A borrowed coffee pot, a tiny space in a busy Lviv street and Ivan Demchenko, who only seven weeks ago was a political science student, began to make the chain of Americanos and Lavender Lattes.
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Within days, word-of-mouth made Ivan and Friends’ newly opened café a hot spot. Some customers had told on social networks their adventure, that of young people from the devastated suburbs of kyiv who started from scratch having opened their business.
Between orders, Ivan recounts how he and his colleague, Serguiï Stoyan, fled the Ukrainian capital in the early hours of the Russian invasion on February 24.
Arriving in Lviv, in the west of the country, they first volunteered for the benefit of other displaced people. Quickly running out of money, they had to come up with a plan B.
Ivan, 19, looked for work. But “I only found one,” he explains, paid just under fifteen euros for a 12-hour day.
Serguiï Stoïan, entrepreneur and youtubeur, older than 31, had a better idea.
Before the war, they had both worked in a café in Boutcha, a town now devastated. Ivan prepared the coffees, Serguii supplied him with pastries.
Serguiï had long dreamed of having his own establishment in Irpin, his hometown, which was also destroyed. Without capital, fearing to fail, he had always backed down.
“But now we have nothing more to lose,” smiled the young man.
“Support these people”
Without money for the rent, with barely enough hryvnias to buy their raw material, they opened the Kiit café, a tribute to Serhiï’s cat left behind.
In the small space opening onto the street, a microwave and bricks of oat milk sit enthroned. “The people of Lviv are very helpful. They gave us almost everything, ”says the youtuber.
The two commuters were joined by their friend Daryna Mazour, 21. A student of applied mathematics, she returned from exile in Poland to help them: “I was going to become a programmer, now I make pies”.
The invasion of Ukraine has displaced more than 10 million people at home and abroad, according to the United Nations. Many left with only one or two backpacks. The conflict has already destroyed entire towns, including those of Serguii and Ivan.
The political science student says he was lucky to escape the occupation of his town of Borodianka. His parents and his 12-year-old sister, who left a week after him, barely got out. Their apartment was destroyed.
As for Serguiï, he briefly returned to Irpin. To find his apartment without windows, with obvious traces of an intrusion at his home. Kiit, the feline, was nowhere to be found. Instead, Serguii bumped into a neighbor wearing one of his sweatshirts.
Far from Irpin and Borodianka, in the center of war-spared Lviv, customers throng to the small skylight of the café des Trois Amis.
Olga Milkhassieva came to place an order with her husband Rostislav and their five-month-old son, Maksym. The young mother, also evacuated from kyiv, says she just wants to “support these people, because we know what is going on”.
Elina, 31, is originally from Lviv, but this is the first time that this bank employee has ventured into the city center since the start of the war.
“It’s very difficult to drink coffee as if nothing had happened,” she continues, fingers tight around her steaming cup. “But we have to support businesses and the economy.”