A journey of hope and empowerment: Galina Garmaj’s story


Galina Garmaj is a Ukrainian refugee living in Moldova who participated in the LEAP program offered by UN Women Moldova.

Meet Galina Garmaj
Galina Garmaj, a woman refugee from Ukraine living in Moldova who participated in the LEAP program offered by UN Women Moldova.
Photo credit: Courtesy of  AFAM - Association of Women Entrepreneurs in Moldova

When the war first started, Galina believed that it would quickly end. One day in May 2022, a bomb hit the apartment she used to live in before the war. She feared the next bomb would hit the home where her family currently lived. She made a quick decision. Within two hours, she gathered her things and left Ukraine.

Galina and her 8-year-old daughter fled to Moldova while her parents remained in Odessa. She wanted to stay close in case she had to go back for them. Galina is one of the 113,000 Ukrainian refugees in Moldova, majority of whom are women and girls..

For 12 years, Galina worked as an accountant in Ukraine. She was stressed and distracted when she first reached Moldova, uncertain how she could apply her skillset in this new environment.

In Moldova, Galina started looking for opportunities of self-development but also income. Thus, she registered for a comprehensive training provided by National Youth Council of Moldova (CNTM) in partnership with Association of Women Entrepreneurs in Moldova (AFAM) focused on leadership and business development. The training was financed by Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund and was implemented with support from UN Women, like tens of other similar initiatives implemented in the benefit of women refugees from Ukraine. During this training, Galina learned to formulate a business idea, create an action plan, and most importantly, understand financial planning and literacy. She also acquired training in negotiation, public speaking, and management skills.

At the same time, Galina noticed a lack of adequate childcare for Ukrainian refugee mothers with young children. While they found opportunities to work, they had no reliable facility or assistance for their children. To fill this gap, Galina decided to open a children’s center called ”SmileKids”, putting into practice her newly acquired skills.

Moreover, through AFAM’s support for entrepreneurial women, Galina received a small grant to register the business in Moldova as required by law, rent a building, and open a bank account. ”SmileKids” provides childcare to Russian-speaking families – both Ukrainian and Moldovan – to build cohesion between the refugee and host communities. The center provides nanny services, art and sand therapy under the guidance of rehabilitologist and art therapist Tetiana Kyshynska, along with speech therapy for children who have difficulties with pronunciation. Mothers have the flexibility to leave their children for an hour, a few hours, a half or whole day.

Galina feels that her business was only possible because she applied and was selected to be a part of the leadership and entrepreneurship program where she received skills training. Galina expresses herself as being “extremely grateful for UN Women and the support they offered. You believed in us, you supported us, you made us feel that we can do things which we did not even realize we could.”

Leadership, Empowerment, Access and Protection (LEAP) program.