Imagine not only setting up a new arm of your business, with all the usual challenges that might entail, but one where your colleagues are based in another country and the target market doesn’t speak your first language, while your established business back home is contending with the danger and disruption of a full-scale war.

This is the situation Marija Rubtsova found herself in when the war began in Ukraine, driving her to leave the country with her young daughter and travel for months to find a place to settle down and rebuild Rubarb, the digital marketing agency she co-owns and had worked in for over seven years back home.

With mostly Ukrainian clients, their work ground to a complete halt following the first strikes in Kyiv on 24th February 2022.

After an emergency meeting with the team in their offices – which are based in Cherkasy, a city in central Ukraine about three hours’ drive from the capital – Marija and her colleagues called all their clients to put Rubarb’s many projects on hold, knowing that everything would be determined by what happened in the coming days and weeks.

Marija and her daughter’s first day in the UK

“We had known that something might happen about two weeks before the war started, so we had planned for me to go somewhere else with my daughter, as my husband couldn’t go,” explains Marija. “My parents-in-law lived in Israel so we wanted to head there, but the borders were still closed because of Covid at that time.”

Via Moldova, Romania and Greece, Marija and her daughter Eva eventually arrived safely in Israel but were only given 30-day visas. Realising they couldn’t stay, Marija began to make plans that would work for both her family and her business.

While Eva waited with the family in Israel, Marija explored options in Poland and Germany: navigating taxes, visiting businesses and trying to establish whether a similar target market to what they had back in Ukraine could make Rubarb viable there.

She was surprised to discover that many businesses didn’t use much digital technology, particularly the small and medium companies that Rubarb usually worked with. During this time, the team in Ukraine were gradually returning to work and looking further afield for clients amidst the huge disruption across their country.

Part of the Rubarb team in summer 2021

They found the opposite problem in the US and Canada, which had great opportunities for digital marketing but highly competitive rates, plus the significant time difference which made it hard to work collaboratively. Marija was keen to stay closer to home and hadn’t previously considered the UK because of the strict visa regulations and high living costs, but when she came across the Homes for Ukraine scheme, things started to fall into place.

“When we started talks with the UK, we understood that we were culturally more similar to them than the USA and Canada – people were more open, and we could speak the same language – so I thought it would be great for my daughter and my business.”

Now living with a family in Oughtibridge, Marija and Eva have gradually adjusted to life in the UK, though not without the inevitable complications. From the little things – “when you grow up in a country, you understand every little thing, like how the medicines work or, for me, that you had to pay for parking!” – to understanding Sheffield’s economy in order to give Rubarb the best chance of success, Marija has forged ahead with vision and determination.

Rubarb covers all the bases you would expect from an established digital marketing agency: web design, branding, strategies and more, but for now their UK focus is video animation. The visual element of this format overcomes the initial language barrier but it’s also first and foremost a great marketing tool, no matter where you work in the world.

Marija in Germany in April 2022

“All social media now is about video, and everyone needs them,” says Marija. “We draw everything as we have our own illustrator and animation team, so we can create videos for any businesses without needing to visit the premises in person.

“We have three main styles of video animation: 3D for luxury brands, 3D animation – which is ideal for showing clients how your equipment works and why they might need it, in manufacturing for example – and the classic animation in 2D. You can use the whole video or shorter clips for different forms of advertising, as well as individual elements of the animation in other marketing materials such as banners, so it becomes a multi-purpose resource. It’s a great investment for businesses and here in the UK there aren’t many competitors.

“The way we approached the UK was to target existing marketing agencies and offer them our services so they could outsource to us, rather than trying to work directly with clients who weren’t necessarily interested in a company from elsewhere that they didn’t know and trust. We’re also priced very competitively so agencies can use those services for a lot less than paying an in-house team to do the same types of digital marketing.

“From our point of view, how you market your business is not about your services, it’s about your company and how the brand looks to other people, who might go on your website and want clear communication rather than a lot of technical detail. It’s also important to understand your business’ specific goals and routes to market – for example, do you want to grow your client numbers, or for existing customers to come back again – which is essential to create effective marketing.”

At the Doncaster Women in Business showcase

Rubarb are also looking at offering research services to complement their existing offering in the future, driven by their experience of businesses struggling to fully understand their competitors and target markets.

Alongside these ambitions and taking the huge step into a brand-new market, Marija and her team have of course faced many obstacles in the last year, not least translating all their own social media and marketing assets into English.

The 16 people who have remained with the business throughout the war are still in Ukraine, effectively making Marija a sole trader here in the UK. She describes it as being “like a start up” and does lots of networking to find new clients, having recently joined the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce to expand her reach.

“I just want to enable Rubarb to continue doing what we do best by looking at different opportunities here,” explains Marija. “It’s not just about having a few marketing videos, it’s about how we can help businesses grow and move in the right direction, using the opportunities that digital services offer. In Sheffield, there are many businesses who are still following old ways of doing things and I want to help them change this by encouraging them to expand across different markets. I love that element of my job; it’s what I’m passionate about.”


Actively working in the UK since September 2022, Rubarb is now functioning as normally as possible in Ukraine too, although they have had the electricity cut off multiple times and moved to a different office with a generator to avoid further disruption. “In Ukraine people aren’t afraid of the sirens now,” says Marija. “When I call my colleagues to have a meeting, they just carry on if the sirens go off. We understand that we need to continue, even under our difficult circumstances.”

You can contact Rubarb through LinkedIn via Marija Rubtsova or on Instagram
Their UK office is based on the Sheffield Digital Campus and the contact number is 07716 133 949.