By Joseph Campbell
LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – When Russia began its assault on Ukraine in February, Ukrainian chef Ievgen Klopotenko’s gut reaction was not to pick up a gun.
His restaurant is called “Inshni”, Ukrainian for “Others”. Opened just over a week ago in the western city of Lviv, it serves free meals to anyone who asks for menu no. 2.
“I understood that I’m not very good with the guns … but I know that I’m a very nice warrior with a knife,” said Klopotenko, who is a household name across his country. “My aim and my mission in life is to feed the people.”
A winner of the Ukrainian version of MasterChef, Klopotenko made headlines several years ago when he campaigned to place Ukrainian borscht, a reddish beet and cabbage soup, on UNESCO’s world heritage list. The Russian government contested the claim.
The restaurant’s funding has come from Klopotenko’s own pocket, donations and paying customers who eat from a separate menu.
Klopotenko said the majority of those eating the free meals have fled their homes in other parts of Ukraine and are making their way to Poland.
Olena Severinova, who was forced to leave her home in eastern Donetsk region due to bombardments from advancing Russian forces, has come to “Others” every day since she arrived in Lviv.
“I was forced to resettle because of the war,” said the 73-year-old, crying. “Thank you to everyone for actively taking part in saving our lives … He fed us for free.”
(Reporting by Joseph Campbell; Editing by Mike Collett-White)