Workers with World Central Kitchen are feeding refugees from Ukraine. | World Central Kitchen

World Central Kitchen, Bakers Against Racism, and restaurants and bars are raising funds and showing solidarity with Ukraine

Within hours of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, restaurants and relief organizations across the globe had already sprung into action. In a show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, these businesses and nonprofits have been working around the clock to raise money and feed those who have been impacted by the violence.

Shortly after the invasion began, it became immediately clear that a humanitarian crisis was imminent. According to the United Nations, more than 660,000 Ukrainians have fled their homes in search of safety as war rages in their country. Countless others have stayed in Ukraine, vowing to defend their homes against the occupation. “You will see our faces,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, directing his words at Putin. “Not our backs.”

Much of the world has thrown their support behind Zelenskyy and Ukraine. From José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, which was on the ground in Poland within hours of the invasion, to global fundraising network Bakers Against Racism, here’s a look at what the U.S. hospitality industry is doing to support — and feed — people in Ukraine during this crisis.

Feeding Ukraine

World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit food relief organization operated by chef Andrés, announced that it would be on the ground in Poland within hours of the Ukraine invasion. The organization is currently situated near a “24-hour pedestrian border crossing” in Poland, and feeding thousands of Ukrainians as they flee the country. In Korczowa, the organization teamed up with food truck Oh My Ramen, which is operated by two Ukrainians who live in Poland, to serve hot meals at an accommodation center set up to house refugees, some of whom walked hours after fleeing their homes. Upon arriving in the Polish village of Medyka, World Central Kitchen served upwards of 4,000 meals in just 18 hours.

World Central Kitchen has also set up shop in Odesa, Ukraine, partnering with chef Aleksander Yourz of Yourz Space Bistro. There, Yourz and World Central Kitchen volunteers are preparing thousands of meals for people unable to leave Odesa, along with those fighting against Russian troops. World Central Kitchen is currently in the process of dispatching volunteers to Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, and Hungary, all near Ukraine, to provide additional support.

A young person with a cat in their coat holds a plate of food while sitting in a wheelchair in front of a World Central Kitchen stand
World Central Kitchen
World Central Kitchen is on the ground in Poland.

Fundraising for Ukraine

On Saturday, February 26, Paola Velez launched the Bake For Ukraine campaign, a worldwide bake sale for independent bakers to raise money for World Central Kitchen, as well as Sunflower of Peace, Save the Children, and the International Rescue Committee. On the day that Russia invaded Ukraine, like millions of other people worldwide, pastry chef Velez was reading the news. “It was like, ‘Oh my goodness, what’s happening?’ I was traveling and I had to be on set, so I really couldn’t wrap my head around what was going on,” Velez said by phone. Velez is one of three co-founders of Bakers Against Racism, a horizontal organization of bakers worldwide who united in June 2020 for the world’s largest unofficial bake sale, benefitting anti-racist organizations. By Saturday the 26th, when Velez had caught up on the news of the Russian invasion, the issue had begun to weigh heavily on her heart.

“I had a little bit more time to think and I saw that chef José Andrés was going to Poland — as he does,” Velez said. Seeing Andrés’s team at the border of Poland and Ukraine, Velez realized that money was needed now, to help WCK organizers feed refugees arriving in droves across the border. “Typically, I don’t like to do that [on short notice] because bakers need time to organize. They need to pick their items. They need to launch their websites,” Velez said.

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Like previous sales, Bakers Against Racism encourages bakers to do their own research and find organizations that they want to support, if not the ones endorsed by Bakers Against Racism. The bake sale will continue on a rolling basis, Velez said, so bakers shouldn’t feel rushed to start, if they aren’t ready. But as has been the case in the past, the response under the #bakeforukraine hashtag has already been in the hundreds: “It was immediate,” Velez said. “It was overnight, again. Bakers from around the world have activated. You see all the bakers that initially participated and new ones, too. They’ve already donated thousands [of dollars].” Though, Velez emphasized, any amount — big or small — should make bakers proud. All the information on how to get started with a #bakeforukraine bake sale is available on Bakers Against Racism’s website and on their Instagram page.

A separate initiative comes from Dacha 46, an Eastern-European pop-up in Brooklyn. Dacha 46 and a handful of other New York City-based bakers, pastry chefs, and cooks will be putting together pastry boxes under the hashtag #cookforukraine. The $103 boxes come with 12 savory and sweet pastries, and the initiative raises money for a few different organizations, including Unicef UK, Razom for Ukraine, and the Jewish Distribution Committee. Preorders are live for the pastry boxes now, with pickup at Agi’s Counter in Crown Heights. For those not in Brooklyn who want to contribute, the Dacha 46 site has an option for a monetary donation, too.

