East Yorkshire’s Ukrainian hub working to “make good things happen” as they prepare to mark anniversary of Russian invasion

A woman who opened a Ukrainian restaurant in Hull to support the humanitarian effort in her homeland is to mark the anniversary of the Russian invasion with a special event to raise awareness of her country’s food and culture.

Pictured is Lena Sutherland (right) with Viktoriia Zhelikhovska and her son Andrew with two of the paintings.

Lena Sutherland is also working with a Beverley-based refugee, Viktoriia Zhelikhovska, to organise an exhibition and sale of paintings by Viktoriia’s father Oleg, who works in his studio at home in Ukraine to raise money for the relief effort.

Lena’s Ukrainian Kitchen in Bond Street, Hull, will offer a day of discounts on Friday 24 February. Lena will give away free Ukrainian breakfasts between 7am and 9am. Across lunchtime she will cut the price of the Ukrainian speciality Varenyky – gyoza-style dumplings with sweet and savoury fillings made to her own recipe. The dinner menu will feature her own original chicken Kyiv, again at a discounted price.

Lena is hoping to be busy all day with guests from Hull’s Ukrainian community, refugees and their sponsors, and local people who have no connection to Ukraine but are interesting in exploring the food and supporting the nation in its stand against Russian aggression.

Lena opened the restaurant last year and in addition to serving traditional Ukrainian food she provides work for refugees and collects warm clothing and other donations to send back to her people.

Viktoriia and her son Andrew, eight, met Lena after they arrived in Beverley last May having left their home and their family in Kamianets-Podilskyi in south-west Ukraine. Viktoriia’s husband, Alex Oleksiy, used to work as an IT specialist for an energy company. Now he’s a soldier in the Ukrainian army.

One of her brothers is a police officer in Odessa and the other is a lawyer in Kyiv. Her father rose to the rank of colonel in the police service and turned to his passion of painting when he retired two years ago. He sent 13 of his works to Viktoriia and two of them featured in the “Hope and Light” exhibition of paintings by Ukrainian artists at Beverley Minster last November.

Viktoriia said: “I want to exhibit all 13 of his paintings in Hull and sell them to raise more money for Ukraine. He paints old houses and the scenery in our hometown including the castle, which is quite famous and popular with tourists.”

In Kamianets-Podilskyi Viktoriia worked for the city council environmental department looking after trees and gardens and she has continued that in Beverley, working as a self-employed landscape gardener for people in the town and for a garden centre.

Andrew has settled into a local school and a cubs group, playing dodgeball, football, tennis and basketball, making new friends and speaking better English than his mum!

Viktoriia said: “Andrew enjoys it much more than school in Ukraine. The war is very sad and for me and my husband Andrew is our motivation. Now he’s safe and I am going to study to Level 3 with the Royal Horticultural Society.”

Both women are in regular contact with family and friends in Ukraine. Viktoriia said so far Kamianets-Podilskyi has escaped the heavy bombing which has hit larger neighbouring cities, but rocket attacks are frequent and residents spend a lot of time in shelters.

She said: “I am very happy here because English people are very friendly and open and there is help from everywhere – from the community and the council and neighbours and friends of my sponsor. They are like my family.”

Lena said this is the most emotional and unhappy time since she moved to Hull 28 years ago with her husband and later opened Lena’s Deli in Vernon Street.

She said: “I am always optimistic but this year I am crying more and there is sorrow in my heart. For the first couple of months I couldn’t sleep and I felt anger towards Russia and Putin and people believing Russian propaganda.

“I realise how important it is to be together. Ukraine is a great country and Ukrainian people are strong. They can think for themselves and make their own decisions and they don’t listen to the propaganda. They use their brains and they unite.

“Before, the country was divided into different camps but now everybody is united together. There is no east and west. It’s one country and most people speak their own language.

“When I was working at the deli I didn’t know we had a Ukrainian community in Hull. I only knew a few people from years ago. Now I’m told there are 500 Ukrainians in the Hull area.”

Viktoriia added: “This place is like a Ukrainian hub. It’s a good place for communication and food! Nobody knows what is going to happen but with the restaurant and the exhibition we are working to make good things happen here.”

To find out more about Lena’s Ukrainian Kitchen and the anniversary event on Friday 24 February call Lena on 07515 931163 or look up the restaurant on Facebook.