A steaming pot of thick soup bubbles at a campsite turned refugee shelter near Prague where Ukrainian women who fled Russia’s invasion prepare delicious meals for curious locals.
There are now traditional Ukrainian dishes including borscht, a beetroot-based soup with cabbage, on the menu at the restaurant in Revnice, southwest of Prague.
“We want to tell the story of our cuisine, so we prepare and offer our Ukrainian food,” said Inna Ilinskaya, who fled the southern port city of Odessa.
Ilinskaya, a 34-year-old mother of five, left Ukraine with her husband and children soon after Russia’s invasion began on February 24.
She ended up at the campsite owned by Stefan Orsos alongside around 40 other Ukrainian refugees, more than half of them children.
“I decided to accommodate Ukrainian refugees after a bottle of tequila on February 24 when the war started,” said Orsos, who bought the campsite two years ago.
Today’s fare is a far cry from what he offered before the war.
The 49-year-old mainly offered Asian food including Vietnamese pho soups until the Ukrainians arrived.
Pizza was even on the menu which he ran after he could not organise food festivals anymore because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had to improvise when Covid started, we lost our jobs.”
“We just improvised again with this Ukrainian restaurant, which also makes other food, but the core is Ukrainian,” he said, as the laughter of children riding bicycles filled the air.
He was happy to accommodate women without any ties to the Czech Republic who have found a home at the campsite.
The women including Ilinskaya were busy preparing pampushki or garlic buns, borscht soup, and bograch, which is a kind of goulash.
In the kitchen, the cooks lovingly rolled the buns and placed them on trays before they turned a golden brown in the oven.
Ilinskaya said the restaurant had already offered golubtsy, or stuffed cabbage leaves, and pelmeni dumplings.
They also want to make vareniki, another type of dumplings, she said, as the garden restaurant filled with locals eager to try something new.
‘Come back for sure’
Veronika Stara from Revnice relished the opportunity to visit.
“I love the idea and the borscht was just fantastic. I will come back for sure,” she told AFP.
“The ladies definitely look like they know what they’re doing.”
The Czech Republic, which has a population of 10.7 million people, had a sizeable Ukrainian minority before the war broke out.
It has so far received more than 270,000 refugees from Ukraine.
Ilinskaya expects to settle down in the Czech Republic, but her heart breaks for those she left behind in Odessa including her sister.
“I know it’s terrible back there now. We managed to leave earlier so our children didn’t really see what is going on there now,” she said.
“We are really grateful to be here.”