Many people do an MBA in pursuit of career opportunities, a stronger professional network, or personal development. For Mariya Tsybulnyk, it’s a gateway to a new life. Tsybulnyk has found a home in Ivey’s MBA program after an unsettling year of temporary living arrangements since fleeing her hometown of Kharkiv, Ukraine in March 2022 to escape the Russia-Ukraine war.
And although the circumstances that led her to Ivey were unfortunate, the chance to gain knowledge and skills to forge a new career path or help Ukraine to rebuild is a welcome sign of light after an unexpectedly dark year.
“When you are displaced, it feels like everything you achieved and everything you had is gone. Now it’s like I was in a dark room and someone gave me a hand,” she said. “I’m very grateful for this opportunity. Ivey believed in me and that is the best thing that could happen to me, other than to be able to turn back the bad events of this year.”
A former pediatrician, Tsybulnyk had become interested in business and was working with a hotel and restaurant complex in Kharkiv and considering post-graduate business education when the war broke out. But her path to Ivey has been far from direct. In fact, she’s had an adventurous journey full of new people, places, and experiences that – although not planned – has satisfied her desire to try new things.
A life upturned
It all started five days after Russia invaded Ukraine. Tsybulnyk was seeking shelter with others in the cold, damp basement of her workplace while explosions erupted nearby. When a friend with a car offered Tsybulnyk and her mother a chance to escape, they took it. The group drove to the western side of Ukraine not knowing where they would end up, temporarily staying with relatives. Eventually Tsybulnyk made her way to the U.S., while her mother remained in Ukraine.
After spending five months in the U.S., mostly in Washington, D.C., again staying with distant relatives and friends, Tsybulnyk set her sights on Canada in hope of finding employment. She was unable to work in the U.S. on a tourist visa and even small items, such as coffee and subway tickets, were 30 to 50 times more expensive than they were in Ukraine so her Ukrainian money didn’t go far once switched to U.S. currency.
Tsybulnyk reached out to a family friend in Toronto who agreed to host her and she later found work as a client advisor with RBC.
A door opens
Tsybulnyk heard about Ivey’s MBA program while in Toronto. She applied and was thrilled to be accepted with a scholarship to offset tuition costs. Tsybulnyk said she was interested in Ivey to expand her business skills and meet new people, especially students from other countries with diverse backgrounds. Tsybulnyk has travelled to 28 countries and speaks three languages and she was eager to hear about her classmates’ business experiences in other parts of the world.
“Ivey offers a lot of different learning experiences and the chance to work with people from different backgrounds,” she said. “I’ve really engaged with some of the students who are from some of the countries I’ve visited.”
Tsybulnyk has also contributed by sharing insights from her experiences in both health care and business. Originally trained as a pediatrician, she decided not to pursue a career as a doctor after serving as a resident physician at a children’s hospital. Business interested her and she launched an Instagram shop selling skincare as well as created and taught a course for children on the structure and systems of the human body. While working in the hospitality industry, she became interested in learning more about strategy and was considering business school. Then the war forced her to leave it all behind.
Applying her learning
But now Tsybulnyk says she can see that what she’s learned from all of her experiences can be applied at Ivey and to a future career path. She is especially thrilled to have been accepted into the Ivey LEADER Project and looks forward to teaching in another country.
“I feel that everything I’ve learned before coming to Ivey now makes sense. I was uncertain because I was doing so many things, but now I feel I can apply it all, especially what I’ve learned from my travelling about different parts of the world and different people’s perspectives,” she said. I struggled at one period of time with my decision to not pursue a career as a doctor, but at that time, I wasn’t ready to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to keep on learning and gaining new skills.”
Inspired by resilience
Tsybulnyk even discussed some of the past year's challenges as a guest speaker for an HBA class. She shared two stories of resilience that have inspired her. One was that a neonatal hospital she used to work for was forced to evacuate its patients to the basement and continue to operate to the best of its ability, while surrounding buildings were attacked by missiles. Another is the fortitude of the Ukrainian soldiers at war, many who were ordinary citizens and became soldiers overnight. One was her friend’s father who was killed in action earlier this year.
“I would not be here, if it weren’t for the soldiers. Our city would have been captured for sure. I’m so grateful for those who are fighting for our future,” she said.
Tsybulnyk remains connected to Ukraine, regularly speaking with family and volunteering as an online tutor to help Ukrainian youth learn English.
A fresh start
And while she hopes to one day return to Ukraine to help with its recovery, for now she wants to see where life takes her.
“I imagine going back home every day, but I don’t know what it will look like. I first need to understand what I wish to bring back. I’m trying to understand what kind of an environment I’d like to work in, what kind of work culture I want, and my purpose,” she said. "I miss my family and my country, but so many people here have supported me. My Ivey group is like my family and I think the relationships I’ve made will last for years.”