Refugees join restaurant in supporting their Ukrainian homeland

A woman who forged a reputation for selling fantastic Ukrainian food during more than 20 years running a deli and sandwich shop in Hull is now supporting her country’s fight for freedom with her own restaurant.

Lena and her team of refugee students at Lena’s Ukrainian Kitchen. From left: Danilo Nazarenko, Diana Elenhaupt, Lena Sutherland, Alina Mykhailova and Oleksii Mavrin

Lena Sutherland opened Lena’s Ukrainian Kitchen last year at the site of the former Operetta Italian restaurant, which was a favourite for nearly 30 years in Bond Street, Hull.

In addition to raising awareness of dishes from her homeland which are new to most diners in Hull and East Yorkshire, Lena is also supporting Ukrainian refugees and collecting warm clothing and other donations to send back to her people.

Her next event on Sunday 29 January will showcase the delights of varenyky –dumplings with sweet and savoury fillings – as part of a celebration of Ukrainian food and music.

Among the staff will be some of the Ukrainian students aged between 17 and 20 who grew up in cities which many people have only heard about in the news and who are now studying in Hull.

Diana Elenhaupt, who is 20, fled Crimea with her family after Russia invaded in 2014. They set up home in Kyiv and Diana progressed to study law but had to leave again after the invasion of Ukraine last year.

She managed to find a sponsor who lived in Scarborough so she moved there and then applied to the University of Hull, where she was welcomed and now combines her criminology studies with work in the restaurant alongside other refugee students from Odessa and Kharkiv.

Diana said: “I love Scarborough. It’s my place and always in my heart but it’s very small. I went there in July and moved to Hull in October. It’s bigger and busier and I love it. It feels very comfortable and like home.

“When I started working in the restaurant I was very scared. I didn’t know what I needed to do but Lena helped me and the other guys supported me and I really felt at home. Now I want to come here every day and work every day.

“We all speak Ukrainian together. We help everybody and support everybody. Lena is like my second mum. We speak about everything and ask advice on different subjects.”

Lena’s Ukrainian Kitchen originally opened for breakfast and lunch and soon added special evening events themed around vodka, eastern European wines and Ukrainian music, with Lena currently working on ideas for a Eurovision celebration.

The next event will be the varenyky afternoon and Lena hopes it will match the success of the other events held so far. For just £15 per person, diners can enjoy varenyky made to Lena’s special recipes as well as “21st century cakes” which are low fat and made using natural ingredients as sweeteners.

Lena said: “There will also be Ukrainian bread and other baked good which we make here. We also sell frozen varenyky by the kilo.

“When we opened the restaurant we wanted to make a home for refugees and to offer Ukrainian food. People were seeing horror stories about Ukraine. They are sorry for Ukraine and they want to support Ukraine.

“They come here to eat Ukrainian food because when you eat the food you understand a place better. We hope people will come to support us. It will be a good time, and maybe a bit emotional.”

To find out more about Lena’s Ukrainian Kitchen and the varenyky event on Sunday 29 January call Lena on 07515 931163 or look up the restaurant on Facebook.