By Dean Vaglia
Leader Staff Writer
Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine on Feb. 24 — an increase to hostilities that began with the 2014 annexation of Crimea and fighting in Ukraine’s Donbass region — people around the world have watched on, hoping to help however they can. For Oxford community member Victor Kulesh, the conflict hits closer to home.
“I was born in Ukraine and grew up there,” Kulesh said. “I went to college in Kyiv until I was 25 and then I moved to the U.S. and spent the next 25 years here.”
Kulesh, owner of Harvester Coffee, Sweets & Eats, is helping Ukrainian refugees by fundraising.
“Since things started going really bad, we decided ‘Let’s help the people out,’” Kulesh said. “There is nothing we can really do to stop the war, but lots of people have to leave the country or have to leave their homes.”
Though the idea started as a fundraiser, Kulesh did not feel right only accepting money.
“I am not a person who will just ask for money, so I said ‘We will give you something, we will bake some cakes or some chocolates,’” Kulesh said. “We started the fundraiser and over the night, the response was super overwhelming.”
Through people placing orders for pies, cakes, pastries and chocolates, Harvester Coffee has raised around $2,500, about half of which has been spent helping refugees leave Ukraine.
“We send [the money] to specific people in need of help,” Kulesh said.
People helped by the donations include a woman with three kids who fled to a village; when she said the money was running out, donors were able to provide her with “a few hundred dollars” to help. Another person helped is an 18 year old woman who fled to neighboring Romania. Since her family is in Germany, Kulesh was able to send “several hundred dollars” to cover her journey across Europe. Kulesh was also able to provide some cash to families from Kyiv that lost their homes, allowing them to pay rent and buy groceries.
While transferring money can be a hassle, Kulesh was able to send funds and convert dollars into hryvnia without fees.
“Every penny we collected goes straight to the recipients,” Kulesh said.
Kulesh’s daughters have worked tirelessly filling the donation orders since early March. While Kulesh plans on opening another set of donation orders, though it will be a while before that happens.
“They were doing a lot of baking after school and over the weekends,” Kulesh said. “I think I will give them a couple of weeks of break, and I think we will choose a couple of items like chocolate or some pies that will be available [for donation orders.]”
Harvester Coffee is at 150 S. Washington St. and is open from is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
“I just want to thank all of the people, both locally and around the world, that stood up for people,” Kulesh said. “Many people in Europe opened their homes and helped, and just the support for women and children of Ukraine was just incredible … I just want to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart.”