Unified against a common enemy, Ukrainians are finding ways to resist — without even carrying a gun.
“All parts of my body are hurting — my wrists are hurting, and I am unable to open a door. That is why it is hard,” Servetnyk told CNN Tuesday, after spending hours a day kneading and baking.
Before the war, Servetnyk was a successful chef — he won Ukrainian MasterChef in 2019, and ran a pizza restaurant in Kherson. But on February 24, the Russians invaded Ukraine — and his life changed.
“There was no bread, it was a collapse,” Servetnyk says.
As the Russians shelled his country, Servetnyk and his partner drove to his parents’ house in a village on the outskirts of Kherson, desperate to flee Ukraine. “Get into the car, we will go somewhere,” he told them. His parents — who had witnessed other periods of tumult in their lives — laughed. “Where would we escape? Who is waiting for us there?” he remembers them saying. “The Russians are coming soon, they tell us that this is Russia now and we will go on with our lives.”
So Servetnyk decided to stay and resist. Many of Kherson’s bakers had either fled or gone into hiding, so Servetynyk turned his pizza restaurant into a bakery, and began making thousands of loaves of bread. To feed more people, he also roped in other bakers and distributed their bread, too.
“We did not escape, did not leave, but rather started saving people as best as we could,” he says.
Now Servetynyk begins each day at dawn, loading the back of his truck with golden loaves of bread baked either at his restaurant or the industrial bakery. Most of it is delivered for free to orphanages and elderly people on the outskirts of the city. Then he heads back to bake bread from midday late into the night.
Each trip Servetnyk takes to deliver bread carries a risk, he says, but without his deliveries, people would likely go hungry. He estimates that he and his partners only have about two weeks’ worth of ingredients left in their stores — and he doesn’t know what will happen afterward.
Servetnyk’s bread has become a lifeline for people in Kherson, but it’s more than just sustenance. In Ukraine — like other eastern European countries — bread has cultural significance, representing more than just food.
“In Ukraine, the smell of bread crust at the visceral level is something unbelievable just because we were baking it since the dawn of time,” Servetnyk says.
Even if Russians take Ukrainian land, they will not be able to take the Ukrainian people, he adds. When asked what Ukrainians are fighting for, he replied: “You should rather ask the Russians about it. We are fighting for our land… for our freedom.”
Servetnyk considered taking up arms against the Russians, until he heard the sound of a tank firing near the window of his home. He was terrified.
“That is when I understood that if I go to the battlefield and hear the sound of a tank, I would freeze and get killed,” he said.
“After hearing this sound, I understood that everybody must go about his own business. Military should fight and bakers should bake bread and help people,” he said.