Ukrainian refugees in Moldova learn culinary and business skills to whip up healthy food and become future entrepreneurs

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Chisinau, Moldova - On the two-year mark of the Ukraine crisis, World Vision’s work in Moldova for the Ukrainian refugees continues to provide the much-needed assistance in the country that has become a welcoming haven away from their homes in Ukraine.

One of World Vision’s projects launched a culinary program that became a source of hope as it empowered refugees to rebuild their lives and start their own small businesses in Moldova. It has gained the interest of 900 participants excited to learn from the culinary course.

Chef Julia's inspiring culinary classes have not only inspired the Ukrainian refugees to enhance their cooking skills, but also encouraged them to think of livelihoods they can pursue as they settle in Moldova.

With the support of Aktion Deutschland Hilft (ADH), World Vision, WeWorld, and Katalyst Kitchens have forged this collaborative effort to equip refugees with essential culinary skills, fostering independence and resilience within the community.

"Our efforts are focused on empowering individuals, facilitating their integration into new communities, and fostering long-term well-being through sustainable solutions," explains Natalia Cucu, the Project Coordinator at World Vision.

The culinary lessons also forged a strong bond among the participants that went beyond learning by becoming a community who supports each other as they learn and integrate.

She adds, “Our organization is committed to empower Ukrainian refugees. World Vision’s program helps enhance the skills and provide resources of the refugees to succeed through a range of capacity-building initiatives.”

A significant number of Ukrainian refugees stayed in Moldova and now calls it a home. While over five million are internally displaced in Ukraine, over two million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring European countries for safety, many are in Moldova.

From right: Anastasia, in a green hoodie, Iryna, and Elena proudly display their completed creation. The women take pride in their newly-enhanced skills and friendships.

Their economic situation remains precarious, many facing challenges in finding stable employment, livelihood and accessing essential resources.

Among them is Iryna, a former economist from Kherson, who finds solace in the kitchen as she dreams of providing for her family in Moldova. She expresses her aspirations of working in local restaurants.

Bogdana, in blue hairnet, Oksana, in eyeglasses) and Oksana wearing a pink bandanna all lauded the opportunity to improve their culinary skills and learn new techniques.

"Following the completion of this course, my intention is to pursue further learning opportunities and secure employment," her eyes revealing a resolute spirit forged through difficult experiences.

She adds, "I am so thankful for this support we continue to receive from organizations like WeWorld and World Vision. I hope that you will be able to help more and good luck with all that you do. We are very grateful."

This course instills a sense of optimism for what lies ahead. My daughters have a strong passion for cooking and are determined to pursue careers as chefs. This incredible opportunity fuels their dreams.

Olha, along with her twin daughters, Maria and Anastasia brings a wealth of experience from her previous ownership of a bustling café in Odesa.

"We had to make the difficult decision to halt our business operations and liquidate all our assets in order to relocate," she explains, her voice reflecting a strong sense of determination.

Two years ago, these women have different paths and hometowns, but the war in Ukraine has brought them together as they pursue their passion and integrate better in the country that welcomed them warmly.

"This course instills a sense of optimism for what lies ahead. My daughters have a strong passion for cooking and are determined to pursue careers as chefs. This incredible opportunity fuels their dreams,” Olha added.

Anastasia, a former dance choreographer, has found a new passion in the culinary arts, "I love to cook, and I always research new recipes to try. In fact, my husband loves my cooking." she says, her eyes lighting up with excitement.

Iryna, a former economist from Kherson, Ukraine, seeks comfort in the kitchen as she envisions a better future for her family in Moldova and aspires to work in local restaurants.

"With Chef Julia's guidance, I am eager to explore opportunities in cafes or restaurants here in Moldova. "We feel so lucky that we are part of this free culinary course because this is expensive in culinary schools. I am very happy to learn and to also meet a lot of people from Ukraine with the same interest," Anastasia adds.

 Rodica Pascali, a Project Assistant for WeWorld, expresses her enthusiasm for their collaboration with World Vision and Katalyst Kitchens, “We are working to empower Ukrainian refugees and Moldovans by enhancing their skills and knowledge, facilitating community integration, and enhancing their overall well-being.

Two ladies, brought together by their passion for cooking, prepare their dish for the day. 

She further adds, “Our skill development programs are helping individuals enhance their career prospects, gain access to new job opportunities, and make meaningful contributions to society.”

Bogdana, a young woman from Kyiv sees the cooking class as an opportunity for self-improvement. "I joined this class to improve my skills, and when I finish, I will find work to become self-sufficient while in Moldova. I am so grateful for this experience", she says, gratitude rings in her voice.

The people of Ukraine has always shown the example of resilience and courage to do better under challenging situations. These participants as the inspiring faces of collaboration between Ukraine and Moldova.

Surrounded by fragrant spices and echoing with joyful laughter, a strong bond forms among the participants, creating a sense of togetherness in the kitchen. Within this vibrant culinary setting, one cannot help but be captivated by the boundless creativity and unwavering determination that fills the air.

The place became a symbol of hope that thrives and the triumph of Ukrainians’ indomitable spirit to rise from the impact of the war in their lives.


Watch: Cooking Up Hope - Culinary Course for Ukrainian Refugees in Moldova


Story and photos by Eugene Combo and Christopher Lete/WorldVision