Vadym Granovskiy: The man fuelling Ukraine’s war effort
Benedict Smith speaks with Vadym Granovskiy, the founder of Coffee In Action, whose supply of coffee is helping keep up the morale of Ukraine’s soldiers.
When Vadym Granovskiy first picked up a Kalashnikov, he knew it wasn’t for him.
A barista, and café owner by trade, he, like so many others, had seen his world turned upside down by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February this year.
His Kyiv-based specialty coffee shop, Coffee In Action, was forced to close as Russians encircled Ukraine’s capital and Vadym had little choice but to move his family across the border into Poland.
Just three days of training in Ukraine’s territorial defence were enough for him to discover that his skills could be put to better use away from the battlefield. He says the realisation of exactly what he could do came when friends training in other military units started requesting his coffee.
“I have no military experience,” he says. “I received a bit of tactical medical care and combat training, some shooting practice; but it would have taken months to turn me into a soldier. Some people can generate way more good for the country by doing what they do professionally. So I started to put together these coffee care packages to send to friends.”
The packages were simple: bags of pre-ground coffee, metal cups, portable burners, and “indestructible” cezves: small brewing devices made from copper and heat-treated, military-grade carbon steel – the same material you would find on a machine gun.
Before long, the concept had caught the attention of Ukraine’s security forces academy and the Ministry of Culture who recognised its potential in a conflict that showed few signs of stopping.
“We started to send kilos and kilos of good-quality coffee to soldiers,” Vadym explains. “I started to write about it and send pictures. People started to donate. I went to some military bases to show them how to prepare coffee and talk to them. It felt that what we were doing was important, it was needed.”
‘Struggling to keep up with demand’
Just before the conflict’s outbreak, Vadym had big plans.
In addition to his coffee shop, Coffee In Action was making a name for itself in the world of corporate catering.
Vadym and his team had worked on a number of projects with the likes of Microsoft, Mastercard, and British American Tobacco. He had served coffee to guests of President Zelensky’s wife at the First Ladies Summit. And more recently, he was on the brink of launching a specialty coffee shop inside a Lexus showroom.
The collaboration with the Japanese car manufacturer had already seen the introduction of a double espresso with orange and pomegranate juice – named the Flat Red – which drew visitors from far and wide. The in-store coffee shop was to be the next step in a fruitful, long-term relationship.
But with Kyiv under threat of Russian attack, Vadym has had to abandon the plans with Lexus and put a number of his other business partnerships on hold.
“We have a ready-to-be-opened coffee shop in a Lexus showroom in Kyiv,” he explains. “We wanted to connect with our audience appreciating premium cars. For the time being, it is frozen.”
Now, with London as his new base, his sole mission is to keep the army topped up with coffee. By his most recent estimates, he has shipped more than two tonnes of coffee to various military units across the country and hundreds of cezves. And with the word spreading, Vadym says they are struggling to keep up with demand.
“We used to supply in one-kilo bags,” he says. “But they asked us to supply 250g bags instead so that they could distribute them among the soldiers and make it easier for them to carry. That way you also keep it fresh for longer. A unit would get a shipment of let’s say 20 bags and each soldier would have one.
“We have official requests from the military – but we can’t meet the demand.”
Serving specialty coffee to the Ukrainian military may seem like an unusual expense. While Vadym says the blend they developed “only scores around 83”, it is far from the soluble instant coffee that one might expect during wartime.
Yet it’s not just about the caffeine-induced kick – although Coffee In Action’s blend certainly does offer one. A significant part of the focus, from the cezves to the portable burners to the coffee itself, is built around the idea of morale.
“Ukrainian soldiers are usually older and cultured,” Vadym explains. “A lot of people come from backgrounds in business and IT. Before the war, Ukraine had a vibrant specialty coffee culture. It still exists, but many of the people who enjoy good-quality coffee are now fighting.”
It makes a lot of sense: coffee is a relatively simple luxury, but, for many, it represents a slice of normal life.
Providing soldiers with a continual supply of Coffee In Action’s blend shows that the state still cares about their needs and understands the sacrifice they are making to defend their country. To raise further awareness and generate funds, Vadym is now trying to garner support from other countries by holding lectures, brewing workshops, and charity events. He calls it “coffee diplomacy”.
“Every Ukrainian soul has to fight now and everyone is fighting their own war,” he says. “My war is to get cezves and coffee to soldiers.”
Would you like to support his cause? For every cezve bought via their online store, Coffee In Action will provide one free to a Ukrainian soldier or medic. Find out more.