Interview with Lviv Vegan Kitchen


Maybe it's a good thing that it's hard for those who haven't experienced it to understand how everyday life changes when your country is ravaged by war. But when the battle is right around the corner, unconsciously, with interest, anger and anxiety, we begin to read the news from the front. Some of us are unsuccessfully trying to get a clearer impression of how war refugees live inside Ukraine from eyewitness accounts and statistics. Even in the same Lviv, where we briefly escort our new neighbors and friends to meet their loved ones when they suddenly get a week off from military uniform.

In June, we interviewed sisters who have been engaged in animal rights activism in Ukraine for a long time, and after the beginning of the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, they opened a vegan charity canteen in Lviv. Communication with them did not stop, so we conclude that the rockets that landed in this city at the beginning of July did not touch the canteen. We invite you to read the interview and support.


Briefly introduce Lviv Vegan Kitchen and yourself: how did you meet, why did you start the organization and what do you do in it?

Hello! We are Marta and Oksana - sisters, vegans and activists. Since 2017, we have volunteered in various animal rights campaigns: we organized educational events and street protests, created web content and popularized plant-based nutrition in every possible way. When the full-scale Russian invasion of our country began last winter, we opened Lviv Vegan Kitchen. At first we were going to serve free vegan food to refugees, but then we started catering to vegan soldiers as well.

Since we had established many connections with the local community and vegan groups in other cities of Ukraine during our activism even before the war, we already knew where to look for volunteers when we came up with this project. As soon as we found out that one vegan restaurant was closing, we immediately rented its premises and started serving food to refugees.

What challenges did you face? Were there any difficulties in raising funds, planning logistics?

The war is a constant stressor for all Ukrainians, even the lucky ones like us in the relatively safe western regions of Ukraine. It's hard to stay active when you hear terrible news every day. Sometimes you get so tired of everything that you only dream of staying in bed and not getting up.

I think the hardest thing for us was this winter, when we had four months of power outages (we had power for an average of four hours in the morning or during the day and four hours in the evening or at night). Everyone was pretty tired anyway, and working with the difficulties this brought seemed overwhelming at times, but we got through this phase and keep working.

Because we support ourselves, it is sometimes difficult to constantly remind people of ourselves. We have to constantly come up with new ideas, be active on social media, report transparently about our activities and communicate with people around the world - all of these require skills that we had to learn quickly.

How many volunteers work at Lviv Vegan Kitchen?

This winter was a critical period for our team as well - extremely difficult working conditions due to power outages due to Russian missile attacks and increased prices due to the humanitarian situation during the war forced us to replace volunteers with paid employees. We currently have 6 of them. After making this decision, it became much easier to organize work and plan resources, because we stopped being dependent on volunteerism and the chaos that sometimes accompanies it. However, we continue to be officially registered as a non-governmental organization that sustains itself from the support and activism of vegans around the world.

How many people does Lviv Vegan Kitchen feed? Are the residents of Lviv able to pay for accommodation, bills, food, medical services? 

Currently, we feed about 100 people every day, before this number reached 500. Some of them visit us every day, some - several times a week.

Access to medical services (at least legally) has not changed much since the beginning of the war. For some services, refugees only need to register at their new community center. Although, to be honest, I don't know much about it, and I can't say if everything works so smoothly and simply in reality.

Similarly with accommodation, there are lists of places and organizations providing accommodation online. They include both permanent sites that work from the ground up, and new, more "chaotic" options that usually appear after some particular disaster, when large numbers of people are suddenly left homeless (for example, this happened in June when the Russians blew up the Kachovka dam and flooded large areas). But it happens that people who visit us ask for help to find shelter for them and complain that all places are either occupied or will close soon.

Tell us about the food parcels for the soldiers. How can they be ordered and how do they affect the morale of soldiers?

We collect orders using Google forms, we allocate one day a week for sending parcels. We usually send 15-40 rations in that time. We have already sent 219 packages to vegan soldiers this year.

We get feedback from a lot of soldiers. They really seem to genuinely enjoy the food parcels - we get short videos, photos, jokes and the like from them. Some soldiers say that if they had not received the package, they would not have had anything to eat. We know that most of them are very modest people - they do not ask for parcels until they are absolutely necessary, because they do not want to "disrupt the volunteers". However, this mission - to properly feed our soldiers and maintain their health - we set ourselves. 

How can you be supported?

We think that Buy Me A Coffee platform is the most fun way to donate. Here you can choose between two support options, in exchange for which you will receive news about Lviv Vegan Kitchen and news from Ukraine in general, or the aforementioned news and recipes from our chefs.

Of course, we also have our own PayPal, Wise, etc - you will find everything from us on the website and social media accounts (FB and ROI, Twitter, Telegram). We also appreciate support with food products, but we strongly ask you to check whether the products you send are vegan or only vegetarian. We only serve vegan meals, so you can always ask us if you have any questions.

More useful links related to Lviv Vegan Kitchen can be found here.

And how can overseas food or supplement businesses donate food to you?

Of course, such donations are always welcome. Please contact us in advance to discuss logistics. We have a car, so we can pick up the food in Poland so that when foreign sponsors arrive, they don't have to cross the border.

What do you think motivates Ukrainian people to help animals even when they themselves are in an unenviable situation?

Don't lose yourself to a cruel neighbor. Even because of war, people do not lose their identity. For many, veganism is a huge part of who they are, and they certainly won't just start eating meat, for example. It can be even more stressful than war. Our fellow vegan soldiers, who were forced to eat animal products, said they felt guilty and that food they considered disgusting made them sick. Continuing to eat a vegan diet and maintain other important habits in the face of war is important because it helps them stay strong and face the challenges.

After the war, some people not only did not lose their desire to do good, but even found a new inspiration for it. Maybe it happened because of the great stress and abuse you experienced - when you are wronged, you don't want to hurt others. Of course, the consequences can also be the opposite, in the long run, continuous stress can make people more cold-blooded and deaf to the pain of others. I think it depends on the environment - how other people will react, if they will support each other, if there will be someone to lean on. We hope that volunteers make at least a small positive contribution to this process, reducing people's stress and giving them the feeling that someone cares about them.

Perhaps you would like to add something else?

Thank you very much for the interview. Thanks to everyone who supports us (it doesn't matter if you support Ukraine in general or LVK in particular). We couldn't do anything without the help we get from all over the world. It is only because of your support that we can move forward.

The interview was prepared by volunteer Gabija, the text was translated from English by Vaiva Būgaitė.
The interview has been edited for clarity and integrity.

Photos from Lviv Vegan Kitchen archive.

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