May 19, 2022


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Partners of World Central Kitchen were injured in a Russian missile attack near the relief kitchen in Kharkiv

Partners of World Central Kitchen were injured in a Russian missile attack near the relief kitchen in Kharkiv
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Nate Mook stands between two buildings in what was once a street in Kharkiv War torn city In northeastern Ukraine. The road is littered with debris and the charred skeletons of once-operated vehicles. The windows of both buildings are shattered, and the passage between the two structures looks like it will collapse with the weight of one person.

On Saturday, around noon Ukrainian time, a missile hit this part of Kharkiv, and Mok, CEO of World Central Kitchen, explained that Russian forces again attacked a civilian area. This time, it was a restaurant operating as a relief kitchen with the support of WCK, the organization founded by chef and humanitarian José Andres. Four employees of the Ghost Kitchen, part of the Yapushka restaurant chain in Ukraine, were taken to hospital with burns, some severe.

Live Updates: The War in Ukraine

It’s the first time, in the 12 years since WCK was founded, that a relief kitchen has come under attack. It is also the first time that WCK has operated in a war zone.

“As you can see, a tremendous amount of damage. There is still a fire in the building,” Mok tells via a video clip on his Twitter account. “There’s a lot of damage to the kitchen, too.”

“There are offices in this area. There are residences. People live here. People work here, people cook here. And that’s it,” adds Mock, his anger palpable. “I don’t really know what to say. Just a very horrific brutality.”

Two days later, Mok was speaking on the phone from Kharkiv, where the city had come under almost constant bombardment from the Russians. He’s visited the injured women in the hospital – he only knows their first names and isn’t sure they want their full names released – and they are in good spirits. One has already been released. Another, Yulia, got the worst of it: She had burns to her hand and arm, which Mok believes were third-degree burns.

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The remaining three women are expected to be discharged from the hospital in the next day or two, Mok said.

“The sad part is that the hospital needs the beds because so many people are now getting infected,” he adds. “Even tonight, Russia has thrown more shells into the city center. And yesterday they also hit the city center. Two days ago, they hit a park where people outside were walking their dogs and sitting. I mean, it’s so brutal and violent.”

Mock says it could have been worse. It appears that the missile hit the building opposite the restaurant. About 30 to 35 people were working at that time, preparing 3,000 to 4,000 meals per day from the designated Yaposhka kitchen. Most of the workers were away from the windows facing the street.

“Kitchens are a little off the street,” says Mock. “It is a miracle that more people from the restaurant were not injured or killed. Imagine if 10 people on the staff came out in a smoke break, and stood right in front when the missile went down, all those people would die.”

All four workers were Yaposhka employees, not employees or volunteers at World Central Kitchen. WCK currently works with more than 400 restaurants, food trucks and caterers, which together produce around 320,000 meals per day to feed the hungry in Ukraine. WCK does not allow its volunteers to work in Ukraine.

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Mock says WCK typically pays its partners a set price per meal, a price that’s supposed to cover not only ingredients, but rent, utilities, labor and more. Yapushka, for example, was one of the first partners in Kharkiv, says Mok, “in the early days when it was very dangerous to be here, it is not so now.”

José Andres and his cosmopolitan central kitchen feed refugees fleeing Ukraine

The ghost kitchen in Yapushka was completely destroyed in the missile attack. Walls collapsed. It looked as if “the hand of God hit the front of the restaurant,” says Mock. But despite the devastation, workers on Sunday were already moving usable equipment and supplies to a new location. They were hoping to be back online on Tuesday.

Mok, the founders of Yapushka say, “They asked the employees what they wanted to do, and the employees said, ‘Come on. Let’s start another kitchen. Let’s cook. People need to eat.'”

Yulia, a worker with severe burns to her arm and hand, was among those wishing to return.

Only a few WCK employees actually work within Ukraine, including Mook and, on many days, Andrés himself. Both men act as witnesses/reporters as much as aid workers, providing a direct pipeline of information on the ground via their Twitter accounts. WCK also has a number of workers who spend a fair amount of time gathering information from the military, civilian leaders, journalists, and many residents who remain in Ukraine.

“The information is “The most valuable thing,” says Mock, “because it’s the way you keep yourself safe, or as safe as possible. Again, you can’t stop a cruise missile.” Landing at the train station or outside your restaurant.

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The WCK was able to feed the people in the cities that bore the brunt of the Russian attack. The organization relied on trucks and trains to transport supplies and equipment to places still under siege. On the morning of the rocket attack from Yapushka, for example, a truck dropped rice cookers, electric stoves, and large utensils into the kitchen.

The only website currently blocked by WCK is Mariupol, wrecked coastal city Where Russian and Ukrainian forces are still fighting for control.

“At this point, no one is really able to get in,” Mock says. “The roads you could have accessed for the past week or two have been cut off.”

“People may starve to death in Mariupol,” he adds. “It really is a horrific, horrific situation.”

Nearly two months into the war, Mock admits, dealing with daily challenges can be exhausting. Sometimes, he doesn’t even know what day it is.

“What keeps me going, what keeps Jose going, and what keeps the team going are the Ukrainians we’re around,” says Mock. “This is what drives us: the spirit, the strength and the resilience of the Ukrainians. We look at them and say, ‘Okay, we’re here to stand by them.’ They are going through this, and we have to be there to support them. “