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Rochester coffee roaster providing relief for Ukrainians

Fiddlehead Coffee owner Patrick Phelan has close ties to the war-torn country and found a way to help people there.

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Patrick Phelan and sister-in-law Sarah Phelan run Fiddlehead Coffee co. April 6, 2021
Ken Klotzbach / Post Bulletin file
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ROCHESTER — Mister Rogers once advised children to “look for the helpers” in an emergency.

Patrick Phelan, owner of Fiddlehead Coffee in Rochester, took that advice to heart. And, as it happens, when it comes to one of the larger tragedies of our day, Phelan knows one of those helpers.

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An old high school friend, Dmitri Rakhuba, was working with his father to help bring food, water and hygiene products to people affected by Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Rakhuba’s father, Sergey Rakhuba, runs a religious nonprofit, Mission Eurasia. The organization was operating from offices and a warehouse near the Ukraine capital of Kyiv when Russian forces began the invasion.

“They were people who were there when the bombs started to drop and they were ready to go,” Phelan said.

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The fastest thing Phelan could do was roast a special coffee and send the proceeds to Mission Eurasia’s I Care Ukraine. Through his coffee shop, Phelan has helped raise more than $25,000 to help people living in Ukraine under an ongoing Russian invasion.

The organization began distributing food, water and hygiene supplies to people living in Ukraine in and around Russian-occupied areas where resources are scarce.

“These people have nowhere to go,” Rakhuba said.

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The special coffee has sold out.

In fact, the slew of orders for the coffee put further stress on a business strained by COVID-19 and Phelan’s recent absence due to health issues.

However, Phelan said the good outweighs the challenges. The sales of the coffee and matching donations from anonymous donors the business total to about $25,000 toward the effort. Phelan said he plans to continue to fund his high school friend’s efforts to help people in Ukraine.

Phelan and Rakhuba met in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, Illinois, in high school. Rakhuba is a photographer and musician. He visited Ukraine to photograph and video I Care Ukraine’s efforts. Rakhuba was born in Moscow to a Ukrainian family when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. His family moved to the U.S. when he was a child.

Most of his work lately has been in and around Zaporizhzhya, a city on the Dnieper River near Russian-controlled territory.

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“It’s nerve wracking,” he said in a phone conversation from Germany. He and other relief volunteers drove to Germany to resupply and have a brief visit with family.

“You’re sleeping and you hear air raid sirens, it’s daylight and it sounds like thunder,” Rakhuba said. “Only it isn’t thunder.”

Rakhuba said he is glad to help people who are still in Ukraine but also hopes his work there documenting what he has seen helps too.

“I think that’s where I can do some real good,” he said. “I can show a broad audience what’s going on and what things look like here.”

Rakhuba says he has come under fire when delivering food, water and hygiene supplies. Some of Rakhuba’s video footage allegedly captures civilians coming under fire when he’s delivering a box of supplies.

“Either they missed us or were giving us a warning,” Rakhuba said.

Incidents like these are what he hopes to show to a broader audience. For now, he’s preparing to return to Ukraine. The work he is doing is stressful but necessary, he said.

“I feel like I’m just getting reacclimated to civilization,” Rakhuba said.

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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