May 23, 2023
In April 2023, Joel Rabinowitz (@joel_archie) volunteer from London came to Front Line Kitchen in Lviv, Ukraine, where he spent a week with a team of local and international volunteers from all around the world come together to prepare hearty and healthy meals which are then packed up into vans and driven over to the east of the country to feed those serving on the front lines every day.
Joel decided to share with us a few words about his motivation for doing it, the process of travelling to Ukraine during the war, and overall how he found his week in Lviv, in the hope that it will perhaps encourage others to go out to Ukraine and help out.
“It was a hugely rewarding and humbling experience, and one I would strongly recommend to anyone who wants to make a real, tangible contribution to Ukrainian resistance in the face of Russia’s brutal ongoing invasion.“ Joel said.
So, why did you decide to come to Ukraine during the war?
I have been following the war closely since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, and have watched in horror at the levels of destruction and suffering inflicted on the people of Ukraine. Entire cities razed to the ground, thousands of innocent lives needlessly lost, and tight-knit communities torn apart. I felt a sense of guilt and helplessness seeing these stories come through on the news every day, and wanted to do something meaningful to help in a really direct way. In fighting for its own freedom, Ukraine is also fighting for a Europe where freedom, democracy and the right to self-determination prevails over an evil dictatorship seeking to destroy an independent, sovereign nation. Also, as someone with family heritage in this part of the world (I have a Polish-Lithuanian Jewish surname), I had this inner desire on a deeper, personal level to get out there and make an impact in whatever way I could.
Where did you hear about Front Line Kitchen?
I had been following the work of Front Line Kitchen through Twitter for some time, and thought it would be an ideal place to volunteer at – both in terms of the logistics of getting there, and the direct impact they make towards nourishing those who are putting their lives at risk every single day to defend Ukraine and its people. Clearly having the necessary weaponry, tanks, planes and medical equipment is massively important, but food really is absolutely essential for an army to function effectively. Fundamentally, Ukraine can only win if its soldiers are well fed, and that’s exactly what Front Line Kitchen works to ensure. I dropped Richard (who runs the Twitter account) a message to let him know when I was coming, and that was that. There’s no need to sign up or fill in any complicated paperwork – you just come to Lviv, turn up at the kitchen and get straight to work.
How did you find the journey getting to Lviv?
It was all quite straightforward, to be honest. I took a flight from London to Krakow, and then took a bus from Krakow to Przemyśl, a town in the far east of Poland, close to the Ukrainian border. It’s possible to take the bus from Krakow all the way to Lviv, but during my research ahead of my trip I’d read that the border crossing could take several hours when travelling by road, so I decided to take the train instead. I booked my tickets in advance on a website called Polrail, which allowed me to book the outbound and return journey between Przemysl and Lviv.
Before you board the train at Przemysl, you pass through border control to leave Poland, and then once you’re on the train, the border guards do the passport check to stamp you into Ukraine. Coming from the UK, there’s no visa requirement – they just asked me what the purpose of my visit was, and I told them I was coming to volunteer. No stress at all. Overall, the train from Przemysl to Lviv took a couple of hours – it’s a little slow to start with getting out of Poland, but once it gets going it’s very quick and you’re in Lviv before you know it.
Were you concerned for your safety during your trip?
Not at all. Of course, there is a certain level of risk coming to Ukraine during the war – as soon as you cross the border, you are within reach of Russian missile and drone attacks. But the thing is, it’s a really big country and although we see all kinds of horrific footage on the news, it’s not as if the entire country is one big battle zone. The level of risk, in terms of the frequency and severity of air attacks, varies significantly throughout Ukraine. In general, the far west of the country has been much safer than the east throughout this war, so I felt comfortable that by coming to Lviv, the positive impact I could make was much greater than the relatively low level of personal risk.
There was one air raid siren while I was there, which was a little spooky when you hear it for the first time, but everyone remained calm and thankfully no attack materialised. There’s an established process in place for what happens when there’s an air alert, and people in Ukraine are so used to it by now. There’s an app called Air Alert (in Google Play or AppStore) you can install on your phone which sounds an alarm, and shows you which regions of the country are under alert. If there’s a serious risk of an air strike, people tend to get that information in advance, so they know where to go and what to do to prepare. Walking around in Lviv, I felt just as safe – if not more so – than I do walking around in London.
How did you find Lviv as a city?
Lviv was actually somewhere that had been on my list of places to travel to before the war started, and while I hadn’t envisaged visiting for the first time in these circumstances, I absolutely loved the place. The architecture is as beautiful as any European city I’ve been to, the people are exceptionally friendly, and overall it has such a warm, welcoming feel about it. Also, the food and drink scene is incredible – there’s a seemingly endless array of awesome cafes, bars and restaurants to choose from. If I had to pick a few favourites, I would definitely recommend Choven (craft beer and pizza bar), Atlas Cafe for brunch, and Kryivka for traditional Ukrainian cuisine in a cosy, cave-like restaurant beneath Rynok Square.
Where did you stay?
I stayed in the Ibis Lviv Centre, partly because it was just a 10-minute walk from Front Line Kitchen (Prosvity Street, 4a) and also because it has its own air raid shelter. There are so many hotels to choose from, you can’t really go wrong. Quite a few of the volunteers I met were staying in AirBnB apartments, so that’s also an option.
Overall, would you recommend volunteering at Front Line Kitchen?
One hundred percent. It’s hard, tiring work (particularly when there’s a new vegetable delivery that needs unloading from vans), but with such a clear sense of purpose it’s not difficult to stay motivated. It’s amazing how quickly the time flies when you’re there, as you’re busy peeling, chopping, shredding and chatting, constantly surrounded by amazing people all working for the same reason. They’re such a kind, welcoming bunch so you feel at home pretty much straight away. If you’re lucky, the Ukrainian ladies who work there might whip up a big saucepan of borsch (or some other kind of delicious food) and everyone enjoys some lunch together. I met some lovely people at Front Line Kitchen who I have stayed in touch with since. Hopefully we will cross paths again in Lviv one day in the future!
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