Entrepreneur in Eastern Ukraine Develops Green Tourism at Her Bee Farm

Speeches Shim

Friday, November 27, 2020
Iryna enjoys working in the bee farm.
Photo credit: Iryna Vasylieva

Several generations of Iryna Vasylieva’s family have maintained a beekeeping tradition. Iryna’s great-grandfather headed a collective farm in the 1930s. During the 1932-33 Great Famine, he allowed fellow villagers to gather ears of grain in the fields, lost his position for doing so, and was sent to work at a collective farm apiary as a beekeeper.

“This apiary saved my ancestors from starvation. There were about 100 hives in the apiary. My great-grandfather took care of the bees and harvested honey. He had nine children. Thanks to that honey, they all survived those terrible times,” Iryna explained.

Two years ago, Iryna left her job as the head of children’s services in Svatove District State Administration to join her husband, Ihor, in starting a beekeeping business. They registered a trademark, Medove Dzherelo, and started off with the five hives they had kept for more than 10 years. Soon those five hives grew to 320.

Iryna wanted to go beyond selling honey by the barrel. She wanted to make her product more valuable to consumers, so she experimented with adding nuts and dried fruit to their honey. Their daughter Oksana also began producing natural cosmetics based on bee products, and helped them develop a more attractive label and packaging. Today, most of their sales are through social networks.

“You can’t make money selling honey in barrels. You need to add value to your product with special processing, package it appealingly, and present it to customers in an attractive way. We always sell a lot at fairs and festivals,” Iryna said.

Always looking for new opportunities to expand her business, when Iryna came across a Facebook announcement for an online mentoring program for entrepreneurs living in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, she applied immediately. The USAID Economic Resilience Activity (ERA) connected her with another experienced entrepreneur to get some seasoned advice.

Since May 2020, Iryna has participated in USAID’s mentoring support program for small businesses. Her mentor, Olena Nabokova, inspired her to make money not just from her honey, but also from the bee farm itself - to invite local school children and tourists to take educational tours with some hands-on fun, along with adding a honey processing workshop that will make her  bee farm a better green tourist destination.

The Vasyliev family apiary is located in the village of Zmiivka, which lies within the Svatove Zoological Reserve. The family built a house, where they rest to the sound of the hum of bees. 

“This is healing; it is so relaxing to fall asleep to the buzzing of bees in the hive,” says Iryna.

Even with the COVID pandemic, tourists started arriving in July. Olha Lishyk, who visited the farm, enjoyed the experience.  “I listened to Irina's stories like a child listening to a bedtime story: about the bee’s social structure, their hierarchy, the fact that it’s a matriarchy, and the way in which work responsibilities are divided” explained Olga. “The honey is delicious, and now I am one of their devoted customers.”

Iryna thinks that the business idea recommended by her mentor is very promising.  She is developing a business plan for next year to host schoolchildren, who will be able to see first hand what they read about in biology class. She also plans to hold master classes, and offer souvenirs and beekeeping products directly at the bee farm.