As Russia invaded Ukraine, the world watched on with, initially, horror. Devastation that this could be happening, pain at the horrific imagery rolling in and deep, distressing empathy for the people affected. It didn’t take long, however, for that horror to turn into action, especially where the food industry is concerned.

This is largely thanks to chef and author Olia Hercules, a Ukrainian living in the UK. With most of her family still based in Ukraine, and many sleepless nights being spent waiting to hear if they had survived until morning, Hercules took to Instagram with astounding courage to spread the message. What began as an appeal for help turned into a considered, constructive effort: #CookforUkraine.

Mirroring the similar Cook for Syria campaign launched by Instagram influencer and food-industry consultant Clerkwenwell Boy that raised over £1 million, the initiative is wide-ranging, encouraging everything from restaurants getting involved to everyday people cooking a Ukrainian recipe and donating in exchange. Hercules, her close friend and food writer Alissa Timoshkina and CB had the fundraiser up and running on Just Giving in a couple of days. “The devastating scenes in Ukraine this month have caused widespread fear and distress. Our mission is to raise valuable funds for the embattled communities who now have nowhere to go – no shelter, no food, and very little hope,” Says CB of the campaign. At the time of writing at least 140 restaurants had signed up to join the campaign, offering everything from a £1 donation on each bill, to special Ukrainian dishes where all proceeds will be donated to the cause.

View on Instagram

“I feel like, with any war that’s going on anywhere in the world, people can get fatigued quite quickly and disassociate themselves from it,” says Hercules “So it’s really important to keep the human element of it, and what’s more human than sharing food together? I don’t want people to get stuck in the headlines and the bombs and to lose sight of the human beings behind this story."

If you want to cook and get involved directly, recipes linked on the JustGiving page include Olia Hercules’ recipe for green borsch and stuffed cabbage leaves and Timoshkina’s recipe for Solyanka fish soup, alongside a number of alternatives from chefs including Nigella Lawson and Caroline Eden. It is both a celebration of Ukrainian cuisine and culture, a defiant recognition of this country’s autonomy and a way to display solidarity from anywhere in the world to a group of people who are facing the worst of humanity.

View on Instagram

For those more inclined to going out, restaurants are coming in thick and fast with offers of help. You can head to Blacklock, Bubala, Casa do Frango, Duck Soup, Gymkhana, Homeslice, Kricket, Kudu, Manthan, Silo and TEMAKI, where £1 will be donated from every bill throughout March. Places like Brutto, Burger & Lobster, Casa Fofo, Fallow, Luca, Manteca, Prawn on the Lawn, Smokestak, Sucre, and The Clove Club are doubling that amount to £2 from every bill. Statistics from homeless charity StreetSmart show this method can work. They partner with over 500 restaurants on a regular basis to add a simple £1 donation to each bill: in 2021 they were hoping to meet a donation target of £500,000.

The Big Mamma Group has designed a special dish: garlicky bruschetta topped with Ukrainian salo – similar to lardo – with the optional extra of a shot of vodka on the side. All proceeds will go to #CookforUkraine. Carousel is hosting a Ukrainian Sharing Feast with chef and ambassador of Ukrainian cuisine, Yurii Kovryzhenko. The ticketed event will also feature a raffle and the option to add a donation of £1, £2, or £5 to your bill, with all proceeds going to World Central Kitchen. Japanese restaurant RAI has designed a limited edition four-course menu that will be served between the dates of 16 March and 9 April, with all proceeds going to UNICEF UK. 

View on Instagram

Flor Bakery will be serving up loaves of Ukrainian Rye bread, with all sales being donated to the cause, alongside £1 on each bill. Yard Sale Pizza is running a raffle donation of sorts, asking people to donate £5 in exchange for entry, the prize being a year’s worth of free pizza from their local Yard Sale outpost. In just three days they’ve already raised £4,000 for the cause. Places like Stoney Street, Paradise Soho and The Water House Project are also getting involved with raffles of their own.

As Hercules herself says, there is something so uniquely human about food and the sharing of food. It can feel helpless watching what’s going on in Ukraine with no tangible way to make a change, but with the London food and drink industry rallying in ways it has now done countless times it can serve as a small reminder of the power of humanity to do good. It may seem frivolous to dine out while Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom, but there is comfort to be had in knowing that as each person sits down at one of this growing list of eateries in the capital or deftly chops feathery bunches of dill at home to add to a simmering pot that they are both directly and indirectly helping people they may never have met, in a country they may never have been to.

#CookforUkraine: one-off events

Kricket Soho

Sunday 8 May

On Sunday 8 May, Kricket Soho will be hosting an open event, serving up a one-off, Ukrainian-influenced menu, with all proceeds going to Voices of Children. Led by Kricket's Ukrainian chef Dimi Penziev, the menu will include Pampushky (Ukrainian garlic bread), Holubtsi (cabbage rolls, spiced beef and horseradish raita) and Medovik (honey cake). Both eat-in and takeaway meals are part of the initiative. 

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen Mezze Class at La Cucina Caldesi in Marylebone Village

Wednesday 27 April

Arguably one of the biggest names in food, Ottolenghi is synonymous with a particular type of cooking and an assurance of a delicious meal. A lot of this is down to the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, where a team of chefs work to develop new dishes and recipes. Two of the OTK's biggest names, Noor Murad and Jake Norman, will be hosting an intimate cook-along event in aid of Cook for Ukraine, with 100% of ticket sales going to the initiative. Muran and Norman will guide guests through cooking dishes like carrots with coriander-pistachio pesto and pickled onions before everyone sits down to enjoy the fruits of their labour together. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased here

Yurii Kovryzhenko at Mortimer House

Wednesday 4 May

Yurii Kovryzhenko is a well known Ukrainian TV presenter and chef who got stranded in London during a visit when war broke out in his home country in February. In the hopes of making a difference, he has been using his culinary skills to raise both awareness of what is going on in his home country and money to help support Ukrainians. Tickets for the dinner will cost £60 per person, with all proceeds going to #CookforUkraine, and will include a four course menu that takes diners on an educational journey through Ukraine's history and culinary influence.