Olga Boiko at CoffeeShop on 21st Street. Photo taken by Annika Hom, December 2021.

Olga Boiko was watching a Club Fugazi show one Friday night when she was interrupted by a text message. When Boiko clicked open the link to an article, she was shocked. Her home country of Ukraine was under attack. 

“I don’t remember half of the show. I just started shaking. I’m just like, ‘This is war.’  You know?” said Boiko, whose brother and other family members still live in Ukraine.

Boiko left Ukraine in 2008 to attend Golden Gate University’s business school, which later gave her the chops to open CoffeeShop, at 3139 Mission St., in 2012. Later, she and her co-owner/husband, Wilson Jones, opened another location at 2761 21st St., where she often served homemade pastries for her clients and bite-sized dog treats for their pets. 

That quickly changed. CoffeeShop would no longer just serve the Mission, but the Ukrainian community on the other side of the world, as well. 

“You know, the first day, you’re cruising around, and you don’t understand how everything here is normal. Like, people drinking coffee and complaining about their espresso shots, and there is, like, this horror and hell. How is it even possible? It’s a distortion of reality,” she said. 

Boiko launched a series of campaigns. First, the shop announced that proceeds from special items would be donated to the Ukrainian armed forces and shelters that assist women and children. Some of these items included tote bags with CoffeeShop sketches on them, yellow and blue shortbread cookies, and bags of coffee beans decorated with a picture of the nation’s flag and labeled “Ukraine.” In the first few weeks, the campaign earned $3,000. 

The progress calmed Boiko’s nerves a little. “When you take action, when you start working, it helps. I remind everyone we have to be strong and be together to be a resource for the families who need us,” she said. 

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Her own family in Ukraine illustrated that perfectly. Boiko starts off each morning with a call to her relatives, asking what they need, how the situation is and, of course, if they’re safe. With the 10-hour time difference, sometimes her relatives tell Boiko war developments she has not yet learned, like when the Ukranian nuclear power plant was attacked. Other times, Western news sites break news, and she fills them in on Russia’s latest strategies. “I think my body is here, but my mind and my heart is there all the time,” Boiko said. 

Not long after the initial attacks, Boiko’s brother sent his wife and daughter to Poland. Her 10-year-old niece, though geographically safe, is still triggered by loud noises; when she hears them, she has recently begun leaping out of bed. Staying apart from her father is emotionally difficult, too. “She’s really worried and wants to be with her dad, as any other kid. They want to have the family together. And that’s not possible, because guys can’t get out of the country.”

Not that her brother wanted to leave, anyway. “This is our house. This is our land. We’re going to stay here,” he told Boiko. In phone conversations, she convinced him not to join the armed forces — “he’s never held a gun, so I was like, ‘this is not a good idea’” — and seemingly obliging, he instead took a role evacuating Ukranians away from the country’s “hot-zones” to the border. He also transports resources to those in need on the ground.

This way, Boiko learned what those in her country most need. By March, Boiko extended CoffeeShop’s Ukranian efforts, and posted a flyer requesting tourniquets, cotton pads, sleeping bags, flashlights, ballistic helmets, and emergency compression bandages. “Help Ukraine,” the flyer said, next to a picture of the country’s flag. She promised to deliver all the items to those in Sumy, Ukraine, which is 100 kilometers from the Russian border and where Boiko grew up. 

These efforts linked her with other Ukranians who wound up in San Francisco and wished to donate to humanitarian efforts there, too. It’s these bright spots of solidarity — and coffee — that get Boiko through a dark time. Boiko said the support she feels when she spots the Ukraine flag hanging from old Victorians or the colossal protest held at the Embarcadero is hard to describe. She beams with pride when recounting how her 9-year-old started buying the newspaper at their local liquor store to stay updated on news, and how she drew pictures on a sign for a Ukrainian rally. 

“I just hope this is going to be over very soon.”

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article, Annika. I’ll try to drop into one or both of her shops soon. Very glad to contribute with a cuppa or two.

  2. Hi neighbors and friends,

    Most definitely. Olga Boiko, her husband, Wilson Jones, and their family are truly amazing! We love them dearly and we’re thrilled that CoffeeShop is also located on 21st Street. Be sure to stop in and enjoy their unique and delicious coffee, delightful treats and definitely cool company!! 🙂

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