Hospitality outlets have joined forces to support Ukraine in a variety of ways since the Russia-Ukraine war began on February 21 – and continue to do so. From introducing Ukraine’s national dishes on menus, donating a proceeds to charity to promoting Ukrainian produce and training Ukrainian refugees, the sector has stepped up and made a difference to many individuals caught in the conflict.

Yurii Kovryzhenko, a prominent Ukrainian chef and his partner Olga Tsybytovska opened Mriya restaurant in London’s Chelsea in August last year after finding themselves stranded in London after the outbreak of war. The aim of the restaurant is to showcase Ukrainian food and drink, design and art. There are 50 covers on two floors and an area for al fresco dining.

Olga says “The restaurant is busy and there are two sittings at the weekend, although we could do with more custom at the start of the week. We’re getting great feedback and I want to thank the British people for supporting us. Many people make a special trip to the restaurant and know our story.”

Adapting & Re-Training

Its 15 staff are virtually all Ukrainian refugees, who came to London to seek shelter after the Russian invasion. Some are former lawyers, teachers and entrepreneurs, who have been trained in hospitality. Olga says “We are a completely Ukrainian team. All employees are refugees except two waiting staff, who were studying in London when the war started and Vas Stehura, the general manager, who was living in London already. Our team was new to hospitality and our front of house staff are still undergoing training as many are in their first or second job.”

Yurii’s challenge was to train the kitchen staff, which includes a sous chef, baker and kitchen porter. “Some of them had a little kitchen experience,” adds Olga, “and improved greatly, while others needed a bit more time.” Staff were also trained courtesy of Flow Learning by Mapal, which provided its services for free in a variety of topics from food safety to allergens. Aleksandra Mati, a senior food, health and safety consultant, also gave her services for free. “We are very grateful to all of them,” says Olga.

The most popular dishes are borsch soup, chicken kyiv and golubtsi – mincemeat mixed with cream and fried vegetables. “Traditionally this is stuffed into cabbage rolls, but Yurii serves them in zucchini “flowers”,” she says.

Prior to opening the restaurant, Yurii and Olga were involved in charitable activities to raise funds for Ukraine and over four months raised around £400,000 at charity dinners. “Once the restaurant is fully established, we plan to donate a percentage of profits to Ukraine. We are still involved in charitable events and recently cooked dinner for 12 as part of an auction prize to raise money,” says Olga.

Encouraging Diners To Pause For Thought

For Olga, Mriya is much more than a restaurant. “It’s an opportunity for us to tell the story of Ukraine in terms of furniture, pictures and other artefacts. That’s why we asked a Ukrainian design team to work on the interior. We didn’t change anything in terms of construction, but we embellished the walls with decorative objects. For example, at the entrance is an old window in a frame from a Ukrainian house, which was bombed. We call it ‘window of war’. Instead of glass it has a mirror with blue striped tape across it to show how Ukrainians protect windows during bombings. Our designers manage to bring things like this from Ukraine.”

Her message to other hospitality businesses, that wish to support Ukraine, is to employ refugees. “Some don’t have proper English so it’s a challenge for employers to take them on. Offer them work where language isn’t so necessary such as a kitchen porter and train them. That would be fantastic.”

#CookForUkraine Appeal

Olia Hercules, a well-known Ukrainian cook and food writer based in the UK, was one of the founders for Unicef UK’s #CookForUkraine appeal and helped to raise over £1m. She’s launched a subscription service on the Patreon platform, where she provides recipes and content to raise funds for Ukraine. She plans to use the funds to open a small cookery school in her hometown in Ukraine. “I want to help build up the community there and give young people an opportunity to learn cooking skills,” she says.

A Heart-Warming Combination of Food & Art

The Dory Bistro and Gallery, Pittenweem in Fife, Scotland, is a restaurant serving seafood freshly caught locally and exhibiting works from Scottish artists. Ruth Robinson chef patron, hired two Ukrainians Mariya and Olena (mother and daughter) who are living with her and was responsible for training them. She says “Both have undergone training associated with their areas. Mariya’s training focuses on kitchen work including food preparation, cleaning rotas and health and safety. Olena’s training has concentrated on our EPOS and ResDiary systems, mixology, service training and supervising junior staff.”

After a Ukrainian menu event was held at the restaurant at the end of last year, Ruth plans to introduce Ukrainian dishes on the menu throughout 2023. In addition, she offers the bistro and gallery to refugees as a community space once a week for language classes run by Fife Council and for informal meetings to connect local residents who have various skills with the Ukrainians. She says “The Ukrainians are keen to work. They want jobs and need to socialise with other Ukrainians and creating networks helps them settle.”

A more unusual fundraiser was held at Sarastro restaurant in London’s Drury Lane, well known for live opera music. Soprano Janet Fairlie led a ten hour ‘opera-thon’ accompanied by other opera performers to raise funds for Unicef UK’s Ukraine appeal.

Visit for information on how to join #CookForUkraine appeal