‘More busy than Christmas’: Customers flock to East Vancouver Ukrainian restaurant

Click to play video: 'Local Ukrainian businesses grateful for outpouring of support'
Local Ukrainian businesses grateful for outpouring of support
Support pouring in for local Ukrainian businesses as the situation remains uncertain for their loved ones back home. Kamil Karamali reports – Feb 28, 2022

Iryna Karpenko’s restaurant in East Vancouver has never been more packed.

It’s been five days since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked, violent attack on Ukraine, and since then, Karpenko said all the tables at Kozak Eatery have been booked.

“It’s more busy than Christmas and Easter, we have long lines,” Karpenko told Global News, while celebrating her the 10-year anniversary of her arrival to Canada from Kyiv.

“We’re pretty much sold out of everything. We can’t be thankful enough for all the support — not necessarily from Ukrainians, from Russians who came to say sorry. I feel bad, they shouldn’t say sorry.”

Since the invasion of Ukraine began, thousands of Russians have taken to the streets in their own country to protest the Kremlin’s act of war, which has resulted in hundreds of Ukrainian civilian deaths.

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Thousands of British Columbians have also held demonstrations to show their solidarity with the Eastern European country, which is defending its independence against the invaders.

Karpenko, meanwhile, is struggling to fill all the orders for meals and baked goods at the restaurant, and donating all tips received to charitable organizations supporting Ukraine.

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“We’re not there so it’s important for us to know Ukraine is not alone. I feel bad because here. I’m just passing messages to whoever is in Ukraine that you’re being supported,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Negotiations and more fighting on Day 6 of the Ukraine invasion'
Negotiations and more fighting on Day 6 of the Ukraine invasion

Karpenko and her husband Sergiy moved to B.C. in 2012 and opened a bakery in 2014, selling their sweets at farmers markets from Steveston to Whistler. They opened their first brick-and-mortar eatery in 2015 and now have three locations.

Their family, however, remains in Ukraine, and Karpenko, tearing up, said she fears for their safety.

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“The first days were sleeping, sitting (underground) in the parking lot,” she described. “They’re all in Kyiv … the last few hours they said it’s massive attacks.”

Some of Karpenko’s relatives live near Chernobyl in an occupied town about 30 minutes away from Kyiv.

“Many houses burned. They have no water. They have no electricity,” she said. “My family were lucky enough to have some batteries so that’s how they charge their phones.”

Karpenko has been able to reach some of her relatives, but she hasn’t heard back from her cousin who has a nine-month-old child.

“My home, my village where I grew up is pretty much burned out. Nothing is left.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver resident’s ordeal in Ukraine'
Vancouver resident’s ordeal in Ukraine

Canada announced Monday it will send anti-tank weapons and upgraded ammunition to support Ukraine‘s fight against Russia. Ottawa also plans to prohibit all imports of Russian crude oil — a commodity Trudeau said has enriched Putin and the Russian oligarchs surrounding him.

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Ukraine, meanwhile, has requested to join the European Union since ceasefire talks with Russia on Monday in Belarus failed to produce any breakthroughs.

As the humanitarian crisis unfolds and more than half a million people flee, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also said the federal immigration department is speeding up processing visa applications from Ukrainians already in Canada, and those trying to enter.

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