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Deeper Than Dinner

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    Ukrainian chef Ievgen Klopotenko holds a tray of pampushky garlic bread in his kitchen in Kyiv, Ukraine. (AP/Chris Warde-Jones)
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    UNESCO added Ukrainian borsch to its list of “intangible national heritage” items in July 2022. (AP/Chris Warde-Jones)
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    TV celebrity chef Ievgen Klopotenko takes a picture of a dish during a power cut. (AP/Chris Warde-Jones)
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    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sometimes wears hoodies printed with the words “I’m Ukrainian.” Many Ukrainians joined the president in ditching Russian for Ukrainian as their primary language. (Henry Nicholls/Pool Photo via AP)
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    Banosh is a Ukrainian corn porridge. (123RF)
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Moscow made errors when it invaded Ukraine. One was assuming that Ukraine and Russia were the same. The ensuing war has galvanized Ukraine. Around the country, Ukrainians are reconnecting with their own culture—even honing it to make Ukrainians, well, more Ukrainian.

Ukrainians are manifesting national pride and unity in multiple ways. Some stopped speaking Russian and switched almost entirely to Ukrainian. The change came as people realized “that they have been forcefully Russified,” according to a Washington Post article.

The pro-Ukraine spirit continues into the church. Early on, Ukraine’s branch of the Orthodox Church officially cut ties with its Russian religious leaders. Just like that: no more Moscow Patriarch. Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy called the separation a step toward “spiritual independence.”

“The war accelerated the growth of Ukrainian culture,” says TV celebrity chef Ievgen Klopotenko, who led a cultural victory over Russia.

With soup.

“It’s our symbol,” he says. “Borsch is our leader.”

Overstated? Maybe. But experts say borsch (Ukrainian transliteration) is part of the country’s essence. Eaten always and everywhere, it represents history, family, and centuries of tradition.

Soup figures into the biblical story of Jacob. Remember the usurper who bought his brother’s birthright for pottage? God led Jacob into Egypt. He went in as head of a family that grew but eventually became enslaved. Still, God worked through captivity and brought that family out as the mighty nation of Israel.

Russian influences had long controlled Ukrainian food. Before Soviet rule began in 1917, Ukrainian cuisine was more varied and seasoned. Russian austerity changed that, and the cuisine never bounced back.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 triggered a culinary response. Trying to retain their heritage, Klopotenko and others researched pre-Soviet cooking.

Klopotenko began overhauling the bland Soviet-influenced cafeteria menus in Ukrainian schools. He opened a restaurant, 100 Rokiv Tomu Vpered (100 Years Ago Ahead). The name refers to Ukrainian cuisine before Soviet rule—and what it could be again.

The menu draws on dishes many Ukrainians had forgotten, like roasted parsnips with smoked sour cream; buckwheat bread flavored with chamomile; and banosh, a corn porridge topped with cottage cheese, mushrooms, and apples.

But the starring dish is borsch: beef and beets seasoned with smoked pears. Last year, the United Nations declared Ukrainian borsch an “intangible cultural heritage” asset.

The decision angered Russians. They take their borscht (with a t) seriously. The U.N. declaration was a turning point. Ukrainians “started to understand that they are Ukrainians” says Klopotenko.

“Russia wanted to kill the culture,” he says. “But it’s worked the other way.”

Why? God sometimes uses unusual means to grow and preserve His people! Even in the darkest world events, God is doing something good and redemptive. “He does according to His will . . . among the inhabitants of the Earth.” (Daniel 4:35)