Tell me about the people you’re encountering and what the need for food looks like.
Families are exhausted. Many of them, when they get to Lviv, have been traveling for well over 24 hours, and sometimes much longer. They don’t have very much with them; they’re generally carrying like one suitcase, their kids, their pets. There’s a lot of need for support. We’re often that first moment for them to receive a hot meal.
That’s what we’re focused on here: that when these families step off the train here in Lviv, even when they end up in an accommodation center, that they have a hot plate of food.
Even if the families have money—which is a real challenge because bank account access is very difficult—it’s not like they can eat out or buy groceries because they have nowhere to prepare any food. We’re delivering to over 50 locations here in Lviv and serving close to 15,000 meals a day.
Some of the families will then continue their journey and try to cross the border into Poland, Moldova, Romania, or Hungary. Some of them will stay put here in the West hoping for things to quiet down or for there to be a ceasefire or some sort of withdrawal of Russian forces. It’s a rapidly changing, evolving situation. Every day is different. In one shelter, for example, we started serving them about 50 meals [per day]. That went up to 100, then 200. Then they called last night and said, “We’ve got 800 people here,” so our team jumped into action.
It really is tragic and shocking—but amazing how people are opening up their homes and businesses. The outpouring of support is amazing, and the Ukrainian spirit is so strong despite all of the tragedy.
Are you having trouble getting food supplies in to make the meals?
We are having challenges primarily because of the scale of what we’re doing. We’ve set up a corridor; we’ve got trucks coming in every day from Poland. We have six trucks arriving tonight, and we have warehouse spaces here in Lviv already, so we’re starting to stockpile food. We’re starting to get things set and to provide food to our restaurant partners. I think we have 10 kitchens now active in Lviv cooking. Making sure those kitchens are well-stocked is a priority. Things can change very quickly. The Poland border could get much more locked down or access to food and commercial trucking could stop in the West if some of the fighting kicks up over here.
Can you give me an example of an individual or a family you’ve encountered that really stood out to you.
There are so many. There’s a new train station that just opened up here because the main central railway station is so inundated. We were starting to provide hot meals there. It was just overwhelmed with people coming off the trains as they figured out their next steps. The first night we were there, the officials there asked if we could drive a family to one of the registration centers because there were no more buses that night. “Of course,” I said.
We did two trips. First, we drove the mother and her two kids, and then we drove the grandparents—three generations there together. The husband stayed back to fight, as many men here in Ukraine are doing, to defend their country. We were talking to the grandfather who told us that they were from the city of Dnipro in the east; he said he had to flee when he was two years old, during World War II. He said now he’s having to flee his home for the second time. He was devastated that this is happening all over again. There’s a sense of tragedy.
We met a young woman who had come from Kyiv, and she worked in advertising. She had a good job, she’d just moved into a new apartment, and she was excited about decorating it. Just normal things that we all do. And now she had to flee. She has no idea what’s going to happen with her work. She has no idea if she’s ever going to see her apartment again. There are so many heartbreaking stories of people whose lives have been turned upside down.
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