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RI VOICES

Sloika Bakery in Ukraine stays open with help from supporters in R.I.

“In the beginning, the war brought on a terrible sense of uncertainty, but these days have given way to stubborn determination,” the bakery’s co-owner told her cousin in Pawtucket, R.I.

Stacks of boxes of baked goods await delivery to soldiers and citizens in Ukraine.Courtesy of Vera Kuntsevskaya and Sloika Bakery
Vera Kuntsevskaya, co-owner of Sloika Bakery in Kolomyia, a town in the Ivano-Frankivsk region in the western part of the Ukraine. Courtesy of Vera Kuntsevskaya and Sloika Bakery

The Sloika Bakery in Kolomyia, in the Ivano-Frakivsk region of Ukraine, has been in business baking bread and pastries for about 20 years. A few weeks ago, the Kolomyya airport and a nearby military supply warehouse were bombed. The bakery has continued to operate in spite of Russia’s attack, thanks in part to financial assistance and fund-raising efforts in Rhode Island. A March 18 fundraiser at the Parlour, a popular music venue on N. Main St. in Providence, collected more than $2,500 for direct support of the bakery.

Sloika Bakery co-owner Lesia Kushniruk shared her story recently with her cousin, Vera Kuntsevskaya, an English language student in Pawtucket Adult Education.

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Before the war, like every Ukrainian, I had a happy life: family, relatives, friends, my beloved bakery, and dreams and plans for the future to become a pastry chef. The morning of Feb. 24 changed everything. We awoke to the sounds of bombs. My daughters, 16 and 22, were sent to my sister in London, and my husband went to the front on the very same day.

For two days I was in a state of total shock. But on the third day I realized that I needed to do something.

What can you do? You do what you can.

We kept the bakery in operation. In the first days we baked at our own expense. As the daily routine unfolded, we began to receive much needed assistance from friends and acquaintances in Europe and in the US, Rhode Island.

I go to the shop in the morning and come back sometimes 12 hours later. Our team is myself, Pavlo (the co-owner of the bakery), and eight others who continue the daily routine of baking and packaging bread and pastries. Getting supplies is harder and harder, and prices have risen significantly. We are looking for flour and sugar wherever we can get it. Pavlo travels to the food supply warehouses all over the region and buys whatever he can find. Somehow we manage.

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Outside in the streets the sudden scream of air raid sirens sends us scrambling down to the basement several times a day. We wait sometimes for two hours. And then we go to work again.

We must work quickly to beat the curfew.

I have been waiting for some news from my husband and I finally received a call two weeks ago. Thank God he is alive! Since then we have managed brief phone calls every three or four days – we can’t speak for long and he can’t say much, but it is good to know he is alive.

A soldier carries an armload of baked goods. Courtesy of Vera Kuntsevskaya and Sloika Bakery

At first we were delivering our baked goods to our pilots and defenders, but as refugees from Kiev, Kharkiv, Chernigov began to arrive, we started distributing bread and cookies to them. We also help elderly people who have been abandoned. Now every day we send our pastries and bread to the humanitarian aid station which delivers to the front. Before the war we produced 10 cases of baked goods a day. Now we work harder, and as long as supplies hold up, we manage up to 100 cases a day.

We work, we fight, and we believe in our victory! In the beginning, the war brought on a terrible sense of uncertainty, but these days have given way to stubborn determination. We understand that the horde of invaders is destroying our land and they don’t have our forgiveness! We are on our land. Behind us are our parents, before us are our children. All around us are our brave and courageous men and women! We know what we are fighting for!

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We are Ukrainians to the core — we are proud of our past, resilient in our present, and know that the future will bring us the respect of our descendants — because we are building a home for them with blood and tears!

Victoria Richter is a senior lecturer in Slavic Studies at Brown University. Maurice Methot is an assistant professor of visual and media arts at Emerson College.