Cook for Ukraine: How Russian and Ukrainian friends are using food to raise money for Ukraine

The campaign aims to raise awareness of people's plight in Ukraine through food. Credit: Instagram/cookforukraine
  • Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Suzanne Elliott

A charity that started off as an idea between a Russian chef and her Ukrainian friend has raised tens of thousands for Ukraine families and children impacted by the war.

Cook For Ukraine is the brainchild of London-based friends, Olia Hercules, who is originally from Ukraine, and Russian-born Alissa Timoshkina.

Their aim was to celebrate Ukrainian and Eastern European food while raising awareness of the humanitarian crisis facing Ukraine as well as emergency funds.

In response, top chefs, food writers, restaurant owners and home cooks have all rolled up their sleeves to cook, bake and share Ukrainian and Eastern European inspired dishes.

More than 200 restaurants have signed up across the UK. Some restaurants are adding a small voluntary donation to the bill, while others are including a Ukrainian special on their menu.

People are being encouraged to host fundraising supper clubs or hold a bake sale.

Home cooks have been experimenting with Ukrainian meals at home and sharing the result on social media with the hashtag #cookforukraine. All money raised will go to Unicef.

So far, the Cook for Ukraine’s JustGiving page has raised over £100,000 for Unicef's UK Ukraine appeal, supporting children and families.

Ms Hercules, a chef and cookery writer, and Ms Timoshkina took the idea to Clerkenwell Boy - the Instagram celebrity chef behind Cook For Syria, the fund raising campaign that raised £1 million for Unicef to help those affected by the civil war via supper clubs, bake sales and books.

Ukraine and Russia's culture and culinary history is interwoven and this campaign captures these shared experiences. Ms Timoshkina, author of Salt & Time: Recipes from a Russian Kitchen, said she it was "really important" for her to be involved in this initiative, not only in order to raise valuable funds, but as a message of unity.

"As my heart breaks for the children and families impacted by this conflict.

"Like millions of Russians, I too have Ukrainian roots, and grew up on a beautiful diet of Ukrainian and Russian dishes. These countries have shared a complex and rich history, and the culinary language reflects this relationship in the most powerful and relatable way.

"I am so grateful to have had first hand experience of it and it is so important for me today to play a part in spreading the message of unity."

Ms Timoshkina and Ms Hercules, who met at university in London 15 years ago, are both passionate about food and work with food.

It was not, as Ms Timoshkina told ITV News, a coincidence they show to fundraise through food as they felt it is a way of helping people understand the conflict on a very human level.

"It's a window to a country's or region's culture, history, politics, and every recipe has a very personal story behind it," Ms Timoshkina told ITV News.

"We really hope that by using food as our means of raising funds and raising awareness, we are giving people a chance to bring that conflict closer in a way that they can relate to, not just in an abstract, news headlines kind of way, but actually in a very tangible, very intimate way through food.

"And, of course, food is a symbol of unity. What's more beautiful than sharing a meal with someone? Food is always there in war and and peace."

Alissa Timoshkina and Olia Hercules. Credit: Instagram/alissatimoshkina

Ms Timoshkina said she had recently seen a picture a friend of her's had posted in a bomb shelter and behind the mattresses on the floor were rows of jars of fermented cucumbers and tomatoes and sauerkraut.

"That image really just stuck with me, because I know what that food tastes like. I don't, luckily so far, know what it feels like to be hiding in a shelter when your city's being bombed.

"But I know exactly what they will taste when they open that jar. So to me that was just like even talking about it now just gives me goosebumps and like, it's just so powerful."

To get involved with Cook for Ukraine Cook for Ukraine’s JustGiving page or share your pictures, recipes and stories on social media by adding the #CookForUkraine hashtag.

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