Restaurants are also hosting fundraisers, like Portland restaurant Kachka, which plans to donate 100 percent of the proceeds from its Chervona Wine cocktail to the Red Cross’s humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. In Washington, D.C., dumpling spot SpacyCloud’s half-Ukrainian, half-Russian owner Tatiana Kolina plans to raise money for the Ukrainian National Bank’s defense fund with a celebration of Maslenitsa, a popular folk holiday in Ukraine. Along with a slew of restaurants in the city hosting fundraisers, Chicago’s much-lauded Wherewithall, operated by Ukrainian-American chef Johnny Clark and his spouse Beverly Kim, will launch a menu focused entirely on Ukrainian cuisine. A portion of proceeds from sales of that menu will go to Razom for Ukraine, a pro-democracy nonprofit. And Brooklyn-based Polish pierogi restaurant Pieorzek will be donating 50 percent of all sales of its meat pierogies and sauerkraut and mushroom pierogies this weekend, March 4 through March 6, to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. At the end of the weekend, it will match all proceeds raised.

Showing Solidarity

Bars and restaurants with a special focus on Russian, Ukrainian, and Eastern European fare are also taking steps to distance themselves from Russia’s actions and to show their unequivocal support for Ukraine. In Austin, a longtime bar called Russian House changed its name to simply “House” in an effort to honor both Ukrainian people who are being impacted by the conflict and Russians who oppose the war. Open since 2012, owner Varda Monamour physically removed the “Russian” from her establishment’s signage on February 27.

The iconic Russian Tea Room near Carnegie Hall in New York City posted a statement of support for Ukraine on its website, along with a stern reprimand of Putin’s actions. “The Russian Tea Room renounces Russia’s unprovoked acts of war in the strongest possible terms,” the post reads. “For 95 years, [our] history has been deeply rooted in speaking against communist dictatorship and for democracy. Just as the original founders, Soviet defectors who were displaced by the revolution, stood against Stalin’s Soviet Union, we stand against Putin and with the people of Ukraine.”

Across the world, governments and international organizations like the European Union have imposed financial sanctions intended to impede Russia’s ability to participate in global commerce. But in America, plenty of independent restaurants and bars are imposing “sanctions” of their own — by dumping bottles of Russian spirits, especially vodka.

Dallas cocktail bar Alexandre’s is one of many drinking establishments dumping Russian booze. In an Instagram post, Alexandre’s owner Lee Daugherty said that his bar would remove all of its Russian-made spirits, and announced plans to replace Russian vodka with bottles distilled in Ukraine. Daugherty also debuted the “Fuck Putin” shot, a layered libation that resembles the Ukrainian flag. Las Vegas pizzeria Evel Pie also debuted its own “Fuck Putin” shot, made with Ukrainian vodka, and pledged that proceeds from the sale of those shots would benefit “humanitarian efforts inside Ukraine.” In New York City, the Soviet-era-themed KGB Bar announced that it would dump all Russian spirits and replace them with bottles made in Ukraine.

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Local governments are also getting in on the booze boycotts. In Utah, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oregon, and New Hampshire, where liquor stores are operated by state agencies, governors have ordered the removal of “Russian-produced and branded” spirits. Gov. Greg Abbott made a similar request to Texas restaurants, liquor stores, and other retailers, asking them to “voluntarily” remove Russian products from their shelves.

It’s worth noting, though, that many vodka brands that seem Russian, like Stoli or Smirnoff, aren’t actually Russian. Stoli is distilled in Latvia, and while Smirnoff has its origins in Russia, it is now owned by the massive British booze conglomerate Diageo and distilled in several different countries, including Latvia, Argentina, the Philippines, and the United States. Per USA Today, only about one percent of the vodka in the United States is imported from Russia. Most of that is Russian Standard vodka, a brand owned by Russian banker Roustam Tariko, who has faced multiple allegations of fraud.

While not exactly a “boycott,” World’s 50 Best, the organization that claims to recognize the world’s best restaurants, announced that it would move its annual awards ceremony, set for July 2022, from Moscow to London. The organization did not explain its decision, but as Eater London notes, the move came after economic sanctions against Russia were announced by the United States, the European Union, and NATO.

In the coming days and weeks, as the situation continues to develop, it’s likely that we’ll see more efforts from the hospitality industry in support of Ukrainian people, along with pointed rebukes of Russian incursion into the country.

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