How Chefs In Ukraine Are Aiding In The Fight Against Russia

As millions of people flee war-torn Ukraine, stories of humanitarian workers providing shelter and food for refugees abound. The United Nations, the Red Cross, the Catholic church, and chef José Andrés' World Central Kitchen, among countless others, have raised millions of dollars to provide assistance to those attempting to escape the brutal Russian invasion that has been tearing the country apart ever since it began on February 24.

For those remaining in Ukraine though — either to fight or because they are unable or unwilling to leave their homes — food and shelter are still desperately needed and chefs and restaurateurs in the country's cities are working tirelessly to fulfill those needs.

According to a report from the Kyiv Independent, dozens of restaurants in the capital have shut down their businesses to customers in the past few weeks and have instead begun inviting volunteers to come assist them in preparing fresh meals for the troops and people stranded in the city. The outlet estimated that a dozen restaurants in one particular city neighborhood provide 20,000 lunches daily to both fighters and civilians.

The volunteers include waiters, line cooks, home chefs, and even a few celebrity restaurateurs, including Ukrainian "MasterChef" judge Volodymyr Yaroslavskyy, who according to Eater, has converted one of his Kyiv restaurants, Lucky Restaurant Vinoteq, into a volunteer hub to prepare meals for up to 200 people each day.

Feeding Kyiv

Yaroslavskyy is one of many chefs putting their culinary skills to work for the war effort. Owners of big and small businesses alike are doing what they can to try to support the troops fighting the grueling battle to hold back the Russian forces as well as the people in their communities caught in the crossfire.

Zhenya Mykhailenko, an American-trained Ukrainian chef who owns a chain of ramen restaurants, told Eater he had to force his staff and volunteers to take a day to shelter and "breathe" after the invasion began so they could coordinate a strategy to help people. The group is now using the infrastructure of the ramen chain to provide meals to the Ukrainian military while operating under the nickname "Dumbledore's Army," a reference to the group of student rebels of "Harry Potter" that organized and learned to fight.

In another part of the city, the Kyiv Food Market dining hall, whose building is in a former ammunitions factory, is having its old and new purpose uniquely merged as its 44 chefs churn out 10,000 meals a day to the military, local hospitals, security, and police officers. The food hall's co-founders, Alex Cooper and Mykhaylo Beilin reported to Eater that they want to increase their production to 1 million meals a day by setting up industrial kitchens and using food trucks to transport meals to troops around the city.

Every little bit helps

It's not just large operations contributing though. One of the first restaurant owners to gain publicity for his humanitarian efforts is Manish Dave, an Indian immigrant who came to Ukraine in October 2021 in hopes of opening a restaurant catering to the foreign students.

According to the Washington Post, Dave opened his basement eatery in January 2022 and told his regular customers they could shelter there when the war began. Word quickly traveled and within a week he had provided shelter and free meals to 130 people. Dave refuses to take money from any of the individuals sheltering in his restaurant, but accepts donations of food from those who insist on paying.

Similarly, 2015's winner of "MasterChef" Ukraine, levgen Klopotenko, has converted his restaurant into a bomb shelter and is focusing on preparing simple, traditional dishes for soldiers and refugees, including borscht, which he explains for Ukrainians "feels like you are at home and nothing is happening, it's a safety."

Klopotenko is also using his social media platform to promote the hashtag #makeborschtnotwar and encourage restaurant owners around the world serving the Ukrainian dish to donate the proceeds to help feed those struggling in his home country.

As the chefs of Ukraine and their army of volunteers mobilize to help in whatever ways they can, two ideas are clear in all their stories, including the importance of supporting their nation, and the ability of a good meal to boost morale even in the worst of times.