News agency 'Vchasno'

«We Waited Because the Frightened Crowd Would Just Crush Two Children»: How Entrepreneur from Avdiivka Under Fire Saved Business and Family

Ilya Poberezhnyi from Avdiivka (Donetsk oblast of Ukraine) is a well-known local entrepreneur, local residents liked to have coffee in his place. Without graduating from school, he became one of the best entrepreneurs in his city, gained the glory of DJ, and became a wonderful dad to two daughters. And despite the success, he had to revive his business almost from scratch when the war threatened the life of the whole family.

Ilya`s career began long before he became the owner of several cafes in Avdiivka. At the age of 10−12, he collected metal in the city and handed it to scrap. He had considerable earnings, but in a day he had to pull to the point of sale several hundred kilograms from all areas of Avdiivka. He tells journalists of «Vchasno» that it made him stronger.

«I wanted to work on myself rather than earn money for someone on a new car»

«I am from a dysfunctional family. I had to do a lot of work for money. At first, I collected metal in the city and handed it over, and in 12−13 on the market, I began to sell the incense and jewelry from the shells (at that time my sister began to do it). Then I worked as a waiter, and when turned 18 — as the manager of the restaurant. But I understood that I do a lot of things that could bring money directly to me, not my executives, and I decided to create my own business. To work on myself, not to earn money on someone's car.

In 2014 I came to Donetsk. I saw that there were no prospects there, and went further to look for my place. Found it in Avdiivka. But at first, we were fixing the roofs there — after the shelling and in general at the request. So I worked out the starting capital (30 thousand hryvnias) and together with a friend we opened a business.

In general, I dreamed of becoming a DJ. But at that time, these were rare performances in clubs when they opened in the city or conducted any events, and therefore left the case as a hobby. I became a bartender, a barista, and a manager," Ilya Poberezhnyi recalls.

In the beginning, there was one coffee machine and a coffee maker. Even no refrigerator.

«I remember how happy I was after the first 10 sold coffee portions. And over time, two or three kilograms of coffee were sold on the day. In the morning, people stood in line on the street for the coffee,» Ilya recalls.

Over time, Ilya and his friend went separate ways. Then Ilya had to slow down — to close the two points and leave the main. But there he realized his skills completely — added new drinks, author's coffee, and the most popular «cool» inquiries. At that moment he continued his DJ career, at this work he met his wife. He jokes that she is the only girl who waited until 5 in the morning on New Year's Eve when he was working."

«In Avdiivka, the war has never ended, but life goes on»

Despite the fact that Avdiivka has been under fire since 2014 and from time to time there were shellings, Ilya's business was successful. The man adds that people got tired of hiding pretty soon. And he understood that the war was not a taboo for life.

«To hide somewhere, to run away is not a way out. I understand when people leave cities that are regularly shelled. But when they leave settlements that take hits from time to time, no. So I took a chance and continued work. And I didn’t lose,» Ilya says.

From 2014 to 2022 he never left his hometown. Due to the reputation, a large number of acquaintances did not even think to close the cafe. Even when the first explosions were heard in 2022, he went to sell coffee every day.

The line for water from the night, gas — to heat up: the realities of life from February 24th

Ilya says that in the first days of a full-scale invasion sales of coffee fell by 50−60%, then another 10%, and lasted at the point of 30−40% of what was until February 24.

«When the first shell hit Avdiivka in early March, people began to leave the city massively. In a few days or weeks, 80% of the population left. And I looked at it and thought: everywhere panic, crowd, frightened people. And I have two young children — one daughter is three years old, the other — six. This crowd will just crush them. And we decided to wait and go later, when everything will be a little calmer. Because sooner or later this hype would have disappeared. And for me the frightening crowd is worse than shelling,» the entrepreneur says.

Ilya remembers those days clearly: the morning began for him at 4−5 in the morning. He was the first in the line for the water to the well (because there was no centralized water supply since February 17 — the water supply system, he said, was destroyed). Even at that time, it was possible to stand in the queue for 40 minutes, until all the people behind were fetching water.

«We are already used to the fact that we do not have water regularly. Because shelling interrupted the water supply from time to time. Fortunately, the well is near the house.

And in Avdiivka, every resident of the city, unlike other Ukrainians, always has a large stock of drinking water. Just in case. There are big water bottles with water. Can you imagine what will happen if suddenly the water supply is cut off in other regions? In Kyiv, Dnipro? What will those people do? It is good if there is a place to get water. And in what bottle to pour it?" - Ilya asks.

It was easier to warm up, as the entrepreneur says, due to the fact that there was gas at home. Then the family put thick metal on the gas, it heated up and warmed the room. The water was not heated, so as not to create excess moisture so that the walls of the apartment would not start to mold.

Then, around 6 in the morning, Ilya went to the market to buy groceries. And already at seven o'clock, he opened a coffee shop. At that time, from seven in the morning until lunchtime, 70−80 customers consistently came for coffee.

«On shelling it was possible to check the watches — when the Russians start and finish shoot»

Work continued under the sound of shelling. When it first hit the store in Avdiivka, Ilya miraculously survived — because the shell hit the roof of the premises 50 meters from the Poberezhnyi’s coffee house.

According to the entrepreneur, Russian aviation worked by the hour — shelling began at about 6 in the morning.

«Sometimes I was getting ready to go to the market, heard something quiet. I found it weird. Then heard „bang, bang“! I look at the clock — 6:06. They did this instead of „good morning“ and an alarm clock. All the time they fired at us at the same hours,» the businessman says.

Ilya says that after a few weeks, all the locals learned to distinguish not only what arrived by sounds, but also to navigate how far the hit was.

«Of course, in the city, it is difficult to find the direction, because the sound is reflected from the walls. But learned more or less when a shell hit closer — people went to the basements and hid in the houses. And when it didn’t hit so close, people continued to do what they were doing,» the man recalls.

Aviation was also in action — but the planes did not fly into the territory of Avdiivka, but rose into the sky over Donetsk and fired at Avdiivka from there.

«We left on time when there was electricity»

The Poberezhnyi family decided to leave Avdiivka after provocations began in Kramatorsk. By that time, the evacuation had already subsided, but blackouts became more often.

«Before we left, there was still electricity in Avdiivka. But disappeared from time to time. And my work depends on it — and the coffee maker is powered by electricity and other equipment. And not every electric generator, even if I buy it, can pull such a load.

Plus, I understood that it was not an option for my young children to see it all. Then my friends suggested moving to Selydove (Donetsk oblast), taking premises, and relocating the equipment to make coffee further. I agreed. It was not possible to take out all the equipment, but I took the main things — a coffee maker, a coffee machine, and coffee supplies. Already here, two weeks later, we made an emergency repair of the premises and cut through the window. Went to Zaporizhia to buy the door. And I opened a café here," Ilya says.

The decision was very timely — the next day an enemy shell broke the transformer at the plant and the electricity disappeared for a week. Then there was a second hit. People were already informed: that there will be no renovation, so no more electricity in Avdiivka.

Although there is a considerable amount of equipment left in the city, Ilya is no longer ready to risk his life for it — not when there are three women behind him.

«I am responsible for three women — a wife and little daughters. Now the main thing for me is that they live normally.»