Kharkiv’s Frunze Kitchen Feeds a City at War

Every morning more than a dozen cooks trudge through the snow and ice in sub-freezing temperatures to a warehouse on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, to make thousands of meals for vulnerable locals.

The Frunze Kitchen sits in an old factory that used to make fences. Steel is everywhere in the huge kitchen — the pots, tables, and ovens all shine silver.

The morning shift starts at 7 am. The atmosphere is relaxed and efficient, as the 16 expert cooks work in constant motion — stacking, spooning, stirring, and packing food to the rhythmic beat of techno music.

Within hours,  guys on motorbikes load the hot meals into delivery boxes and take them throughout the city. They deliver food to those living in the city’s metro system to escape from Russian rockets to old people’s homes, hospitals, orphanages, and elsewhere.

Canadian Francis Cardinal arrived in the city shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. With long experience working as a cook on movie sets, he helped establish the Frunze Kitchen’s reputation as a provider of high-quality, nutritious, and delicious meals on an industrial scale.

Each meal consists of several courses: soup, salad, a main course (including vegetables), and dessert. “The menu rotates and depends on what’s available that day,” says Cardinal. “We’re making around 1,500 meals a day now, but it varies. There was a time when it was 18,000.” The day I visited there was chicken rice soup, beetroot, carrots, a bean salad, chicken, and a muffin.

“Fresh vegetables and meat are hard to get, but we’re pretty good for pasta and rice,” he says, pointing to a vast number of wooden pallets loaded with food in the warehouse. “The problem with the severe cold though is that when it’s minus 10 Celsius (14° Fahrenheit) for a few days running, the glass storage jars start to explode, so we have to move anything in glass to somewhere a bit warmer.”

Another constant problem is the fear of Russian missiles hitting the kitchens and warehouse. One Friday at the end of December, just as the morning shift was beginning, a huge Russian S300 rocket hit the warehouse, smashed a massive hole in the roof, and caused serious damage.

“Half an hour later two more rockets hit us,” says Cardinal. “We all rushed to the basement shelter and basically spent the day there. The emergency services showed up straight away — firefighters, ambulances, psychologists. They looked after us really well, they even had medicinal cognac.”

The cooks were back at work the next day.

The kitchen staff also show up throughout the city after bombing attacks and are often first on the scene with a generator and hot food and drink.

The kitchen has started making sterilized meal packets that can be heated in water. “We need to innovate, to react and adjust to what’s happening here,” says Cardinal. “We’ve done pretty well so far.”

The Frunze Kitchen, supported by local and international donations, is one of the remarkable civil society initiatives that has kept Kharkiv going through dark and dangerous times.

It’s an impressive operation, and vital in a city that has already seen so much devastation and yet is still under regular bombardment.

Cardinal says the important work done by Frunze Kitchen can only happen with public support. Consider donating to this vital and life-saving project.



  • Brian Dooley

Published on February 21, 2024


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