Nate Mook, the group’s chief executive, on Monday described a chaotic scene and freezing temperatures at border crossings in Poland, where he was helping to assemble an “ad hoc” group of volunteers. Within days of the start of the life-changing invasion of Ukrainians fleeing Russian forces, Mook had seen a group of farmers handing out eggs and kielbasa along a road. A ramen food truck was serving soup by the ladle. One volunteer he met was a young man from London who had traveled to the area to join the fight against Russian troops in his native country.
“He had never shot a gun in his life and he decided the best way to fight was to serve meals,” said Mook, who spoke from the town of Ustrzyki Dolne. “We see people who are passionate about helping.”
World Central Kitchen, which deploys resources worldwide to areas affected by natural disasters and conflict, will serve 10,000 hot meals on Monday, according to Mook, and 25,000 on Tuesday. “We are progressing very quickly,” he said.
In a video he posted to Twitter on Sunday from a WCK facility in Poland, Andrés said: “People are cold, families are cold.” He described the location as being along a road about a third of a mile from the Ukrainian border. “They bring children. It’s freezing cold – I don’t know how they do it.
People of the World… Report from the Ukrainian border! It is one of the places @WCKitchen has hot meals. It’s below zero tonight and I meet so many refugees, families fleeing and not sure what’s next… We’ll do our best not to let them down! #ChefsForUkraine pic.twitter.com/YiEemUfLlC
—José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) February 28, 2022
In addition to the refugee assistance operation, WCK also helps local restaurants in the Ukrainian cities of Odessa and Lviv to feed those who have remained in the country. Andrés described reaching out to people inside Ukraine. “We tell them, ‘Guys, there are many ways to fight. Some people are fighting to make sure people are fed,” and these are our people, and we are going to support them in many ways.
In the video, he outlines a three-phase plan that first aims to feed refugees as they cross borders and those who remain in the country. After that, the organization plans to focus on helping to feed people in refugee centers in neighboring countries. Finally, he said, the third phase would take place once the fighting stopped in Ukraine, and WCK would help organize the trucks to enter Ukraine and establish community kitchens in various communities.
“I will make sure we don’t fail,” he said.
Mook said the organization had already entered phase two and started feeding people in the shelters, including a pop-up facility at a nearby grocery store that had been converted into a temporary shelter.
He said the organization plans to step up efforts to get more food into Ukraine while the fighting lasts, as supplies inside the country dwindle due to blocked roads and closed shops, making it difficult for people to feed themselves. Andrés, he said, may be going to Ukraine himself to deliver flour to a group of nuns in Lviv who were preparing meals.
He said organizers hoped the dispute would end soon, but were prepared for an extended stay. “We have a plan for the worst,” he said. “We can be here as long as we are needed.” Mook said additional help was coming from the United Nations and the World Food Programme. But he added that the rapidly evolving Ukrainian conflict demanded something at the heart of the WCK model: speed.
“We’re good at going fast,” he said. “A lot is being done at the institutional level, but we know the need is here on the ground and it is immediate.”
Elsewhere in the world, the food community has stepped up to help support the people of Ukraine.
Bakers Against Racism, a collective originally formed to support the Black Lives Matter movement, has launched an online bake sale in which members sell cookies, pies and cakes, with proceeds going to humanitarian groups such as as Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, Sunflower of Peace and WCK.
Co-founder and pastry chef Paola Velez said more than 200 members, including restaurant chefs, home bakers and caterers, have participated so far. The organization does not track donations, she said, but every contribution counts. She said she was surprised at the response, considering how difficult things are for many people in the food industry. “Anyone who runs a restaurant is doing it by the skin of their teeth right now,” she said. “But bakers – they never amaze me.”
A group of chefs and food writers in the UK have organized #CookforUkraine, which encourages people to organize supper clubs or bake sales to raise money for UNICEF. So far, the effort has raised approximately $12,000. “As my heart breaks to see my homeland go to war with its near neighbour, I turn to food for its power to heal, educate, unite and support,” organizer Alissa wrote. London-based food writer and podcast host Timoshkina. “Like millions of Russians, I too have Ukrainian roots and grew up with a beautiful diet of Ukrainian and Russian food. These countries have shared a complex and rich history, and the culinary language reflects this relationship in the way most powerful and relevant.
Restaurants have also become fundraising hubs. In Washington, Dacha Beer Garden hosts events and specials to support humanitarian relief. And the D Light Cafe, owned by two Ukrainian sisters, is hosting a fundraising trivia night.
Others are reaching out to other leaders among the refugees. Damian Wawrzyniak, chef of the modern Polish restaurant House of Feasts in the British city of Peterborough, offered two British work visas and flights to Ukrainian chefs fleeing their home country, an offer he said on Twitter which he had discussed with his local Member of Parliament, who was helping to organize it. He has since also arranged transport to take clothes and other supplies to Ukraine, including hand sanitizer collected from another Polish restaurant.
To Ukrainian chefs looking for work in the UK, I will pay for two visas and your flights from Poland/Ukraine to the UK.
We can also help you with accommodation 🙏
If you already know someone please contact us via the restaurant number or [email protected]
— Damian Wawrzyniak (@ChiefConsultant) February 26, 2022
Ukrainian restaurants in the United States have seen an outpouring of support from customers hoping to show solidarity with Ukraine. Local news reports and social media posts noted that people lined up for dinner at Veselka, the longtime Ukrainian restaurant in New York, this weekend. The restaurant was selling a special edition of New York’s iconic black and white cookies in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.