Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Restaurant delivers aid to Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine

The restaurant takes orders from anyone who needs its help in the morning and attempts to process them all by the afternoon.

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Alexander Beluga has transformed his restaurant into a humanitarian hub, cooking up to 4,000 meals a day for those in need and distributing aid even into Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

It is dangerous work as the fighting in southern Ukraine intensifies.

Two of the 60 volunteers assisting the entrepeneur have been killed by mortar fire.

Supplies are also regularly stolen by Russian troops and volunteers have learned to put popular items such as instant pasta and noodles on top to protect the rest of the goods.

But the 39-year-old owner of the eponymous eatery “Beluga” in the city of Zaporizhzhia said that helping people was “like a drug”.

“The eyes of the people I see when they receive the supplies can’t be described…. You forget you have a daughter and other people to look after – and who else will do it but me?” he told AFP.

Born in the city of Rybnetsa in the breakaway region of Moldova, Transnistria, this is Beluga’s third experience with war.

During his childhood, Transnistria was riven by conflict between Russia-backed rebels and Moldovan government forces as the Soviet Union broke up.

Then his father’s hometown of Makeevka in eastern Ukraine was taken over by separatists in 2014 as part of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.

‘I do what I can’

Seven years ago, Beluga worked as a fishmonger but when he found out he had a tumour in his lungs, he decided to make some changes in his life.

He found an old factory in a run-down street, renovated it, and started an annual food and music festival, which last year saw 35,000 people attend.

He even owns a vodka brand, holds the record for Ukraine’s tallest burger, at 1.5 metres high and has a popular Instagram account @cafe_beluga_zp.

Now, the restaurant takes orders from anyone who needs its help in the morning and attempts to process them all by the afternoon.

As well as fresh-cooked meals, such as baked fish with mashed potatoes, Beluga sends nappies, toiletries, clothes and other supplies, and even charged power banks for those who have no electricity.

On his phone, he showed a video on his phone of one of the volunteers who was killed, 24-year-old Yevgeny, standing in front of a blue minivan about to set off to take supplies to besieged Mariupol.

“Glory to Ukraine!”, the man exclaims in the last footage of him alive.

The father of two girls, aged 2 and 4, died on March 19.

“I’m now selling three Jeeps to buy an armoured vehicle, but it costs 43,000 euros,” Beluga told AFP in his office above the restaurant where he keeps guns.

One the volunteers at Beluga, Andriy Zeits, said he was not going to frontline areas because “I don’t have the experience”.

“But I am helping. I volunteer and cook food. I do what I can”.

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