Conversations with a World Central Kitchen volunteer in Ukraine

We spoke to Carson Sweezy, a volunteer with the World Central Kitchen in Poland, helping provide food for Ukraine and its people as they flee the war.
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Johnny Garmeson
Apr 26
4 mins
Apr 26
4 mins

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things happening on the news, my mother would say - look for the helpers. You will always see people who are helping.”

These words from legendary children’s TV host, Mr. Rogers, have never lost their relevance, which, depending on your outlook, can either fill you with hope or despair.

So when Putin invaded Ukraine on 24th February, creating terror and forcing a sovereign nation into a needless war, thousands of helpers around the world sprung into action.

One such group of helpers is the World Central Kitchen, a non governmental organization, set up by Chef Jose Andrés following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The charity works to alleviate the burden of people displaced by disaster, famine and war, through mobilizing an army of volunteers armed with pots, pans and hot meals.

While some WCK workers are still making food for the families that remain in the war torn cities of Kyiv, Lviv and Odessa - the main base of operations in the region is now on the Polish border at a site called Medyka.

Mere hours after Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine, the WCK began handing out hot, nourishing meals at this frontier town, and it has since become a 24-hour pedestrian border crossing for refugees fleeing West.

Carson serving food with the World Central Kitchen in Medyka

Like many others, Carson, a former chef, food consultant and friend of Team Rassa, flew out to the region to help with the efforts. Here’s what he had to say about his time there.

When did you decide to fly to Poland and what is it you’re doing out there? 

On February 28th I said to my sister "One day I want to volunteer to feed people"...a few days later on March 3rd I decided to go to Poland and booked a flight that left on March 5th.  I volunteered with Jose Andres' World Central Kitchen in Przesmyl, Poland. And at the border in Medyka. We prepared 12,000 meals per day in the kitchen. Everything from baby food (apple and carrot puree), to large vats of soups, and sandwiches. On the border crossing at Medyka we'd serve weary travelers who had just crossed after traveling for upwards of 5-7 days from all over Ukraine.

What have your interactions with the Ukrainian people been like?

So many of the mothers are reluctant to accept food. They will accept it for their children, but not for themselves at first - seeing it as a handout. But once they take it you can see the sheer gratitude.

When it comes to the children, in spite of all this struggle there is still a sense of wonder and hope in their eyes. Entertained by clowns, and candy at the border, and the curiosity of their journey. No doubt asking how much further until their destination...which remains uncertain.

The Ukrainian people and country have a strong soul. They have shown such courage. But because of their geography they have been in the middle of a lot of wars. The country is known for its wheat, water and resources, all while standing on the border between Russia and Europe. Their fight for freedom has become a global fight for autonomy and self-direction.

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What are the some of the stories you have heard from the people of Ukraine? 

An 85-year old grandma shared the story of her journey. Several days earlier, leaving Mariupol, a now flattened city. She crawled under tanks and over dead bodies 7Km to her transport. On to Kyiv before arriving in Lviv and then to the Medyka border. Sleeping on train and bus station benches. A 1,300 Km journey. Forced to leave her husband behind because he was too frail to travel. Thankfully, her daughter and son live in Berlin and will be a welcomed sight.

What has the humanitarian response been like?

The response has been incredible to witness. Organizations and individuals from all over the world have answered the call to help provide food, supplies, and accomodations. The country of Poland has amazed me in its willingness and ability to support through aid, transport, and protection. The spirits of those crossing the border are expectedly tormented. They're anxious and uncertain. They're fearful and worried. They haven't had time to grieve for their losses. Loss of their homes, their cities, their husbands, their children.

What do you believe food can do in the face of a crisis like this?

Food is our common ancestral language. When we share food we acknowledge someone's inherent needs as humans.  When we share food, we are saying "We see you. We hear your pain. And we are here to support you. To provide warmth and a friendly smile. 

What do you think about the role food plays in culture/history/politics?

Food is one of the surest ways to spread culture and understanding of one's culture. There's a lot to learn about a people's culture through its food. How it's prepared, the techniques involved, how it's served and by whom, how it's eaten and by whom. It's the bedrock of society. Because of these cultural ties and the necessity for food, food is also political. 

Access to food and those who receive it and what they receive is often determined by those in power. Historically, food and its cultivation shaped the way we formed society and culture. Agriculture led to the hoarding of resources and thus a need to protect those resources with armies...and the need to feed growing empires led to unimaginable wars. On the positive, because of food's role in society it has the ability to connect us as people. 

Food being packaged in Poland ready to be sent across Ukraine

 If you want to join these helpers either through donations, or volunteering then follow this link and find out more about what the World Central Kitchen does and how you can help.

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