By Lourdes Velasco
Lviv, Ukraine, Apr 26 (EFE).- Since the war in Ukraine broke out, Spanish-American chef José Andrés’ soup kitchen has gone from prepping a couple of thousand meals a day to 300,000 as his community initiative mobilized to provide tasty and delicious food for refugees.
The mammoth task has only been possible thanks to the efforts of 6,000 people, many of them volunteers or associates of World Central Kitchen, a non profit Andres founded in 2010 which provides food to people affected by natural disasters.
The charity’s vast network of restaurants is what has allowed the initiative to make a difference in hard to reach areas and cities, like Kharkiv where collaborators were shelled by Russian forces days ago.
In a telephone interview with Efe, Andrés tells Efe he plans to enter Mariupol, a southern port city on the Sea of Azov which has been under Russian siege since the war began.
“In this life what you don’t plan doesn’t happen,” Andrés says while traveling on the train from Zaporizhzhia to Lviv. “If we were the first to arrive in Bucha, it was because we were prepared to go there.”
He has spent the last two months floating in and out of Ukraine getting the project up and running, and is now focused on brokering more local partnerships and sourcing volunteers.
FROM RESTAURANTS TO SHELTERS
Before Russian forces rumbled into Ukraine on February 24, Yulia Stefanyuk managed a chain of around 20 restaurants in the western city of Lviv, which today sees thousands of refugees pass through daily on their exile to Poland.
Stefanyuk’s partnership with World Central Kitchen (WCK) started when she was forced to shutter the restaurants.
“We told them that we could produce 1,000 portions a day, but José Andrés came to our kitchen and told us we had to do more. We have now reached 30,000,” she says.
The Lviv chef has a 500-strong team which produces and distributes food daily in Lviv and other regions.
“There are more of us now than when we worked during times of peace, even though most of our restaurants are closed,” she adds.
Stefanyuk takes Efe on a tour of different facilities linked to WCK in Lviv.
The main kitchen “hub” is located in a huge outdoor area where people used to gather to drink and play live music.
Of the dozens of people who work with Yulia, 20 are displaced.
“They came to Lviv from the south and east of the country. We met most of them when distributing food in shelters.”
One of the shelters Stefanyuk works with is in the University of Lviv, where some 800 refugees are living in an old soccer field.
Food trucks scattered around the city hand out food to civilians, and vans with hot and cold provisions leave from Lviv to different cities daily.
Andrés tells Efe he even handed out food during his thirteen-hour train ride.