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  • Kenz Mangan

ORAM’s new economic empowerment program helps a queer Ukrainian refugee rebuild her life

Updated: Mar 26

Reflecting on her life before the war, the woman before me grins. “I had a beautiful life, a worry-free life - Just kidding. I mean,” she amends, quieter, “I did have a nice life.” 

Two years into Russia’s brutal invasion and over six million Ukrainians have left their homes behind to seek asylum across Europe. Svitlana, the good-humored woman on my laptop screen is one such refugee.  

Joining the Zoom call from a public park in Leipzig, Germany, Svitlana greets me enthusiastically. She’s familiar with ORAM after previously receiving six months of free housing in Berlin from our Ukraine Humanitarian Response program and is quick to express her gratitude.  

Only two weeks after the full-scale invasion began, Svitlana evacuated to Poland with her family before reuniting with her partner in Germany. Among the never-ending list of challenges a refugee faces, Svitlana lists the ones that weigh heaviest on her as language, paperwork, bureaucracy, accommodation, lack of community, and difficulties in finding a job.  

As a queer woman traveling with her partner, finding a place to stay presented an extra barrier: “When we were looking for possible accommodation in Berlin, [we were] not sure what kind of strategy to choose, whether we could present ourselves as a couple or not," she says. The couple spent months relying on “a network of friends-of-friends" and their personal savings to secure places to stay.  

After finding ORAM’s housing program on what Svitlana calls, “a good day, a lucky day,” she and her partner spent six months in a Berlin apartment with one less worry - and time to figure out their next steps.  

Svitlana (right) with her partner, Marina (left) in the apartment provided by ORAM.

In research conducted by ORAM in 2022, LGBTIQ refugees from Ukraine expressed a rising need for employment. Svitlana echoes the sentiment, expressing her goal to find a job: “[It] would give me a possibility to stay here, to be financially independent, to help my family in Ukraine, and to develop myself.” 

Through a grant awarded by The Alliance for Gender Equality in Europe (AGEE), ORAM is creating stable economic opportunities for lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LBTIQ) women fleeing from Ukraine. In a report on women in the digital sector, the European Parliament found that women accounted for less than 20% of information and communications technology specialists in 2021. The report attributed this disparity to a multitude of factors, including a “low rate of women with education in key digital areas.” 

ORAM’s Economic Empowerment Program pairs LBTIQ refugees with a comprehensive training program that aims to prepare participants for a job in the data and tech industry. After seeing an Instagram post advertising the program, Svitlana reached out and was placed in a data science training course by NIYA.


With a background in web design and feminist film directing, Svitlana welcomed the career change, admitting it was a switch she’d considered for some time now. The remote, career management platform grants students access to two options: one with data science lessons, and one with access to a community of peers and mentors. Svitlana's focus currently resides in getting through the extensive courses, but she plans to use the community builder later on to assist in her job search.  

Working through the lessons, Svitlana remarks, “The level of courses surprises and impresses me. It gives such a broad perspective and gives opportunity to practice on real life tasks. [...] I think it has strengthened my understanding that it is possible.”  

Beyond the quality of the platform, Svitlana explains the necessity of a program focused on long term change. While providing temporary humanitarian aid at the beginning of a crisis is crucial, she recalls the “moment of despair” that occurs when those organizations move on, leaving refugees without the means to support themselves.  

It is because of those moments that Svitlana credits programs like ORAM’s as “something which brings a brighter future and a perspective of a different kind of possibilities.” The opportunities to become financially independent, to learn new skills, and to develop as a person all hold importance; especially as a refugee working to rebuild her life.  

To other LBTIQ refugees from Ukraine considering similar paths, her message is simple: “Don't be afraid. Go for it.” Svitlana strongly recommends the program to anyone contemplating a career in IT, and hopes her own certification leads to an interesting career as a junior data scientist.  

With the sun setting behind her, Svitlana’s parting words are full of gratitude: “Thanks again for this help and for thinking broadly. I think this is very important.” 


If you are an LBTIQ refugee from Ukraine and are interested in ORAM’s Economic Empowerment Program, learn more and register here. 

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