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How a bakery in Ukraine is offering hope and employment in a time of crisis

Vash Lavash in the western part of Ukraine reopened its doors and is employing people displaced by the war.
Kat Lonsdorf, NPR
Vash Lavash in the western part of Ukraine reopened its doors and is employing people displaced by the war.

Updated April 7, 2022 at 7:50 AM ET

In the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk, just off the main pedestrian thoroughfare, stands Vash Lavash, a small bakery with bright yellow walls and displays filled with sweet and savory pastries.

Lyubomyr Kitral opened the bakery in January. Less than two months later, Russia invaded Ukraine and the bakery closed its doors. But not for long.

"This business can be reopened and we can work," Kitral said. "Even during the airstrike alarms."

Kitral said his bakery rose to the occasion when Ukrainian officials urged businesses to reopen.

But there have been some changes. For one, curfews mean the bakery's hours are shorter, which means salaries are lower. But still, employees like Maria Nowitzki are grateful for the opportunity.

The bakery shut down for two weeks when the war started but has since resumed business.
Kat Lonsdorf / NPR
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Kat Lonsdorf, NPR
The bakery shut down for two weeks when the war started but has since resumed business.

Nowitzki is one of two new employees who left the uncertainty in Kyiv. She said leaving the capital was a hard but quick decision. The wait to find a new job, however, didn't come as fast.

"Two weeks I sit without a job," she said. "I just sit in my flat and read the news. And then I understand that the war will not end first and I decide to look for a job."

Nowitzki was an interior designer before the war started. Her bakery job is very different but it leaves her feeling good: "Feeling that I am necessary, that I help in our economy."

As businesses across the country closed, many like Nadia Nosteryasha lost their jobs. The reopening of the bakery meant she could help provide for her young child. She spends her work day sprinkling cheese on top of dough, pushing it into the pastries amid the threat of war. But she admits the air raid sirens don't bother her anymore.

The bakery might help whip up economic activity, but it is also performing a very basic task — it's feeding customers.

"People who came here, we need to feed them," Kitral said. "People who came from Kharkiv, Odessa, other big cities of Ukraine, they needed food."

Businesses across Ukraine have been forced to close due to war.
Kat Lonsdorf / NPR
/
Kat Lonsdorf, NPR
Businesses across Ukraine have been forced to close due to war.

Vash Lavash bakery is bustling with customers coming in and out, including Svetlana and Azari Kosyk and their two kids.

They pick out a cake with chocolate and nuts, and another with raspberry.

The family of four left Ukraine and stayed in an apartment in Warsaw, Poland when the war began but decided to come back home after a month.

"It's very hard for children to hear the sounds of the airstrike alarm," Svetlana said. "It's hard for the kids to wake up in the middle of the night and they just close themselves with the curtain covers."

The street outside the bakery is full of people, buses rumble by, and things seem normal. Kitral is quick to insist they are not.

"Today in the morning, I was looking at pictures from Bucha, and I think that this is a catastrophe of world scale, of planetary scale," he said. "And I think this is a false idea that Ivano-Frankivsk, or any other city, can live a normal life."

It is a thought that is on Svetlana and Azari's minds. They get fleeting worries about bringing the kids back to Ukraine, and their children also get anxious.

But they savor the sweet moment in the bakery, with chocolate and raspberry pastries in hand and all four of them together.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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