Vladyslav Demonenko from Funt Coffee is the Ukraine’s 2019 Coffee In Good Spirits champion He explains on the strength of his coffee-loving community during an era of conflict in the country.
BY CAROLINE CORMIER
A SPECIAL OFFICE FOR BARISTA Magazine ONLINE
Cover image by Anna-Mariia Oriekhova
At just 25 Vladyslav Demonenko is already well-known within the coffee industry of Ukraine. Before he discovered the world of coffee, Valdyslav was a doctor. But he was able to see how much he adored the people behind coffee and he realized that he could be more his relaxed self while working in the field. He was enthralled by specialty coffees, particularly while working in a dessert shop known as DoubleDecker and eventually landed working at Funt Coffee in 2015.
In the last quarter of 2017 Vladyslav was named the company’s head barista. He’s won the national Coffee In Good Spirits (CIGS) championship in Ukraine twice, and represented his nation in Berlin in the year 2019 World of Coffee event, where he was ranked 7th in the world. Vlad as he is known to his friends was planning to compete on the international stage during the 2022 World of Coffee (WoC) event when Russia entered Ukraine on the 24th of February this year. As with millions of Ukrainians their world was suddenly destroyed.
I had the chance to talk to Vlad recently to find out more about the current situation in the city of Dnipro during the past few months. I also learned what his job as a barista as it relates to the conflict and what his opinions are regarding the future.
Caroline Cormier: Thank you for taking time to talk with me, especially considering the situation in Ukraine. Prior to the conflict, how did your daily routine appear like at Funt Coffee?
Vladyslav Demonenko: Well I’m the head barista of Funt which means I am in charge of sourcing coffee and making sure that the quality of the coffee within the company, and in particular the coffee bars we have. Within Dnipro, the city in Dnipro there are currently eight places where I manage the quality of the training of staff and create themed drinks. I also frequently explore and create new projects that are related to coffee. A recent project involved the creation of the first instant coffee that is specialized in Ukraine. It’s known as PUSK and it’s now quite well-known. In general, however I do am constantly working on multiple projects and I love it. Sometimes, I am looking for applicants for jobs. At other times I am looking for the top coffee beans in Central America or Africa.
Every day is a little different, but the typical day would begin by a visit to coffee shops, followed by a morning examination for the quality of beverages. I’d then go to the roastery to check the sample and then discuss the plans for the coming week with colleagues. This could be followed by a visit to the PUSK factory. For me, the best part of a day is getting together with friends for lunch and having an afternoon cup of coffee with them.
Would you be willing to share with us some details about how the life in Dnipro has been like since Russia invaded Ukraine?
I remember the beginning days of the war well. It was around five a.m. when I heard the sound of explosions for first time. In the beginning, I didn’t understand the significance of it at first, but shortly afterwards, my friend called me to inform me that the explosions had started. In the days prior we had discussed the possibility of war. We had even begun packing bags with the most important items in our lives–some clothes documents, documents, money insurance as well as food items for a couple of days in case we needed to evacuate the city fast.
It was all a bit surreal at first. I had woken on the 24th of February in stupor that the first thing I thought of was the cupping I’d planned for a group of us in one of our cafes later in the day. As soon as I stepped outside, I noticed how many people were rushing to get out. There were long lines at ATMs and gas stations. There was no understanding of what was happening and what was required to be done. The entire incident was alarming. The level of panic was sustained for several days and the city was largely empty as more more people fled to the west.
In the third or second day of war the volunteer centers were established in various locations throughout the city (and they’re still in operation to this day). The event that occurred there was amazing. All walks of life joined together. Some were part of familiar and established networks, but a lot were total strangers. Although parts of the city seemed empty, almost deserted, the centers were places in which allcame together to assist those at the front. This included preparing coffee, food and other necessities for those who were in frontlines.
We also created Molotov cocktails to help defend our city. Everybody was eager to help in any way they could and did it in the belief that they were working towards an overall goal. If I had to summarize it, I’d suggest there was an almost a feeling of joy in these centers. I was involved in the collection and sorting of donations of supplies that were needed and also provided coffee and food to those in need.
What do you think of your daily routine? What changed in the past few months?
As you could probably imagine, my everyday life has been a bit different and it’s always changing. Everybody around me is stressed 24/7. People are often exhausted and not able to rest at night because of the constant alarms and attacks. It was in the beginning common for someone to stay awake all night to alert everyone in case of danger and take them to the basement to seek shelter. There is now an official application that fulfills precisely this purpose, namely warning of air attacks and directing people to closest bomb shelters.
In the end, I believe you get used to the situation you’ve been pushed into, even although there’s a lot anxiety and confusion over what’s happening. I am fortunate to have friends there with me in this. We’ve been supporting each other since the beginning–especially those of us from the Ukraine coffee community. Since the beginning we began to meet regularly to discuss strategies and plans to think about ways we could help to save coffee shops and jobs in our industry.
You’ve also had the chance to put your medical training to good use during these months in Ukraine isn’t it?
Yes, I made the decision to not let my medical school on the shelf and I was aware that having an extra pair of hands wouldn’t be unnecessary. When the coffee shops in our area were shut, I worked at the burn centre in Dnipro where civilians as well as military personnel suffering from polytrauma and burns were admitted. I was in charge of things like dressing wounds and transporting patients, administering injections and other injections. These were all basic tasks however, given the sheer amount of patients in the hospital, they were required in large amounts. I was there for around three weeks , until I had enough nurses available to complete these tasks. Then, I brought thermoses filled with filter coffee to the doctors and patients.
The story will be continued on the following day.
A BIT ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caroline Cormier (she/her) is a freelance writer from Toronto, Canada. She is currently residing in Berlin, Germany, where she has been assisting local efforts to aid Ukrainians who have left for Berlin, the German capital. She is on Instagram at @ccormier_.
This article was first published at Barista Magazine, an online magazine dedicated to baristas and coffee professionals.