D Light Cafe opened in Adams Morgan in October, then had to close in January due to a fire. The sisters who own it, Anastasiia and Vira Derun, were able to raise more than $13,000 on Gofundme so they could reopen, which they did on February 15. Now, less than two weeks later, they’re facing another crisis: the Russian invasion of their homeland, Ukraine. The sisters are in frequent communication with their family in Ukraine, who’ve been dealing with sleepless nights and the sound of explosions. “They call every day and it’s heartbreaking,” Anastasiia says. “We don’t have the power to help them. We cannot visit. They cannot come here. I’m literally watching the news every five minutes just to keep myself updated. What’s going on? Where’s the army moved to? It’s this situation where we look at unknown things and we just pray. That’s the only thing we can do right now.”The Deruns were heartened by all of the local support that poured their way after the fire, and they’ve been similarly gratified by local response to the Ukraine crisis. “When people come and ask, ‘How are you?’ it’s already showing that they love us,” says Anastasiia, who moved here in 2017 (her sister followed in 2019). “They want to support.”
Now the sisters are hoping to send that same kind of aid back to Ukraine. D Light Cafe will hold a weeklong fundraising event starting Tuesday.* The cafe will bake and sell cookies with the image of the Ukrainian flag, and they’re also hosting a trivia night to raise funds.
Their anxiety has been somewhat easier to deal with due to the tight-knit Ukrainian community in DC, whom they check in with constantly. One thing that people can do, Anastasiia says, is simply to check in with their Ukrainian friends and neighbors. She also notes that social media is a powerful tool, urging people to amplify and spread awareness not only about the conflict, but the rich history of Ukraine.
“We have a lot of Russian people coming in and supporting us, which is so wonderful because we understand that this is not between people—it’s between political individuals” she says. “I want everyone to understand that Ukraine is a country. It’s not part of Russia or part of Europe. We are a nation who has our own culture, our own values.”
*The fundraising event originally was scheduled to start Sunday, February 27, but the bakery pushed it back to Tuesday, March 1, and this article has been edited to reflect that change.