Hope in the Face of Tragedy: A Young Ukrainian Looks Forward to a Brighter Post-War Future
September 6, 2023
Last year, Stefaniia Konovalova and her family were forced to evacuate their hometown in Ukraine due to invading Russian forces. Now a senior account executive at FINN Partners, she recently celebrated her win as PR Rising Star of the Year at the TravMedia Awards 2023. Many inconceivable events have happened in Stefaniia’s life in the last year, but one thing that has remained constant is her positive outlook and determination to make a difference.
The Start of Her Career
When Stefaniia first started her career in public relations, she imagined her life and career would look much different than it does today. Stefaniia earned her Sociology degree from Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in 2018 and later earned her Master’s degree in Media at the University of Leeds. As a student, Stefaniia wasn’t sure what career she wanted to pursue.
“I always wanted to work with people, but I didn’t know in which exact way.”
Stefaniia discovered her interest in PR through a friend who was a few years older and had already been working in the industry. “I just fell in love with her stories,” she recalled. “She is the example that I wanted to follow.”
Her first real experience in the industry was working as a PR manager in a creative agency, which catered primarily to consumer clients. She enjoyed the variety of work her job offered.
“I really saw myself continuing working with them and creating my own agency in the future‒ that was my goal.”
But much of that changed after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The Beginning of War in Ukraine
When the war began, Stefaniia’s life and career suddenly had a completely different trajectory. Stefaniia was living in Irpin but working in Kyiv at the time.
“We were stuck in my parent’s house,” she recalled. “And we were stuck in town because the forces bombed the bridges that led to Kyiv.”
Stefaniia remembers seeing Russian troops for the first time with her own eyes and having tanks on the streets. She and her family had no gas, water or electricity.
“Explosions were happening all the time, so we couldn’t sleep normally, but we couldn’t escape at the same time,” she said. Stefaniia and her family soon decided to flee her hometown and travel to Kyiv by any means necessary.
“We didn’t know where we were going, and we just grabbed our backpacks and went by foot.”
After arriving in Kyiv, Stefaniia and her family traveled to Western Ukraine and stayed with relatives for three months until Irpin was reoccupied by the Ukrainian army and it was safe enough to return home. Once they returned home, Stefaniia soon realized that staying in Irpin was no longer the best option for her or her family.
“I had lost my job and our house was damaged, so I had to go somewhere,” she explained. For Stefaniia, she knew finding work was the best option for helping her family during this difficult time.
From Her Hometown to London
When deciding to leave Ukraine, Stefaniia knew she wanted to move back to the UK because she had lived there before. When she arrived in London, Stefaniia began working at FINN Partners within the first few days.
“I honestly didn’t have much time to cry or to overthink. My second or third day when I came to London, I started working with the team.”
Stefaniia immersed herself in her work and began to learn as much as she could about the PR travel industry in the UK.
Moving to the UK during this time and working in the travel industry has been a completely new experience for Stefaniia. Her work looks different from day to day but the variety is something she enjoys about working in PR.
“It’s new, but this field really excites me,” she said. Within her first three months of working at FINN, Stefaniia organized a media press trip to Toulouse, France.
“It was a bit stressful,” she recalled. “But overall, the trip was really very lovely, and it was a completely new experience.”
Her Life in the UK
Although Stefaniia’s transition back to the UK has been relatively easy compared to living in a warzone, it was still difficult to navigate. Since the war began, Stefaniia has been separated from her childhood best friend. Similar to Stefaniia, her friend chose to move to the U.S. because of the war in Ukraine. They had never gone more than a month without seeing each other.
“Loneliness is the hardest thing that I faced,” she explained. “Moving here on your own, without your family or your friends was very hard. So it is already an achievement that I overcame that and I have friends here.”
Another accomplishment Stefaniia is proud of is the network of contacts she has built relationships with in London. When she first arrived in the UK, there were many names, travel journalists and media she was unfamiliar with.
“Getting to know the industry and people who are working in it is an achievement because I never knew anyone from the travel industry here in London,” Stefaniia explains. “I was lost in some way.”
The PR industry in the UK was completely new to Stefaniia but she put a great deal of effort into meeting new people and familiarizing herself with the industry. Today, she has a network of around forty to fifty people she has built a relationship with in less than a year.
Her Hopes for the Future
Through her experience, Stefaniia’s idea of the future and outlook on life has changed drastically.
“I can say my vision for my future has changed because a year ago I was happily working in Kyiv,” she explains. Used to working for smaller companies and with smaller teams, Stefaniia never imagined she would end up working for a large company with a large network of people. But she is grateful for the experience to learn and work with a supportive team.
“I am so grateful for everything. Because when the war started I was desperate to find a new job and it seemed to be impossible for me at that moment,” she shared.
Stefaniia has hope for the future and confidence that her experience working in the travel industry may open new doors to promote tourism and travel in Ukraine after the war ends. For now, her plan is to grow her knowledge about the travel industry, gain experience and build her skills while working in London. Stefaniia hopes to do everything she can to support her country.
“I feel it is not only me that has this feeling, but also my friends and people that I know,” she says. “We all have this feeling that it is our mission to come back to Ukraine one day and try to do everything we can to support it and to help it develop again because Ukraine is a wonderful country… Because who else if not us?”