It’s been more than two months since Russia launched its attack on Ukraine. As the world watches the images of war and wonders what will happen next, organizations and individuals in Northeast Ohio have stepped up to the challenge to help those affected by this crisis.
For some locals, like EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute founder Brandon Chrostowski, that means traveling to Eastern Europe and cooking near the border of the war-rattled country.
Brandon Chrostowski in Poland with World Central KitchenThe local entrepreneur who has built an industry in the Shaker Square and Buckeye neighborhoods helping the formerly incarcerated with career training and life skills felt the need to join the support efforts in Ukraine.
Chrostowski was in Poland earlier this month, working close to the border of Ukraine with World Central Kitchen (WCK), the organization that provides meals in response to humanitarian, climate, and community crises, cooking and driving warm meals to the towns where refugees stay.
On April 3, Chrostowski arrived in Przemysl, a town housing refugees that is often seen in the United States on the nightly news coverage of the war and suffering.
It is also the city where one of the WCK’s main kitchens is located, but there are many other locations around the country.
On April 5, Chrostowski drove to Hala Kijowska, a town near the Ukraine border and about 30 minutes from Przemysl. “In this town, imagine IKEA times three or four, that’s where they’re holding people,” Chrostowski says, describing the facility where refugees stay.
At the start of each day, Chrostowski would head into the kitchen in whatever town he was in and get right to work.
It was a nonstop process.
“Yesterday, it was a 16-hour day, today it was a 12-hour day,” he said while in Poland, adding that he met in the morning with the Ukraine World Congress, who helped him better understand the conflict and how to help the Ukrainian people.
Ukraine Salvation ArmyChrostowski notes that it can be an emotional experience interacting with the refugees. When cooking and serving, he’d often ask them, “Hey, how’s it going?” or “How are you?” to try to lift their spirits.
Founded after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, World Central Kitchen aims to provide food during disasters and humanitarian crises. The organization helped feed millions struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also provided aid following the 2020 ammonium nitrate explosion in Beirut.
The World Central Kitchen is not the only organization that has Clevelanders providing service during this war.
In March, both Cleveland Maidan Association and MedWish International began sending medical supplies and humanitarian aid to support wounded soldiers and the families of fallen soldiers.
Soup cooking at the World Central Kitchen in PolandThe Salvation Army Northeast Ohio Division has stated that there are several installations and relief centers in Ukraine and surrounding countries in Eastern Europe for those seeking asylum.
These Salvation Army locations provide food, clothing, blankets, and other essentials to those in need. There have been many organizations working toward helping Ukraine at the local level in Cleveland as well.
For Chrostowski, he has four restaurants in Cleveland to run. He returns home when he can, but makes as much time as possible to provide help in Poland.
Driving around Poland, he has seen firsthand the degree of refugee displacement. Seeing the faces of individuals at a train station waiting to be sent to many different places across Europe, he noted that he was incredibly moved.
“To be involved in Ukraine is to support their helmets and bulletproof vests,” says Chrostowski. “This thing’s being fought on three fronts—[in the] military, politically, and you have the humanitarian front.”
With the war ongoing, individuals like Chrostowski says he has no choice but to continue providing aid and support.