Baker donates $100,000 in cheesecake sales to Ukraine war effort

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“Our kitchen is super small, maybe 200 square feet,” Afanasieva said of her bakery, Laika Cheesecakes and Espresso. “We have 20 employees and we were cooking non-stop to keep up.”

Once she got the word out Facebookpeople came by the thousands.

“I couldn’t believe it – it was like all of San Antonio showed up,” she said.

Afanasieva and her employees have spent day and night baking and decorating miniature cheesecakes, which customers buy by the tub, by the slice or in six-packs.

Within hours, the cheesecake line wrapped around several blocks, and by late afternoon people were waiting until four o’clock, she said.

Customers were happy to do so.

“Tried today and sold out, but I’ll be back tomorrow! Love to you and your families! a woman commented on the cafe’s Facebook page.

“There are still compassionate people in this world,” wrote another client. “Nice job you do and delicious cheesecake – my book club really enjoyed it.”

‘It’s so beautiful – please let us know if you need physical assistance too,’ commented a local pub owner. “I can work a cash register for a few hours if need be or whatever.”

Afanasieva said she was stunned by the response and happy that she decided to channel her angst into action.

“I couldn’t go home to Ukraine to fight,” Afanasieva said. “But I could make cheesecake.”

For the past two years, Afanasieva has co-owned Laika, a popular dessert spot in the San Antonio suburb of Alamo Heights. The cafe is known for its miniature cheesecakes in jars that come in more than 20 flavors, including raspberry white chocolate, caramel turtle, and tiramisu.

Afanasieva opened the bakery and cafe with a friend about eight years after arriving in the United States as a foreign student and decided to apply for legal residency.

“When I heard that Ukraine was under attack, I realized that the only real way for me to help my parents and other people in Ukraine was to buy more ingredients, sell more cheesecakes and donate money,” she said.

Afanasieva and her business partner, Viktor Krizma, donated the proceeds from everything they sold in the cafe between February 25 and 27 to a funds for the resistance efforts of the soldiers.

By the time she and Krizma closed the shop on the 27th, about 3,000 San Anton residents had bought more than 4,500 tubs or slices of cheesecake and donated money in addition to their purchases, bringing the total to more than $72,000 to help Ukrainian soldiers.

That number has since climbed to around $100,000 as people continue to donate to Laika’s website, said Afanasieva, who says she transferred the money to a fund in Ukraine earmarked for military supplies.

“I never imagined it would be such a hit and that so many people in San Antonio would show up,” she said. “They stood in line because they wanted more than a slice of cheesecake. They wanted to do whatever they could to help.

“Even after we sold cheesecake and coffee, they kept showing up,” she added. “They were happy to give to the cause even though they weren’t getting anything in return.”

Afanasieva said she has fond memories of growing up with her older sister in Odessa, a port city of a million people on the Black Sea.

“It’s such a beautiful place and I’m so scared it’s now being destroyed,” she said. “Until the pandemic, I went home to visit every two years. I have almost no words to express what I feel. It’s heartbreaking.

While her mother and sister were safely evacuated to Moldova and then Turkey, her father stayed behind to care for her grandmother in Odessa and to help defend the city, Afanasieva said.

“I can’t stop thinking about them – what’s happening in Ukraine is the worst thing that can happen,” she said.

Afanasieva said she was 18 when she came to the United States as a foreign student in 2013.

“When my studies were finished, I wanted to travel a bit and see the country, so I drove to California,” she said. In San Diego, she said she met Krizma and they started a marketing and photography business together. Five years ago they decided to expand their business and move to San Antonio.

When her homemade cheesecakes were a hit with her friends about three years ago, she developed a passion for baking and decided to open the bakery and cafe with Krizma. They named the Laika store after a Moscow stray dog launched into space by the Soviet Union in 1957.

The Burrow was the first living creature to orbit the Earth, but sadly it died shortly after launching in Sputnik 2.

“The irony that it was a Russian dog is not lost on me,” Afanasieva said.

“We opened during the pandemic in December 2020 – not the best time to start a business,” she added. “But the people of San Antonio really like cheesecake and they’ve been supporting us.”

The same people who bought six-pack “to-go” cheesecakes are then among the most generous contributors to her cause, she said.

“They know I’m in pain,” Afanasieva said. “I don’t know if I will see my friends and my father again.”

She said the support she feels from her adopted country brings tears to her eyes.

“Here in San Antonio, people have big hearts,” she said.

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