Alcohol formula

Former Ukrainian-Russian NYC bar owners sell regional booze for war efforts

For Oleg “Ollie” Sakhno and his wife, Olga, Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is personal and almost too much to bear.

Ollie grew up in Kiev, Ukraine, and Olga in Leningrad, Russia – and although their home countries are opposites, they are united against Putin’s brazen attack.

“It would be like the United States invading Canada. We are closest in blood, culture and economic ties. We are alike. We eat the same food,” Olga said of Russians and Ukrainians.

The couple, owners of the Keuka Kafe wine bar in Forest Hills, Queens, have put Ukrainian beer and wine on the menu, which they sell to raise money to help the Ukrainian people.

“Every penny from the sale of Ukrainian drinks will go to charitable groups helping the Ukrainian people,” Ollie said.

While Sakhno said Putin’s interference in Ukrainian affairs was obvious, he was taken aback by the unprovoked attack on his homeland.

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“When I first heard about the invasion, I had tears in my eyes. For me, it was a complete shock. A full-scale invasion of a country in a world with the Internet and where events can be seen in real time?!” Ollie said.

Olga and Oleg “Ollie” Sakhno, owners of the Keuka Kafe wine bar in Queens, were “completely in shock” after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Dennis A. Clark

But Ollie said Putin may have underestimated the resilience of the Ukrainian people.

“There will be strong resistance. Ukrainians are known for this,” he said, reminding people of their heroic battles in World War II.

“Russian soldiers won’t have a safe place to sleep at night in Ukraine – and they know it. Ukrainians have a lot of pride.

Ollie Sakhno, seen here with his uncle and sister, grew up in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Provided by Oleg Sakhno

He said Putin was mad as a fox. He complained that the sanctions announced by President Biden are insufficient to stop the madman, who calculated that the inflation-battered West would not challenge him.

His relatives in Kiev are nervous.

“I spoke to my cousin in Kiev. Every time a bomb goes off, his family goes down to the basement. It’s very scary. You see the pictures of the main streets where I grew up and they are empty,” the bar owner said.

Ollie, 53, fled Ukraine aged 21, before the Soviet Union collapsed and the locals tasted freedom.

Olga, 49, left Leningrad in Russia when she was 16 and communism still reigned.

Ollie and Olga were among the 2 million Jews who emigrated from the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, seeking a better life and freedom in the United States and elsewhere.

It turns out that they both eventually landed in Queens, fell in love, got married, and opened their own wine bar near their home.

Olga, who is also a teacher at Information Technology HS in Long Island City, said
Russian Americans are “shocked and appalled” by Putin’s invasion.

Keuka Kafe Wine Bar in Forest Hills, Queens now offers Ukrainian beer and wine.
Keuka Kafe Wine Bar in Forest Hills, Queens now offers Ukrainian beer and wine.
Google Maps

Both expressed concern over the Russian military’s takeover of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which leaked massive amounts of radiation in 1986 following an explosion. Ollie and his family had to evacuate and relocate following the environmental disaster.

War is no abstraction for the Sakhno couple, who have an 18-year-old daughter, Bekka. Their parents and grandparents were displaced during World War II as Jews sought refuge from the Nazis.

Ollie said Ukraine is a much better place now than when he lived there when it was a Soviet republic.

Bekka, Olga and Oleg “Ollie” Sakhno at their bar in Queens.
Dennis A. Clark

“I left before the collapse of communism,” he said.

He said Jews under Soviet rule were treated as second-class citizens, with religious discrimination preventing them from getting coveted jobs.

“It was obvious, as a Jew growing up, you would be treated differently,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Ollie Sakhno claims Russian President Vladimir Putin underestimated Ukrainians’ willingness to surrender without a hard fight.
SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

But Ollie remembers first visiting his homeland in 2008 and marveling at a country transformed for the better, after the Soviet Union.

“Kiev was dynamic. There were a lot of new towers and restaurants,” he said.

“People felt liberated. The Ukrainian flag hung everywhere. There were more people who spoke Ukrainian than when I was growing up.

The screen shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy performing the national anthem during the celebration of the 28th Independence Day in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kiev, capital of Ukraine, August 24, 2019.
Oleg “Ollie” Sakhno was impressed by the miraculous change in Kyiv since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ukrinform / Barcroft Media

He said Ukraine was on a “very good path” under President Volodymyr Zelensky, who he said is Jewish.

“Zelensky has implemented a lot of good reforms. They were heading to other European countries on an equal footing,” he said.

Putin must not be allowed to destroy this progress, he said.