WOONSOCKET, R.I. — On a recent Sunday morning, Krystian Przybylko was busy pulling another link of kielbasa from his display case to grill alongside potato pancakes, scrambled eggs, and naleśniki, known as Polish sweet crepes.
It was busy inside Krakow Deli Bakery & Smokehouse, a market and counter in Woonsocket that sells homemade, traditional Polish food. Loaves of rye bread baked in a stone oven sold fast, as children placed both hands on the display glass, peering at the various kinds of pierogies where stuffings ranged from potato and onion, cheese and prune, and cabbage.
More than 300 people lined up for Krakow’s special breakfast on Sunday that would eventually benefit Ukrainians in the fight of their life.
Owners Przybylko and his sister Marta Samek came to the US from Poland in the 1990s, and remember the treachery of the Soviet Union. As they observe the Russia-Ukraine War across the Atlantic Ocean, they are desperate to help.
“I still have friends in Ukraine. Those people are our neighbors [in Poland],” Przybylko said recently. “We are blessed to be here in the United States and have enough food to eat. Now it’s time to help them.”
While also collecting items like paper towels, personal toiletries, and other supplies, all of the proceeds Krakow raised on Sunday went to help refugees in Ukraine fleeing for Poland. According to recent counts, nearly 1 million Ukrainians have fled their home country for neighboring Poland, which is mostly women and children.
“During the pandemic, we gave away free lunches to kids here when the schools were shut down,” said Przybylko, who said he plans to host another meal to benefit families in Ukraine next week. “Now it’s time to give back in another place that desperately needs our help.”
Przybylko and his sister aren’t the only business owners in Rhode Island looking to help Ukrainians overseas. Restaurants, markets, pop-ups, and even liquor stores are joining in to raise a blue and yellow flag, return Russian-branded spirits back to storage, and raise funds for the families and refugees in Ukraine.
1776 Liquors in Bristol and Patriot Wine and Spirits in Warren have hoisted signs that read they are temporarily boycotting Russian products in support of Ukraine “gaining their freedom.” The stores joined thousands of business owners banning Russian booze, which is largely a symbolic move.
But Eno’s Fine Wines, in downtown Providence, began selling an array of sparkling wines from Artwinery, which derives from the largest production facility of wine in Eastern Europe (and the only one in Ukraine) and is crafted using classic Champenoise methods. Proceeds of Eno’s sales from the Artwine will go directly back to Ukrainian families.
South County Bread Company in Wakefield, owned by head baker Jeffrey Collins, donated 100 percent of its proceeds on Saturday to World Central Kitchens, which is providing thousands of fresh meals to those who have been impacted by Russia’s invasion. Collins, who is known for his rosemary monterey jack loaf and his savory kalamata olive and herbs de Provence sourdough, is joining “Bake for Ukraine,” a collaboration of bakers across the world that are selling their goods to help support refugees.
“What’s going on around the world right now is absolutely terrifying. And we’ve been wondering how we can help,” Collins said in a recent Instagram post. “The more money that I can bring in, the more that I can literally hand over to an awesome cause. I can send to an awesome cause.”
Other business owners are looking to introduce Ukrainian products and recipes to Rhode Island.
Husband and wife duo Dean and Julie Couchey, who own SoCo Vedge, a vegan meal delivery service in Narragansett, started offering Holubtsi as an add-on to meals. Holubtsi, which is typically cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables (and sometimes meat) and baked in tomato sauce, is a traditional Ukrainian dish. They seasoned the stuffed cabbage heavily, with garlic, onion, and pepper, so all customers had to do was reheat them.
By selling Holubtsi for $16 each, they raised more than $700 in less than a week, and then matched the donation to send $1,400 to United Help Ukraine, an American nonprofit that has raised money and awareness of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine since 2014. Dean Couchey said the funds will be used to help refugees fleeing Ukraine with shelter, clothing, first aid and other medical supplies, and food.
“Each month, we chose a community or organization to give back to. After seeing what was going on in Ukraine over the last few weeks, we knew we needed to do something,” Julie Couchey said on a recent call.
At Bellini Providence, inside the newly opened Hotel Beatrice, owner and former mayor Joseph Paolino has scattered bouquets of sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine, across the dining room and behind the bar. Last week, a shipment of Nemiroff Premium Vodka, which comes from Ukraine’s oldest and largest distilleries dating back nearly 150 years ago, arrived at the restaurant.
Paolino, the former US ambassador to Malta in the mid-1990s, said his relatives immigrated to the US from Italy in search of a better life.
“This gesture won’t move mountains, but I hope that this small act expresses our support and love of the Ukrainian people,” said Paolino.