KIEV, Ukraine — As much as by outrage, the pro-European uprising here is being fueled by heaping bowls of buckwheat and pork fat, steaming helpings of borscht and other meaty and fatty fare.
Since the demonstrations began more than three weeks ago, with a spontaneous outpouring of public anger over President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign political and trade accords with Europe, leaders have worried about how to maintain the large crowds in Independence Square. Recognizing the axiom that an army marches on its stomach, organizers have taken great pains to keep the crowds well fed.
The protesters can choose from a rotating menu of a half-dozen Ukrainian folk recipes, intended to provide fortification for people spending hours on the streets in the icy winter, not to speak of girding for an occasional clash with the police.
“People are very grateful for anything warm,” said Anastasia Slobodyanyuk, 15, a volunteer who carries platters of tea through the crowd in the evenings after school, a heart in the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag painted on her cheek.
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In the protesters’ arsenal are trays with slices of buttered bread and the central ingredient of the classic Ukrainian sandwich: smoked and salted pork fat, or salo.
More than a few Ukrainians swear that salo makes them strong and beautiful, and some insist it can treat liver problems. There were many takers for the salo sandwiches making the rounds on the revolutionary square, especially for the “troshechki” variety, with a generous coating of pepper on bits of salted pork fat.
While there are restaurants open nearby, not everybody can afford them. And the goal, of course, is to keep a sea of demonstrators visible at all times to the television cameras that are broadcasting the protest events live virtually around the clock.
Outdoor canteens where protesters can line up for bowls of soup and cups of tea, and volunteers who circle through the crowd like waiters and waitresses at some huge outdoor-cocktail party, serve the goals of the protest movement far more than people sneaking off to McDonald’s.
Wherever the eye falls on Independence Square, cooks busy themselves around huge kettles over bonfires in an all but medieval tableau of an army at camp, but for the blinking neon advertisements all about.
One cook, Yuri Dorozhivsky, shared this recipe for buckwheat with salo (feeds thousands):
1. Heat a 50-gallon kettle over an open fire.
2. Brown 20 pounds of salo and 10 pounds of onions.
3. Fill with water and bring to a gentle boil; stir in 60 pounds of buckwheat kernels.
4. Simmer for an hour, then remove from direct heat; salt to taste.
Members of the Ukrainian opposition are practiced at protests. Yulia Tymoshenko, the opposition leader now in prison on politically inspired charges, once told an interviewer that she had picked out clothes each morning with an eye to how they would hold up either in a riot or in prison.
Cooks stew food on the street and in a makeshift kitchen on the ground floor of one of three buildings occupied by the protesters. Outside, the hungry crowds chant and stomp. Inside, a hundred or so volunteers frantically slather butter onto bread and send it out on trays.
The kitchen prepares 300 to 400 hot meals an hour, along with countless sandwiches and cups of tea, said Ekaterina Kryuchkova, 20, a college student in Kiev, who is now head night-shift cook for the uprising.
The food is donated. Kryuchkova relays requests for donations to activists on social networks and television stations sympathetic to the protesters and the food piles in, sometimes from distant parts of the country.
“We have enough of everything but too much of some things,” she said. Most recently, she said, “the problem is we have a lot of bread and lemons.”
Unable to use all the bread, they donated some to orphanages. But on the theory that vitamin C would keep colds at bay, the anti-government cooks decided to push as many lemons as possible onto the crowd. Curious protesters were given plates of sliced lemons sprinkled with sugar, open-face sandwiches of lemon and salted mackerel and tea with lemon slices. And still, the kitchen had lemons in reserve.