Dispatch from Ukraine: Fight Like Ukrainians
Good morning from a very comfortable bedroom in a lovely home a few miles outside of Lviv. People have been exhorting me to stay safe in Ukraine and I can assure you I am extremely safe, warm and well-fed. Bonus: the mayor of the five villages last night poured me small shots of Jameson whiskey as we talked animatedly - he in Ukrainian, his daughter Oksana translating - about Ukrainian history, Putin's health, whether he is hiding in a bunker and his great and growing paranoia that people, including his own people, are trying to kill him. To say I am grateful to be here at this time with these strong and courageous people is a vast understatement, and I was privileged to be able to write about Oksana, Roman and Volodymyr Hutnyk, in "The Hutnyks of Lviv," which is the lead story today up at Reason. A few clips:
"I didn't support [Zelenskyy]. He was a good comedian but I couldn't take him seriously; it was like a joke, come on. But now I admire him. He's the best president of Ukraine ever. Our whole nation is proud of our president. He is a real patriot; he is very strong. It's like a Ukrainian joke now: 'Americans wanted to rescue Zelenskyy from Kyiv, but the plane couldn't take off because of Zelenskyy's heavy iron balls.'" - Oksana
"[Putin] is a psychologically ill person and he's very dangerous and he threatens not only Ukraine, but the whole world. He really wants to be the most powerful leader in the world, and he doesn't want just some part of Europe, he wants to influence even America. He wants to prove that he is the strongest in the world, and that America should be afraid of him." - Volodymyr
"Some of those who we know, some of them left and went to Poland. Guys of my age. So now no one respects them anymore. You left us at this moment of time, really? It's completely fine to take your wife, to take your kids wherever you want. That's fine. But this is our land. I was thinking about this because I have clients in the United States, in Austria, in UK. And most of them were telling me, 'My house is open to you, you can come at any moment.' We are glad we have such option. But so far, we are not willing to use it. Yeah, I can pack my two kids and wife and go to United States. That's probably what I would prefer. But I have my sisters here, my parents, then parents of my wife and grandma and so on. How could I leave them here then? I have a dog and cat. Okay, I don't care about cat. But dog is our family member. She's really good, she plays with my kids." - Roman
(Okay, the part about leaving the cat behind didn't actually make it into the piece. Maybe my editor loves cats.)
We went into Lviv proper yesterday. While it's quiet here - no air raid sirens for three days, no evidence of aggression - it's definitely a task to travel, many, many roadblocks made of sandbags and piles of sticks and concrete stanchions and the crossed iron obstacles called hedgehogs. The cars are checked by police; we were asked to drive with the windows down for a bit so they could see inside, and there was certainly a police presence in town. But aside from several church windows being boarded over for fear of explosions, the city itself appeared unaffected, the streets busy with people, the shops open; we even stopped into a clothing store. I understand this is absolutely not the case in much of Ukraine, but I think it's important to know that this part of the country exists this way, at least for now. May it stay that way. May the Russian aggression not reach, for instance, 15th century St. Andrew's Church.
After walking around Lviv a bit, we headed to Fest Republic, a "city within a city" where they host festivals, brew beer (you have likely seen news of their Molotov cocktail endeavor), where there are two schools and all manner of art and also, since the start of the war, the kitchen for chef Jose Andres's World Central Kitchen, which I had very much wanted to see! (It is also the place I am recommending people donate money, should they want to help in the efforts in Ukraine.) I had a chance to speak with the chef leading the efforts. Here is what Yuri Koshyk told me:
I don't work for World Central Kitchen. The World Central Kitchen find me. I work now in a restaurant in Lviv, Pretty High Kitchen, restaurant without menu, without waiters, we speak with guests, 'What do you want to eat?' and we cook. 'I want a fried potato with steak, or with fish' and we cook. It's a new format for Ukraine and maybe for the world.
Now, we are closed, but maybe we open soon one time in the week for the dinner, for guests who moved to Lviv [to help]. Here [at World Central Kitchen], we cook twelve days in this kitchen, about for 800 to 1,200 portions per day for the main dish and about 1,000 sandwiches per day. The experience, to make many, many portions of dish without typical product, is new; like in our restaurant but, more simple; we boil the broccoli, make rice, make the Bolognese and stew the chicken and many, many portions per day.
Why do I stay in Ukraine? Because this is my country and my city. I was born here. I live and work here, 33 years. It's my city and my country and I do what I can do now. If they say, take a gun and go to the Russian, I take it and go. But I believe if we have the soldiers and the Russians, [better] I just do good my job. My job is cook, and I cook. Twenty hours per day, I can cook.
Bless these people, really, for what they do. Feeding people is love, and as my friend Jeff Miller of Rosella in NYC said, "Every chef should have a picture of Jose Andres in their kitchen." By the way, Jeff said this after insisting I stop in the day before I left for Ukraine so he could make me lunch.
While at Fest Republic, we also stopped at Aviatsiya Halychyny, where I met one of the people behind the hottest t-shirt in the world:
Not included in the video above: when she said, "It's literally blood money" that the thief was stealing. I understand the desire to spread this awesome shirt; when I posted the photo of Oksana and myself wearing ours, I received many messages of, "Get me one!" But the method of this person is horrible. Do something useful, idiot, and you will undoubtedly help yourself more in the process.
What I am showing you, it looks okay, and it is okay in this part of the country, for now. But it is also the case that life has utterly changed. Schools are closed, people are not going to work, everyone that I have met and hear about instantly changed "careers" to join in the war effort. It's the only active war zone I have ever been in; maybe this is how people act always. I can say that the people here, as I mentioned in "Dispatch from Ukraine: The Road to Lviv," are absolutely right there, open-handed and kind and funny and adamant about keeping their country out of the hands of the Russians.
"At this point, there is no room for the fear," Roman told me. "If they come here, you have to stand and you have to protect. I cannot imagine living under Russian government and they dictate to us what we do. That's impossible. It's better to die probably than just live like that."