Story #136: Ukrainian Bakers Confront War By Keeping Bread Traditions

February 10, 2024
Mykola Nevrev, a cofounder of the Bake for Ukraine, talks about how the initiative helps bakeries in Ukraine and engenders love for Ukrainian bread abroad.
Photo credit: bake.for.ukraine via Instagram

Bake for Ukraine (BFU) delivers free bread to those in need during the war, as well as bread-related supplies and even ovens to bakeries affected by the war.

"We consider all our bakers to be heroes, especially those working in the challenging conditions of Kharkiv and Kherson. We are very proud that they are continuing to do their work,"says Mykola, a BFU chef-baker and cofounder.

Given that a bomb fell on one of BFU's partner bakeries in Kherson recently, his words are no empty praise.Thankfully nobody was injured in the strike, but the bakery's equipment was destroyed.

Mykola knows better than anyone what it costs for bakeries in Ukraine to stay operational.

"It is extremely challenging to transport these items due to the demanding logistics involved. For instance, we once delivered a several-ton stove from Germany to Kharkiv. Ensuring that it worked and preventing damage during transportation was a meticulous task. Stoves are very sensitive. Fortunately, we were successful."

The risk of losing baking equipment to the bombardment is everlasting during wartime. The same is true of shipments of supplies like flour, yeast, and sourdough starter.

This is exactly why people in some frontline villages experience constant bread shortages.

"We used to import these goods from Europe until it became increasingly challenging. Now, we buy from a Ukrainian farmer. Apart from offering competitive prices, he also supports our project by occasionally providing free flour to our bakeries. It's his way of helping the people for whom our bakeries bake bread."

Due to the continuous bombardments, some big and small bakery businesses in the East of Ukraine do not dare to get back to work. That is why some communities have to get their bread delivered from safer cities.

Moreover, receiving bread to eat is very important for many internally displaced people from frontline areas. Some of them have lost their homes and sources of income, and many are elderly.

Bake for Ukraine mobile bakery, photo by Oleksandr Baron

BFU's work would not be possible without the support of people who visit their market stands in Europe, or simply donate money to the initiative. Their generosity keeps many Ukrainians from going hungry.

The people in Europe who have steadfastly supported us since the beginning of the war continue to do so. However, the fact is that people grow weary of a war that isn't theirs. It is a completely natural yet sorrowful story.

However, BFU has a long-term strategy for keeping people connected to Ukraine by tapping into its culinary treasury.

"I think people in Europe generally know very little about Ukrainian bread, and it deserves much more attention. Ukraine, as a European nation, boasts wonderful recipes. One of my tasks is to ensure that as many people as possible become aware of Ukrainian baking culture."

Mykola isn't alone in this endeavor. Armed with the support of Felicity Spector, a British journalist and official ambassador of Bake for Ukraine, they immerse people from all over the world in the secrets and traditions that Ukrainian cuisine conceals.

Inside the Bake for Ukraine mobile bakery, founded by Olena Vorozheykina, journalist Felicity Spector and baker Alex Bettler from Great Britain; photo by Felicity Spector

The art of making Ukrainian bread enters public attention during BFU's masterclasses, uniting people around this meditative manufacturing. Mykola says, there's no bread-related event where the atmosphere wouldn't be warm and welcoming.

Thanks to these genuinely positive vibes, Bake for Ukraine attracted bakery owners who requested Ukrainian recipes to spread these unique flavors to faraway lands.

"Palyanytsia and Darnytskyi bread were baked according to our recipes in England, Scotland, France, Germany, Slovakia, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and New Zealand."

Their successful networking even led the BFU team to bake bread for one of the G7 meetings.

"They offered us the opportunity to showcase Ukrainian bread culture this way. We aimed to demonstrate that Ukraine serves as the breadbasket of Europe, emphasizing its significance beyond other aspects that make Ukraine important."

In addition to popularizing Ukrainian culture, Bake for Ukraine also brings their breads to Ukrainian communities abroad. This was especially needed when the war began.

It was very important for Ukrainians to be able to come and buy Ukrainian bread right where they were. It was especially significant when we baked paska (Easter bread) in Berlin. For Ukrainians, paska is like our bread identity. Moreover, many Ukrainians bought paski loaves and Ukrainian bread for people who were sheltering them in Germany, or for their friends there.

Palyanytsia workshop for members of the Bundestag. In the photo, the founders of BFU Olha Graf, Maria Kalenska and Mykola Nevrev, also the Ambassador of Ukraine to Germany Oleksii Makeyev and Deputy Mikhael Roth.

Mykola himself has lived abroad for many years. Therefore, he is well aware that these sorts of gatherings can give other Ukrainians a much-needed taste of home. He says that his work on this project plays a substantial role in his personal identity discovery.

One way or another, this project has become really big. Built upon a thing so solid, the Ukrainian culture of work and cooking, it evolved into a physical power, which improves the future in connection with the rich Ukrainian past.

Mykola and his colleagues witnessed many volunteer organizations cease to exist during wartime. Thus, he is impressed not only by BFU's perseverance but also by their successful achievement of most of their goals. This must be because they follow the Ukrainian tradition, where baking should be done only with love.

Lisa Dzhulai
Journalist at UkraineWorld