Anna Sakawsky grew up hearing stories of when her great-grandparents, whom she called Baba and Gido, moved from Ukraine to Canada, leaving behind "the old country" and eventually settling in British Columbia. While her Baba Sophie was still living when she was born, Sakawsky says her great-grandmother died when she was 4, leaving behind a treasure trove of family stories and recipes, including a darn good pierogi recipe that Sakawsky's family still gets together to make once a year.
"Pierogies are a simple recipe made from humble ingredients that go a long way toward feeding hungry bellies," says Sakawsky, whose Ukrainian name is Anastasia. "They're essentially dumplings filled with mashed potatoes that are boiled or fried and topped with loads of fried onions and sour cream."
As conflict continues in Ukraine, Sakawsky, who blogged about her family's pierogi recipe, says she and her family have looked to food traditions as a way to feel connected to their heritage.
And she's not the only one: Across social media, families who share Ukrainian heritage are posting about their favorite recipes and the stories that go along with them, something Sakawsky thinks is helping people far from Ukraine feel connected in the midst of the turmoil.
"Now that Ukraine is at war with Russia and facing an uncertain future, it's even more important to preserve our cultural heritage," says the fourth-generation Ukrainian Canadian. "Hearing stories of family friends hiding in bomb shelters and fleeing the country has been difficult for me, but has been especially difficult for my mom who worries she may never be able to return to Ukraine or see her friends again."
Sakawsky says it's simple things like cooking pierogi, cabbage rolls or borscht, a stew made with beets, that have reminded her of who she is. "No matter where Ukrainians migrate to," she says, "one comfort that we will always have comes from knowing we can always connect to our culture through food and remember what it means to be Ukrainian."
Sarah Mock is a classically-trained chef and culinary blogger whose great-grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine through Ellis Island in 1906. Mock, who lives in Pennsylvania, recently tweeted about her family's paska (or Easter) bread recipe, saying, "Part of my heritage is Ukrainian. Ukrainian Easter bread is something we make each year. This year it will hold more significance."
🇺🇦 UKRAINIAN EASTER BREAD RECIPE 🇺🇦
Part of my heritage is Ukrainian. Ukrainian Easter bread is something we make each year. This year it will hold more significance. #StandingWithUkraine
— Savoring The Good® (@SarahBMock) March 1, 2022
Mock says paska bread is only served by Ukrainian families at Easter. "When I was little I would get excited to go to my grandmother's house for Christmas but then would be disappointed that there was not paska — that was just reserved for Easter," she tells Yahoo Life. "It was sliced thick and spread with softened salted butter. The butter had to be salted. If there was any leftover, the next day my grandmother would make French toast out of it: the best French toast ever."
As Easter approaches, Mock says she'll be thinking of the Ukrainian people as she prepares her own paska.
"I know the traditions are important and run deep," she says. "With hundreds of thousands on the move, households disrupted and lives shattered I know many will not be cooking their traditional Easter recipes. I will cook and carry on these recipes because so many don't have the opportunity this year."
Cathy Luciuk is co-president of the Regina, Saskatchewan branch of the Ukrainian Women's Association of Canada (UWAC), a non-profit organization that produced Ukrainian Daughters' Cookbook, a book first released in 1984 that's now in it's 15th printing due to its popularity with Ukrainian families worldwide.
"It's been around a number of years and we're well over 100,000 copies," says Luciuk. "The group that [put the book together] still exists and was established in 1926: We're a group of women from Regina and the ladies like to have some project intended to be a money generator because we earn funds that we then distribute to charity."
Within the book, Luciuk says readers will find information about traditional Ukrainian festivals and holidays as well as sections on Ukrainian foods and recipes with photos. And, while the book is available online through used book resellers, Luciuk explains that ordering one directly from the organization by mail is the best way to get a current copy of the book and make sure the UWAC can fund Ukrainian relief efforts.
Luciuk says Ukrainian food is "comforting," made from fresh ingredients and guaranteed to channel memories of home and family for those who eat it.
"Anyone from a Ukrainian background will always recollect recipes that baba made," she says. "The foods bring back pleasant memories ... I think people have good memories they have not abandoned and even when things are heartbreaking like they are now, people can repeat those happy experiences through a meal and be mindful of times with friends and family."
Tamara Schroeder, who lives in Alberta, Canada, shared her own experience with Ukrainian Daughters' Cookbook on Twitter, saying, "Show of hands, who has this? It was a rite of passage in our family."
"I think I do," replied one follower. "And if I don't, my mom definitely does."
"I used to," said another, "but I lost somewhere it and haven't been able to find it."
Schroeder says both of her paternal grandparents were Ukrainian. She remembers receiving the cookbook for her 13th birthday after her grandmother died. "One of my aunts made sure that my cousin and I were each given a copy," she recalls. "I only realized as I got older that most of the friends I met with Ukrainian heritage had been given one at some point in her life, whether it was new or handed down to her from another family member: I think it's the bible of traditional recipes for Canadian Ukrainian families."
Schroeder says while she recalls eating Ukrainian foods growing up, she only has one Ukrainian recipe in her arsenal: nachinka, a cornmeal casserole. Seeing the conflict in Ukraine, however, has made her pledge to try cooking more dishes from the book.
"This crisis awakened a desire to reconnect with this part of my past that I knew so well in my younger years, but not well enough to execute or teach my own children as an adult," says Schroeder. "I want my kids to understand these connections as they grow."
What's first on her list?
"I plan to start making some of the simpler things I remember from my childhood," she says, explaining she'll start with borscht and nalysnyky, a type of Ukrainian crepe. "I think food is a universal language and a way we connect with others. We all eat, whether it's for enjoyment or survival. It's a basic necessity that connects humans and allows us to share in a way we can all understand."
"I think we crave that connection," she continues, "especially in times of crisis. It can connect us to our past, our families and loved ones, but also people we've just met or maybe haven't even met. I can't think of many other things that bring people together as broadly and universally as food."
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