Earlier than the struggle, Igor Mezencev beloved to enter the forest with Ukraine’s finest cooks, outfitted with simply 4 substances – salt, sugar, vinegar and oil – and attempt to prepare dinner excessive delicacies within the wild.
Now, along with his metropolis, Kharkiv, beneath heavy bombardment, Mezencev is confined to his high-rise flat. However utilizing no matter substances he can discover, he has continued to prepare dinner and invent – baking bread from untoasted buckwheat groats, cooking on his balcony and revisiting childhood recipes. He says this has helped him to deal with the fear of the shelling and airstrikes.
“Cooking helps my nervous system to control,” the 33-year-old mentioned in his diary, which he has shared with the Observer. “However there may be this fixed ache in the back of my head. They are saying it occurs throughout excessive stress.”
Mezencev is now residing alone along with his ailing French bulldog, Yosik, after he and his girlfriend, Ania, determined that she ought to evacuate to the safer metropolis of Lviv.
Quickly after war broke out, with shells exploding round them, he did a listing of his shares of grain, fish and meat and felt nicely ready. The freezer was full, and he introduced on Instagram that he was prepared to start out baking bread and cooking for folks. “However then,” he writes, “catastrophe struck. One of many missiles hit the ability station and our district was with out electrical energy.”
So he acquired out a tenting range he had used within the wild for Topot, his chef expedition venture, and began cooking soup and low on the balcony in “a brand new way of life and survival”. When, on day six of the struggle, their provides began working low, they took meat out of the freezer and began curing a few of it with salt, and used the remainder to make tushonka – much like French confit.
Historically in Kharkiv, folks have barbecues beneath their home windows in March, a “festive, greet-the-spring cook-out”. However this 12 months, Mezencev mentioned, as a substitute of constructing conventional shashlik, folks have been utilizing barbecues to warmth tinned meals, and water for laundry. “It was so heart-breaking to observe this,” he writes. “It lastly dawned on me: we reside in a struggle zone.”
Within the following days, as quickly as curfew ended at 6am, queues of as many as 1,000 folks fashioned outdoors outlets, and when the grocery store opened at 9am, it let in 10 folks at a time. They then needed to queue for an additional two hours to pay by card as a result of money machines are empty.
After strolling the 3km house carrying about 50kg of meals, Ania and he noticed extra queues – for humanitarian assist – and cut up the provides between them and their mother and father.
When planes shelled the town centre and blew out the home windows of Iskra Bar, the place Mezencev labored, he realised he couldn’t go to work any extra and wanted to have the ability to assist from house. As a substitute, he grew to become a “couch activist”. He began serving to charity World Central Kitchen by connecting them with logistics firms and supermarkets.
When he ran out of flour and yeast and it was virtually inconceivable to get right into a grocery store, he as a substitute determined to make his personal flour utilizing untoasted buckwheat groats. “Certainly one of our native supermarkets sells a buckwheat baguette. However I reckon mine got here out a lot better than theirs – I vowed to share my recipe with the grocery store as soon as it was throughout!”
Now, he says, there isn’t any extra buckwheat however he has managed to get reside yeast and make bread with wheat flour.
On day 25, they determined Ania ought to go away for Lviv and he would stick with Yosik, who wouldn’t survive a 24-hour prepare journey. They drove by means of the shattered metropolis to the station, the place they noticed “a thousand deserted vehicles”. Then they mentioned goodbye. “We hugged and began to cry,” he writes. “Once more, insufferable. This stuff shouldn’t be doable. Struggle is such evil.”
Mezencev’s mother and father stay in Kharkiv along with his brother, in a neighbourhood that he can not get to, and Ania’s mother and father are close to by.
After Ania’s departure, he went again to their flat, the place he hugged Yosik tightly as missiles banged within the background, and cooked meals his mom has made since he was a toddler: borscht, boiled buckwheat, and stewed rooster with garlic.
“We may have sufficient meals and shares of merchandise for a month,” he informed the Observer. After that, he hopes he’ll be capable to go to work.
“I’m nonetheless a prepare dinner and I’m nonetheless a dreamer. I’m positive that quickly we’ll win and change into even higher, stronger for positive,” he mentioned.