True, the couple forms an unexpected pair of hoteliers—young and a little reckless, by their definition, with an effortless, editorial sense of style that extends to their Kyiv hotel. Bursa is the brainchild of Grogol, a gregarious Moscow-born hospitality graduate with an aptitude for finance––“I know I don’t look like it,” he quips with a sheepish grin. He was offered hotel jobs in New York post-graduation, but he decided to take a leap and go out on his own.
Skripka, Ukraine-born and a teacher by training, came along later, when Grogol hired her culinary agency to host a pop-up dinner at Bursa. She designed a menu that paired natural wines with traditional Ukrainian mountain cuisine, “the food you eat when you climb a mountain and need to warm up. There’s a babushka cooking, and she’s drunk to stay warm,” says Skripka over Grogol’s laughter. “Natural wines are kind of like us—funky, wild, sometimes classic.”
A relationship began and visions aligned. Grogol brought Skripka on as COO of Bursa Company in 2021, and she’s been working on strengthening and supporting the team ever since. “When things are going well at home, at Bursa,” she explains, “we can do new things.” For those of us following their trajectory, it would be wise to expect new things.
Vasily Grogol: I flew from New York to Kyiv with just a backpack, not knowing I was going to stay. I fell in love with the city. And this was January, which is not a sexy time in Kyiv.
Kristinа Skripka: It’s the saddest month of the year.
VG: But I loved the music, the bars, and the energy of the people—how they were open to meeting someone new in town. I saw the building that is now Bursa and could picture the amazing opportunity of opening my own hotel. I was dragging the concept of Bursa with me for a long time already.
VG: For us, the emotional roots of Bursa go back to New York’s Chelsea Hotel. The hotel was the epicenter of the coolest crowd: Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan. It was a hotel, a restaurant, and also a bohemian place that felt like home to them. We wanted to create something with this sense. That’s why we have Bursa Gallery, which focuses on Ukrainian and post-Soviet artists, and the cinema. The concept also goes back to the name.
KS: It comes from the French word “bourse,” which is a coin purse. The original bursas were student communes in France that were paid for by wealthy people. And the concept spread.
VG: Young people in Kyiv also lived in bursas while they studied at the theological university, which is just 200 meters from us. This was one of the only ways for people to escape the village and get a higher education. And they had haircuts like mine! The guys living in the bursas were called “Bursaky.” They needed to make money somehow, so they did theatrical performances, read poetry, or sang. They became known in Kyiv for their talents. This is our connection to their artistic spirit.
KS: It feels great, but we don’t see ourselves that way. We aren’t the wealthy ones.
VG: We don’t have money ourselves. We’re collecting money from investors—energizing them with our spirit and making them believe in us. We still call ourselves the “Bursaky,” and we see ourselves as underdogs in hospitality. In Russian, we have a saying that you should always jump a little bit over your head.
VG: I think that’s the coolest thing about being the underdog. You don’t have the weight of your knowledge. I’m not saying we’re doing everything perfectly, but we’re honest about this, and we’re learning while we’re doing. And that creates an insane opportunity to create something new. Our system is very horizontal. Anyone can propose something and we would listen. We’re hiring people who are better than us at something and we’re learning from them.
KS: When you feel like you’re an expert in something, there is a problem. Something is missing. You need to always be learning, every time. So we’re kind of naive in some ways, but it’s also our strength and our way of living.
VG: For us, it was special from day one. We try to be humble about this.
KS: But one moment could be the opening of Bursa Gallery.
VG: Yes, we opened the gallery before we opened the hotel. On opening night, we had a mixed show with different artists and so many people showed up that the street was blocked! The tram couldn’t pass because there were so many people. It was insane! We were putting down the flooring five minutes before we opened the door. And then the word spread.
KS: My dream is to create a team that will come to us with ideas and say, “let’s do this thing. Let’s build a hotel here. Please find the money to make it happen.” We want people to be happy with what they’re doing—to dream with us and to build with us.
KS: Yes, of course. We want to open in cities throughout Ukraine, like Odesa and Lyiv, and then Lisbon, Tokyo, Paris—everywhere. But you know, plans and dreams.
VG: We want to share this spirit: that even if you’re young, you can do it. Nothing is impossible. You can play on the field of big guys if you want to.