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Yuliia escaped from Bucha, but her coffee shop was destroyed during the Russian occupation. Now she is bringing the place back to life

Yuliia Nichvoloda is 37 years old. She was born in Donetsk, moved to Kropyvnytskyi with her husband and five children in 2011, and then to Bucha in 2018. Back in Kropyvnytskyi, Yuliia got interested in coffee culture and became friends with a cozy coffee shop owner. In 2021, she opened in Bucha a coffee shop Jul’s Coffee, which became popular among families with children. Yuliia made her own coffee, prepared the signature tiramisu and made friends with many guests.

Yuliia Nichvoloda.
Photo from Jul’s Coffee Instagram page

On February 24, Yuliia and her family were in Bucha. They were able to leave only on March 10, after a week of occupation. The premises of her coffee shop were smashed, the roof shifted by 5 centimeters, the walls cracked, and inside, the Russians smashed the display case with desserts and destroyed almost all the equipment. In the summer, Yuliia was able to get to Jul’s Coffee and restore it.

Photo from Jul’s Coffee Instagram page
Photo from Jul’s Coffee Instagram page

Here is Yuliia’s story about the first days of the invasion, the occupation, and how the family is bringing itself and its business back to life.

Days of constant shelling

We didn’t believe in a full-scale invasion. On February 20, my husband and I discussed the possibility of leaving the city, because many people said that the war would begin. I asked him if he would go with us, he refused, and I didn’t want to leave without him.

On the morning of February 24, I didn’t hear the first explosions. My husband did but he didn’t wake us up. Later that day, he said that we would probably have to leave. I was against it: here is our house, work, our business. I thought that it was possible that the Russians would only attack military facilities, I didn’t believe that they would kill civilians. We decided to stay, set up a shelter under the stairs ― threw mattresses and pillows there. We had a power generator and enough food.

In the evening of February 24, we saw how much Hostomel was burning. We got a call from friends who had a well-protected basement in their house, so we went to them with the kids and the dog. We stayed there for a few days, until February 28. There were four people hiding in the basement, it was cold and damp. The children were coughing and the food stock was running out, so we decided to go home.

We went there on foot, and the shelling began, so we hid, crouched down, and walked slowly. Our coffee shop was already broken then.

I remember the night from March 2 to 3. The fighting began at six o’clock in the evening and lasted until the morning ― without stopping for a second. I wrote to my mother who lives in Donetsk: “I love you, kisses, but it’s unlikely that we will live to see the morning.” There were many planes, and it was scary, because you think: now they will drop bombs. My husband took our children to the neighbors, and I had to quickly pack our things.I walked around the house confused and didn’t know what to take ― it’s winter, it’s cold, and nobody knows, for how long we have to leave.

A man from the Territorial Defense came and warned that we couldn’t leave, because the Russians were already at the intersection of Instytutska and Vokzalna streets. We stayed. The gas went out on March 8, and I was joking that it’s hard to come up with a better gift for the Women’s Day.

We tried to stay together all the time. The children understood everything, even the four-year-old daughter asked: “Will these bad planes bomb us again?”. The children stayed together ― told each other fairy tales, drew little angels. And I still had cakes left for the coffee shop. So there was a new cake every day― like a celebration every time. There was a day when it was quiet. It was snowing, the children were running with the dogs, and it felt as if nothing had happened and everything around was just a terrible dream.

A chance to evacuate

On March 8, one of our neighbors managed to set up an antenna and catch the signal. We learned about a possible evacuation. It was clear that only women would go. We decided to stay again because of my husband.

On March 10, there were talks about evacuation again. I saw a convoy of cars trying to leave at their own risk. On the same day, I tried to go to my coffee shop.

As I was walking, a bullet flew over my head ― a sniper was sitting on the roof of the house. I don’t think he wanted to kill me, if he wanted to, he would have. He just scared me so I wouldn’t go there. 

I’ll never forget the horrors I saw then. There were people who had been shot, and no one even picked them up. I saw a car in which a man was shot.

Photo from Jul’s Coffee Instagram page

Already on the way back, I saw two tanks going along Instytutska Street. The Russians broke the cameras of whoever had them, shot through the windows, entered every house. We went through the backyard to the neighbors’ basement and hid there. The Russians went into our house, I decided that it was better to go and talk to them, because otherwise they would destroy the house. I raised my hands up, asked not to shoot, and showed them documents that I have five children. When I was allowed to enter the house, I could smell my husband’s perfume, so the first thing they did was using it.

The Russians said they had to confiscate weapons from the civilian population. I told them there were no weapons, and I asked where they were from, they answered that they were from Pskov. They were middle-aged, broad-shouldered, well-dressed, like professional paratroopers with good equipment. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t scared. Maybe [because of] adrenaline or the instinct of a mother who wanted to protect her children. Moreover, we did not know about the scale of the massacre, it appeared in the news later.

One of those Russians saw a picture of our little girl and told the others to leave. I asked them to help us leave, and they were surprised. Said: why do you want to leave? I explained that there is no water, electricity, gas, communication, children are coughing. To which they replied that we should go. I told them that it’s impossible as the cars were being shot.

And they said that we had time until 5 o’clock and that today the order was not to shoot at the civilian population. We packed our things in half an hour.

Our escape ended up in Cyprus. My husband joined us ― he is allowed to leave Ukraine as a father of five children. Despite being in safety, we longed to come back to Bucha as soon as the situation would allow.

Time for restoration

On July 1, I returned to Ukraine. My husband did this a little earlier. Our baristas Ruslan and Alona also came back. They helped to rebuild the coffee shop. The walls were cracked, the ceiling shifted, but it was still there. We are still slowly restoring it ― we ordered a glass for displaying desserts, because how can it be without desserts? We used to have flowers in pots, and my husband found very similar ones. We installed a diesel generator [to cope with power outages caused by shellings].

Now I’m very grateful, because this coffee shop is like my child. During construction, we took everything into account ― to make it convenient to drive in with a stroller and take a coffee with you, because I am a mother myself. I made sure that it was comfortable here. And the guests treat me as I treat them ― they are my friends.

Those who cannot see their life without their city should return there. And don’t expect that state will do everything for them. If you want to live in a nice house, you take a broom and a shovel, plant flowers.

I wanted to restore everything and the desire to do better was higher than fear and bad memories from the past. I wanted to give people love and happiness, as we all need support now. I also have a new dream, which gives me the inspiration to keep working. I want to make a playground in our park so that the children have their childhood, so that they can smile and be happy.