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Chefs for Ukraine: How the food world is showing up for Ukraine

Restaurants, chefs and home cooks are using their kitchens to support the people of Ukraine amid Russian invasion.
/ Source: TODAY

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, the food world is coming together to feed refugees, raise money and show solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

On the ground is celebrity chef José Andrés, whose not-for-profit organization World Central Kitchen (WCK) has set up mobile kitchens on the Ukrainian border and near transit hubs that are being used by refugees. The kitchens are now serving 100,000 meals a day — including apple pies and hearty soups — in five countries in the region. They've fed over a million people since the start of the war in Ukraine in 14 different cities.

WCK CEO Nate Mook told TODAY's Molly Hunter that, in a time of crisis, it's important for everyone to band together and help how they can.

"This is exactly why we exist, right?" said Mook, who is on the ground in Lviv, Ukraine, serving meals to families who are fleeing the invasion. "It is to be here in that moment, where we can provide that little bit of nourishment, a little bit of love and care, these hot meals that are prepared specifically for these families."

Some chefs and members of the food world in the U.S. are supporting WCK with fundraisers. Tim Ma and Kevin Tien, the chefs behind the "Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate" initiative, organized a #ChefsForUkraine fundraising dinner in Washington, D.C. with all proceeds going to Andrés' not-for-profit.

"Being part of a family who was displaced and had to find a home in a new country because of war, I knew I just had to help the Ukrainian people," said Tien, who operates the restaurant Moon Rabbit. "Growing up, it was very hard for my family to give up a life they knew to start a completely new one and although in the end it worked out, there was a lot of trauma and obstacles we had to overcome. I don’t want any other families go through that pain."

The collective Bakers Against Racism, which was established in 2020 and expanded during that summer's racial justice demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd, organized "an emergency bake sale" to fundraise for causes including WCK. The bake sale is designed to "mobilize your food and sweets into action," according to the organization's website.

"I am utterly broken at the state of our world and my heart is longing for peace but that just isn’t our reality," wrote co-founder and pastry chef Paola Velez on Instagram. "So I am coming to you all asking to join in on an emergency bake sale to fund-raise for those who are providing food, shelter, transportation and medical services."

Meanwhile, some restaurants, including beloved New York City Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, are donating to causes themselves and organizing fundraisers for diners to contribute to.

Veselka, which serves up classic Ukrainian comfort food like pierogis and borscht and has received an outpouring of support since Russia's invasion, is currently collecting donations of supplies and donating sales to Razom for Ukraine, a non-profit Ukrainian American human rights organization.

Veselka told TODAY had collected more than $25,000 in monetary donations by March 4.

The Russian Tea Room, another iconic New York City restaurant — which isn't actually Russian at all — posted a statement of solidarity with Ukraine on its website and social media, condemning Putin's actions: "The Russian Tea Room renounces Russia’s unprovoked acts of war in the strongest possible terms," reads the post. "For 95 years, the NY institution's 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."

In Austin, Texas, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a restaurant formerly known as "Russian House" announced that it would drop the "Russian" in its name and be known simply as "House." Owner Varda Monamour, who is of Eastern European heritage, including Ukrainian, told NBC affiliate KXAN that she saw the action as a way to stand in solidarity with Ukraine.

"To me, the name doesn’t reflect what we really are," she said. "And if it saddens or brings pain to others, we just feel it needs to be 'The House' — the house for everyone. The house where people can come in and enjoy a good meal and concentrate on good things and something that brings us together, not puts us apart."

"There’s so many things to be proud of and we are," Monamour continued. "This is not because I’m banning my heritage. This is because — I’m doing this because I deeply love my culture and what I am, but today, it’s OK to speak up and say what is going on today is wrong and it needs to be stopped."

On March 7, the makers of Stolichnaya vodka announced they were officially changing the brand's name to Stoli in direct response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. ("Stolichnaya" roughly translates to "metropolitan," whereas "Stoli" doesn't mean anything in Russian.)

Since last month, several U.S. states have banned sales of Russian-made vodkas in their liquor stores and some bars in the U.S. made a show of dumping out Stoli vodka. But contrary to popular belief, Stoli is actually registered in Latvia — not Russia. The company wrote on its website last month that "the Stoli vodka brands and its owner Yuri Shefler were exiled from Russia nearly two decades ago."

Stoli also announced that it would work exclusively with Slovakian sources, ensuring a "100 percent non-Russian alpha grade spirit."

"I have personally experienced persecution by Putin’s regime and I share the pain of Ukraine and its people," said Shefler.