Ukrainian cuisine – food and hunger in Ukraine during the war / NV

Recently, the Spanish edition 7 Caníbales published an article by gastronomist Aurora Ogorodnik about food during the war. We publish the full translation of the text.

Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine has been going on for more than three months. For me, as a food researcher, the most dramatic experience (after, of course, the physical death of people) is the threat of starvation.

Imagine that on a land that grows and produces agricultural products in quantities that can feed up to a billion people (Ukraine exported 32 million 199 thousand tons of cereals and legumes in 2021 alone (according to the Ministry of Agricultural Policy and Food of Ukraine), at the moment people are starving. People do not have access to water, food, they can not buy it or cook it. We are talking primarily about the territories of the East and the South, which are now occupied by Russian troops and in the battle zone. It also lifts your hair when you hear, watch or read the testimonies of Ukrainians in the liberated territories north of Kiev, which have been occupied for about a month.

Almost from the first days after the Russian attack, without even recovering from the shock, I began to gather information about what happened to food during the war, to document the testimonies, photos and videos that the Ukrainians posted on social networks. : volunteer food at train stations and shelters (and here we have to thank WCK, which started its activities on February 25 and works tirelessly every day across the country). Restaurants that have become sandwich and dry food factories. his photographic elements celebrations “of the Russian military in the houses and apartments that were looted. empty supermarket shelves …

It should be noted that the Ukrainian gastronomic front opened almost immediately. Apparently, the experience of the Dignity Revolution of 2013-2014 worked, when thousands of people were fed daily on Maidan and, in general, the hot food and drinks served by the volunteers were first society “for all those who set foot on the ground of the revolution. In addition, we must remember that now the urban population of Ukraine has quite strong ties with the countryside and, in general, its rural past and memory, which is very strong, has been preserved. This, I think, determined the important role that food plays in this phase of the war.

First gastro meme (and then there were many, humor turned out to be such a special protection, with the help of which we all survived in superhuman conditions), which spread through the network, the Russian army was advised to definitely put seeds in their pockets so that when they die (and this must be done without failure) and become fertilizer, something useful will grow through them. By the way, exactly “Fertilizer” and “chernozem” became words of identification for the invaders. And firewood became a code for the identification of Russian saboteurs. It turned out that they could not pronounce that word. So it became almost immediately clear that food in this war is a powerful weapon.

But this weapon was also used against us. And what is important – not for the first time. Putin’s horde uses techniques that, in the 1930s, Stalin’s dictatorship created an artificial famine, the genocide of the Ukrainian people, the Holodomor, in the fertile land of Ukraine. Both then and now, special detachments exported grain and other products, removed all supplies, condemning entire families, villages, cities to death from starvation. Today, every day we see on the news a video of Ukrainian grain being loaded on ships bound for Russia and agricultural products from the fertile south being shipped to occupied Crimea.

In recent years, at the end of April and throughout May, we celebrate the season of Ukrainian asparagus. This plant, elements of which are found in historical studies of the time of the Ukrainian Cossacks, was forgotten and its cultivation revived only now. One of the large farms that could offer all the supermarkets in the country, the Gourmet from Lyubimovka, is located in the Kherson area. Browsing through my memories of the past years, I asked them about this year’s harvest and received an answer that they would not reap it, due to the demand of the conquerors to give everything for almost nothing.

In peaceful life, the beginning of May was happy for all of us, like an extra short vacation before a big summer. But not this year. In late April, the northern part of the Kiev region was liberated and the whole world saw what the “Russian world” was leaving behind. We were ready to see broken houses and the dead – there was a war, we had no illusions. But we were completely unprepared to see how comfortable apartments, houses, mansions of happy people were turned into dungeons, places for rape and torture and finally executions … Photos and videos that flowed like a river from Bucha, Gostomel, Irpen showed images inherent in the Middle Ages , when soldiers surrendered to plunder towns and villages.

The still lifes, which the conquerors left alone, were a separate species. They are very similar, so we can conclude that this is such a trend in modern Russian food practice: everything edible is thrown on a table, there are piles of feces around and completely looted, damaged apartments. It is hard to believe that modern people living in areas just a few hundred kilometers from Europe do this. And their country’s restaurants have recently received Michelin stars and are ranked among the 50 best restaurants in the world. After looking at these testimonials, modern Russian cuisine is exactly what I see now – food for animals, not for humans.

Collecting and editing materials for all Food of War texts, I made a mission deep into the Kiev region, to villages that were occupied and cut off from food supply routes. Everyone experienced hunger. Still not as terrible as it could be, hold the Russian troops longer. Salvation was the stocks of canned vegetables stored in every home, salted bacon – in general, the ideal food and at the same time our national pride, and clever recipes for difficult times when the skillful housewives lacked almost all the usual ingredients, as well as light and gas.

What was most missing was the bread, which before the attack could simply be bought from the village shop. Instead, they started baking at home while there was flour. But it also ended and the occupation continued. Then the feed came into play, from which they selected oats, corn, wheat, crushed it and baked cakes or pancakes. Nadezhda from the village of Fenevichi treated us – they are definitely delicious, but, she says, how much we missed the rye flavor! It was this black, sour bread that people tasted like candy after the release. Ukraine is the granary of Europe and at the same time a country where people have no bread…

But the worst thing is to hear the stories of those who spent weeks in bomb shelters and basements in Mariupol. For two days in a row, I talked about this with artist Daniil Nemirovsky, who only managed to evacuate in late March. I will tell his story again. In the meantime, you can watch the story of the “Divine Soup”, which fed children in the basements of Azovstal. Is it possible to believe what is happening to us now? In a completely European seaside town, where people are supposed to eat mussels on the waterfront, but instead, the kids there dream of pizza for weeks and paint it.

The war continues and food in it is as powerful a weapon as rockets or bullets. And we have not yet gathered the strength to assimilate everything we have to see. And I continue to record and document all of this. Prove genocide.

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