Ukrainian Cat Café Remains Open Room for Advancing Russian Invasion
Photos courtesy of Cat Cafe Lviv
“Sending love and prayers.” “I admire you for not leaving your kitties.” “Thank you for your bravery and love for your cats.” These are just a few of the hundreds of messages flooding the Cat Cafe Lviv Facebook page days after Russia began its attack on Ukraine. While some businesses in the Western Ukraine city of Lviv have closed, the owners of the Cat Cafe refuse to leave. This feline-filled business is adamant about remaining open to care for their 20 cats and to provide comfort to customers.
CNN’s on-the-ground reporter Erin Burnett found the Cat Café Lviv to be the only place where she could get food. She wasn’t alone in seeking sustenance there; she saw a family fleeing Russian invasion inside the cafe also. “They were smiling because they saw the cat wheel. You cannot look at that and not smile and today any human being of this country needs the gift of a smile,” she said.
“Many people have left Lviv, so now we are one of the few who dared to work in this difficult time,” says Cat Cafe Lviv owner Serhii Oliinyk. Although they currently have fewer regular visitors, he says that people who need hot food and “positive emotions” are visiting the cafe from other cities.
Most of Oliinyk’s close friends and relatives have owned cats for years and always enjoy spending time with their furry friends. But he realized that having a pet was impossible for some. Whether they were unable to take on the responsibility of caring for a pet or shared a home with someone who suffered from allergies, these cat enthusiasts didn’t have the option of becoming pet parents.
The avid cat-lover found the ideal solution: create a place where people could meet friends for a meal or coffee while at the same time surrounding themselves with cats. What began in 2015 as a dessert cafe with eight cats has grown to a business with a full kitchen, bar, and 20 felines.
This place for informal get-togethers and birthday celebrations consists of three large rooms, two of which are in the basement of a historical building. During this frightening time, the thick walls are an added benefit, as they provide a safe shelter for customers and the café’s wide collection of cats.
The Cat Cafe Lviv gives guests the opportunity to interact and spend time with the establishment’s full-time residents, who Oliinyk says love people’s attention. It’s a win-win situation for all parties. While strolling through the space, some cats aren’t shy about sniffing a patron’s meal. The curious cruisers are well-fed but know that “people food” is off-limits. It’s not uncommon to spot a cat jumping on shelves, lounging on a nearby chair or running like a hamster in a large wheel tucked into the niche of a white brick wall.
The six people who work for Oliinyk are also his close friends. They help him care for the cats and play with them when there is a lull in customers. Some cafes in other parts of the world allow patrons to adopt the animals, but the cats roaming throughout Cat Cafe Lviv are there to stay.
The variety of breeds weaving their way through chairs and napping on tables includes Persian, Canadian Sphynx, Don Sphynx, Scottish Hat cat, and Bengal, among others. Oliinyk often stresses the health benefits of interacting with cats, including their ability to increase happiness. He ends nearly every social media post with the words, “And remember: Cats = Good mood = High immunity.”
Along with offering messages of hope, pet lovers from around the world are donating funds to the cafe. Oliinyk apologizes for not being as active on social media lately but takes the time to thank those who have contributed funds to feed the felines and support the Ukrainian army. A former employee and his wife, now living in Canada, are managing donations from outside the country as Ukrainian PayPal is not accepting money at this time. (If you would like to donate, you can do so via PayPal using the email email@example.com.) Twenty percent of all donations the café receives are being sent to the Ukrainian army to fund their efforts.
Oliinyk says that for now, Lviv is calmer than many cities in Ukraine. Residents often hear air raid sirens, but he reports being safe.
“We don’t panic,” he says. “We stay with the kitties and stay ready to defend our city.”
It is a dark and heavy day here. But I found something that couldn’t stop a smile. The only food I saw open – Cat Cafe. The owners are making food with what they have – they smiled: “Our cats are brave.” pic.twitter.com/wAGEF9oPfW
— Erin Burnett (@ErinBurnett) February 25, 2022