Three days before the New Year, a special kitchen train called “The Food Train,” visited the frontline cities of the Donbas – Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, as well as Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv.

The special train was created using money donated by the American billionaire, Howard Buffett. It delivered meals to Ukrainians who did not have the opportunity to cook a festive meal for themselves.

The 8,000 meals and a thousand New Year's gifts for children, all delivered by train, allowed many families living under constant Russian shelling to feel something of the holiday spirit. For a moment, perhaps, their minds were taken off the war.

In Kharkiv, on Dec. 31, 1,200 residents received free food from Fuminori Tsuchiko – a 75-year-old Japanese pensioner. Tsuchiko is known throughout Ukraine. On Feb. 24, 2022, he was in Poland having spent most of January in Kyiv studying war crimes committed by German fascists during the Second World War.

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When Ukrainians started fleeing into Poland, Tsuchiko returned to Kyiv, and then went to Kharkiv, where, throughout the most brutal shelling of the city, he lived in a metro station with residents of Kharkiv. It was during those difficult days that he decided to stay in Ukraine and help the country’s citizens.

Tsuchiko sold his house in Japan and opened a free food café in the most dangerous area of Kharkiv – Saltovka, close to the border with Russia.

Together with Ukrainian volunteers, he prepares food every day to feed all the needy residents of the city. The menu of the free “Fumi” café does not include Japanese cuisine, but there is always borscht, pasta, pies, and garlic. Tsuchiko receives part of the money for his free-food distribution program from well-wishers in Japan. Every day he uses social networks to show how Kharkiv is surviving the war and to report on the work of Fumi Café. With more and more people coming to eat there, Tsuchiko regularly goes out on the street to collect money from Kharkiv residents.

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Just before New Year, he was collecting money for groceries at Kharkiv’s Nikolsky shopping center. The shopping center’s management called the police to remove the Japanese “beggar” from the mall.  

Immediately Kharkiv residents created a huge scandal on social media over the mistreatment of the benefactor. The question was discussed throughout Ukraine and the mayor of Kharkiv, Serhiy Terekhov, had to intervene. The story had a happy end, with the Nikolsky shopping center offering to donate a large supply of food to the Fumi café.

A year ago, Tsuchiko decided to go to Poland for a few days to take a little break from volunteering. Ukrainian border guards removed him from the bus and all the other passengers had to wait for several hours until the Japanese pensioner had paid a fine for exceeding the period of his visa-free stay in Ukraine. Once in Poland Tsuchiko spent his holiday obtaining permission from the Ukrainian authorities to re-enter the country. Now, a year later, Tsuchiko is practically as well known in Ukraine as Mother Teresa. Recently, President Zelensky awarded him with the “National Legend of Ukraine” state prize.

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In our village, in Zhytomyr Oblast, a couple of times a month volunteers collect “smakoliks” – tasty morsels – for the military. They usually ask villagers to bring cookies, canned and bottled products, and anything that can be stored for a long time.

People worry about the conditions in which Ukrainian soldiers are living and, over New Year, this concern reached fever-pitch. A group of Ukrainian volunteers prepared 11 tons of olivie salad, for the Ukrainian military serving on the front line. It is made of chopped potato, carrot, peas, sausage, pickles and mayonnaise and it was a traditional dish on any Soviet festive table.

Reports about this salad were proudly shown by Ukrainian TV channels. Thirty-six cars packed with plastic buckets full of it set off towards various points of the front line. However, the reaction from the military was quite unexpected.

“The military is provided with food at a perfectly decent level! These headlines about volunteers preparing 11 tons of olivie for the Ukrainian army could be better interpreted as saying that volunteers threw 1.1 million hryvnia into the trash can,” said serviceman Ilya Krotenko, adding: “…The money you were going to spend on this would be better spent on purchasing drones!”

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Over the past two years, Ukraine and Russia have become the main buyers of drones on the world market, and they will soon become the largest manufacturers of drones too. Produced for battle, these essential tools will have a short life, and production must be on a huge scale.

By the end of 2023, Ukraine was producing 50,000 drones per month. Russia produces about 300,000. Recently, Zelensky promised that Ukraine would produce 1 million drones per year.

A year ago, only seven drone production companies existed in Ukraine. Now there are 70. How many will there be in a year? Secrecy around the subject makes it hard to gather facts and figures, but Ukraine is gradually transferring its economy to a war footing.

The last two years have revealed a great deal of talent and goodwill inside Ukraine, and it has been matched by more of both from abroad, as our Japanese hero proves.

Ingenuity has become the middle name of most people in the country, but I can’t help worrying about how much of that Olivier salad reached somebody’s festive table before it went bad.

Could they have used drones to get to the front line more quickly?

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Comments ( 1)

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Aerich vonStrobel (USA)
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People from around the world have adopted the philosophy that all humans matter. People around the world want to help each other.

However, drones are expensive and are war tools. Most people can't afford to purchase them for Ukraine. A lot of people can't export them either because of rules of their native countries.

Food is a great gift. In the countries I've been to in this great big world, food is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing. I'm sure that most of the citizens of this world that want to help the Ukrainian people first think of food.

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