Rita Tsalyuk has been to her hometown once in the past thirty years, and she probably won’t be going back anytime soon.
A Jew from Ukraine, Tsalyuk says the Soviet Union still controlled her hometown of kyiv when she left the country in 1991. With little desire to return to a place she remembers as authoritarian, repressed and dangerous for her people, Tsalyuk did not return to kyiv until 21 years later.
“I left and didn’t want to go back. Then I finally went back and noticed things had changed drastically. People were happier on the streets and they saw a future. It was a country different. Now they have a Jewish president, and it’s more of a democracy,” she recalls.
Tsalyuk now owns Yuma Way, a dispensary chain with six stores in metro Denver and three stores in Michigan, as well as Denver’s marijuana parlor, the Coffee Joint. She had planned a trip to kyiv this summer, but Russia then invaded Ukraine on February 24 and she suspended it indefinitely.
Although she has no family living in Ukraine, Tsalyuk says she still has friends in the country, some of whom have lost their homes. Places she visited as a child or on her return trip, such as the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial, have been hit by missile strikes.
“My friends send me pictures of their houses, and a bomb went through my friend’s house. Luckily he wasn’t killed, but it’s devastating to see these people and these beautiful cities, just places magnificent for tourism, to be destroyed,” she said. said.
During a meeting with Keef Brands, one of Colorado’s largest THC drink companies and a Yuma Way vendor, one of Tsalyuk’s employees suggested the two partners participate in a fundraiser for the victims. Ukrainians from the Russian invasion. Keef had just been working on a fundraiser for the victims of the Marshall fire with Terrapin Care Station, a Boulder-based dispensary chain, so she already had a concept: donate $1 for every sale of a specific drink.
“It kind of sparked the idea for other initiatives after seeing the success there,” says Kim Stolz, Keef’s chief marketing officer. “We weren’t aware [Yuma Way] belonged to Ukrainians until they say something about it. We thought it would be a good thing to support, especially with all the refugees who have to flee the country.”
Keef had a product with a blue and yellow label, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, but the blueberry-lemon flavored water with 100 milligrams of THC has a higher price tag (about $20) that the companies wanted to feature on the fundraiser , so they instead chose just one Keef Cola soda: the blue raspberry version, Keef’s second most popular flavor.
“I wanted it to be more of an accessible add-on, something that people would be willing to add to their cart when they finished shopping,” Stolz says.
Now Keef and Yuma Way — through Denver-area dispensaries 1136 Yuma, Berkeley Dispensary, Canna City, Cherry Peak, Lowell Gardens and Twin Peaks — are each donating $1 for every blue raspberry soda sold to the United for Ukraine fund, a United Way charity. Terrapin Health Station and Denver Dispensary DANK are also participating, and Keef hopes to partner with other stores in the future.
The sodas, infused with 10 milligrams of THC, usually cost between $5 and $8 each. A Ukrainian-themed soda label has been printed with a QR code that sends consumers to a United Way donation page if they want to donate on their own or see where the money is going. Donations made on Keef’s United Way page will also be matched by the company, Stolz said.
Yuma Way and Keef will also be teaming up for a special fundraiser in Ukraine at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, April 20 at The Coffee Joint. The event at the Marijuana Lounge will include cannabis vendors, a raffle and other donation opportunities, followed by afternoon tea and cookies.
“I think there are a lot of people who want to participate,” says Tsalyuk. “They just don’t know where to start.”