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Ukrainian refugees find new lives as coffee shop owners in Summerland

Andrew Murat and Julia Borysenko are the owners of Sunflower Ukrainian Cafe in Summerland.
Andrew Murat and Julia Borysenko are the owners of Sunflower Ukrainian Cafe in Summerland.

Running a cafe in Summerland is a nice change of pace for a Ukrainian refugee couple. 

They appreciate how safe new life feels these days, getting to serve up pastries and coffee in the South Okanagan. A decade ago, the couple and their three children were living the Donbas region of Ukraine – an area that’s been under attack by Russian forces for nearly a decade.

Now they are serving menu items at the Sunflower Ukrainian Cafe from traditional recipes that have been passed down for generations in the families of Julia Borysenko and Andrew Murat, who recently opened shop at 13229 Victoria Road in Summerland.

“All Ukrainian people make our traditional cakes, in each family you should know how,” Borysenko said.

Murat – who’s now a pastry chef – spent the first year of the conflict fighting for the Ukrainian army.

Image Credit: INSTAGRAM/sunfloweruacafe

The rest of the family fled to Poland before returning to their homeland to live in Kiev.

“We decided we want our kids to be in a safe country because we already had first war in Ukraine in 2014,” Borysenko said.

They never seriously considered moving somewhere as far away as Canada. But a friend of theirs who spent a month studying English in Toronto described the country as beautiful, and mentioned how there are special visas for Ukrainians.

“We researched the country and saw it was very nice and safe country with good opportunities for kids,” she said, adding that their oldest daughter, 17, is excited to start her first semester at Kwantlen Polytechnic University this fall.

Their other two children are 10 and 11 years old.

They feel grateful for the “big list” of people who have supported them since arriving in Canada. The family was able to move out to the Okanagan thanks to strangers they connected with through Facebook, allowing them to live rent-free for 1.5 months. And they were able to open the Sunflower Ukrainian Cafe thanks to the owners of Zia’s Stonehouse Restaurant in Summerland.

Borysenko said running the cafe feels like magic.

She was in Ukraine as recently as August 2022 – a relatively safe part of the country, she said, but the sound of sirens and alarms were still constant.

“You’re always waiting for something you never know what’s going to happen. Next moment, it’s terrible,” she said, adding that it’s often in the middle of the night when they sound the alarms.

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