiana. The war has forced them to uproot their life and business. She spoke to The PIE about what it feels like to flee war, how both the business and international education sectors have supported her during the past two weeks, including help from a former student.


"Maybe some people had more resources or could see this happening but most of us couldn't believe that it was ever going to just suddenly happen like this"

The PIE: Are you safe at the moment?

Valeria Samborskaya: We are safe in Warsaw. We have a base and some friends who have said that we can use their office so things will be much easier now. The last six days have been a bit of a nightmare.

The PIE: What was it like in Kyiv when the bombings started?

VS: It was on Thursday [February 24] morning around four o’clock in the morning when we heard the bombings, outside of our windows at home. It was crazy. The situation was a bit tense in the media for a while and maybe some people had more resources or could see this happening but most of us couldn’t believe that it was ever going to just suddenly happen like this. The first bombings that happened in Kyiv hit the airport and it was the same in other cities too. Immediately, the airports were closed. So everyone was in their cars at the same time and there was no understanding about any other transport or if any more bombs were coming. Bombs which are coming from miles and miles away. These are bombs that can travel up to 1500 kilometres. It’s all over the country. We weren’t sure what to do.

The PIE: When did you decide to leave Kyiv?

VS: We spent about 24 hours in Kyiv after the bombings and shootings started. We decided that we should probably make a move because if things became more serious, I didn’t know how we would be able to help in this situation because we’re not military trained and psychologically, I didn’t know how I was going to keep it together. I felt responsible for the team too and I just thought ‘OK, we have to get ourselves safe somewhere and from there, we can try to help everyone else’. It was quite a difficult decision because it meant taking a very small bag of whatever you can and taking it somewhere – nobody knows where. For 24 hours I was trying to find a way out and I couldn’t and it felt pretty bad.

The PIE: How did you manage to leave?

VS: Miraculously, we found another entrepreneur who said she had a place in her car for two women alongside her husband and their three-year-old child. She told us they were leaving right away to Romania, and if Tatiana and I could meet them where they were, they would take us. We said to ourselves ‘okay, we are taking this chance’. We took our bags and jumped into the subway and halfway there, the sirens go off again and the subway stops. In the end, the family offered to pick us up. They actually came back into the city.

It was really difficult to get out of the city, it took us four hours just to get out of the suburbs. My other friend called me – a friend who was actually our client. She went to university in the UK and we stayed in touch and have been good friends for many years. She called to check on me and told me that her parents are in Western Ukraine and if we could make our way there, they would put us up along with those who were driving us. I know her family, I’ve been to her wedding because she met him through British university and through [Business Link]. We didn’t make it there that night because it was slower than usual and so we had to stop as the guys had been driving non-stop. We switched off the engines and we slept in the car. In the end, her parents gave accommodation and shelter in a stand-alone house to to this family that we were driving with and with their other relatives who were also driving.

The PIE: What kind of emergency information were you receiving?

VS: I’m part of a business community for entrepreneurs and we have group chats for different things. Immediately, the group chats have transformed to serve new needs. There’s a chat to report how the roads are, where there are shootings and where there are attacks. It tells you where you can and cannot go. There are chats to provide medical care to local defence forces and chats for humanitarian needs because so many people are stuck in hospitals. It’s just people helping people. Telegram has become the main tool. My screen time is probably 12 hours per day now. Maybe there is someone who is leaving Kyiv and they need a driver or someone has tickets for the train. You try to connect people and do your bit. That has been really incredible, people are really helping each other.

The PIE: What does the situation mean for Business Link and its students?

VS: We have some [students] who are waiting to hear from schools and universities. We asked our clients to give us one week while we figure everything out. Tatiana and I are here now and one of our colleagues has also managed to cross the border to Moldova. It is only girls who can get out right now. So we’re just trying to do our best right now to get the girls across the border or as far west as they can. We can try to get them to come here and regroup and continue working. Of course, we have students in the UK and we know that they are going to be safe. We have had amazing support from my partners, intervention wise and communication wise. Everyone wants to help.

“We have had amazing support from my partners, intervention wise and communication wise. Everyone wants to help”

The PIE: What has the reaction been like in Poland and Romania?

VS: In Romania, there was this volunteer camp being run that was bigger than the number of people that were crossing. They gave us huge bags with food and toys for the little ones. There were priests that you could talk to in any language. It’s been amazing. It’s like a new family. These are new connections that are going to be forever and I hope that we can welcome them back in Kyiv soon. Poland has been the same. There are Ukrainian flags everywhere, every bus has one and people are putting up blue and yellow balloons in their window.

The PIE: What is the next step?

VS: One of the things we’re figuring out is how to continue working and paying salaries to our guys. We’re a small team and they completely rely on us. Another thing we are looking out for is visas as Business Link works with the UK and sends students there. Our visas have expired and as far as I understand, at the moment, there isn’t any route for us to come to the UK so that would be very helpful.

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One Response to Valeria Samborskaya, Business Link

  1. So pleased to see Tatiana and Valeria are safe. Not sure if they remember me but I worked for business link in 99/2000 and so sad what has happened with my old Kyiv colleagues. Hope you stay safe and get to go home at some point
    Louise Collett (now browning)

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