AAs Russia’s attack on Ukraine intensified, Kyiv residents were urged to take shelter. Manish Dave – who owns an Indian restaurant in the country’s beleaguered capital – quickly opened his doors.
Over the past few days, Dave’s basement restaurant has become a makeshift bunker, where dozens of children, pregnant women, college students, the homeless and the elderly have gathered, seeking to protect themselves from deadly confrontations. Since Russia went to war on Thursday, Dave has housed and fed over 130 people.
“I will continue to provide shelter and food for as long as I can,” Dave, 52, said in a phone interview.
Dave moved from Vadodara, a town in the Indian state of Gujarat, to Kyiv in October 2021, with the intention of opening an Indian restaurant. He wanted to give Indian students, of whom there are thousands in the region, a taste of home.
“I opened the restaurant to bring Indian culture to the country,” says Dave.
He found a vacant underground space about a three-minute walk from a hostel for international students attending Bogomelets National Medical University and opened the Saathiya restaurant in January. Before the business had a chance to become profitable, Dave said, disaster struck.
“Everything was fine,” recalls Dave. “Suddenly all these things happened here.”
“There were fires, explosions, bombs,” he continues. “It was very scary. People are scared. »
As a barrage of explosions erupted and civilians desperately sought shelter, Dave realized, “A basement is a safe place,” he said. “The place is so big, and I should help.”
First, he told his regular customers – who are mostly students – that they could stay in his basement restaurant. Then he posted on the Telegram messaging app, urging anyone in need of shelter and food to stop by.
“If you don’t have a safe place to stay during this time, please go here,” he posted, and included the address of his restaurant. “We will do our best to organize free food and stay within our capacity. Stay united with Ukraine.
All are welcome, he stressed: “Any nationality, anyone can come here and take shelter”.
Soon foreigners began to arrive, including 32-year-old Natali Antontseva, who was born in eastern Ukraine and moved to Kyiv in 2012 to start her career in an industrial goods and services company.
At 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, Antontseva received an urgent call from her husband, who works abroad.
“Get up,” he shouted over the phone. “Russia is bombing kyiv. The war has begun.
Panicking, Antontseva drove to meet her mother and brother, and they began to search for the nearest shelter. She was also joined by her friends, including a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy and her husband.
After stopping in a “wet, dirty” shelter without “electricity or drinking water”, they ended up at Dave’s restaurant, says Antontseva.
“I can’t express how happy we were when we entered a clean, warm room with a pleasant smell of Indian spices,” says Antontseva. “Despite the fact that there was not much space, doors were opened for everyone. They offered us hot tea and dinner. I was also happy for my pregnant friend who could sleep on a small couch instead of the cold basement floor we were in before.
kyiv is full of moribund Cold War-era bunkers, but most of them have fallen into disrepair or been refurbished. In the weeks leading up to the invasion, the city released a map of the shelters, but confused locals found they were used as cafes, storage rooms and, in one case, a strip club.
Antontseva stayed at Dave’s shelter for one night, before she and her family headed west, a harrowing journey that took two days.
Dave “was worried about our safety even after we left. We are still in contact with him,” says Antontseva. “The war has shown how important it is to remain a human being despite one’s race, country or religion.”
Nataliya Hernandez Flor, 38, and her family also sought refuge at the Saathiya restaurant. Since Thursday, Hernandez Flor has been there with her husband and four children, as well as her parents.
Kyiv-born Hernandez Flor shared her story via WhatsApp.
“We are very grateful,” she wrote in a text message, adding that Dave and his team of 11 employees – all of whom are housed in the restaurant – are “very hospitable, polite and caring”.
Plus, they “cook very tasty,” says Hernandez Flor.
Dave feeds shelter seekers for free. He and his staff prepare traditional Indian dishes, such as dal served with rice. In order to accommodate everyone’s palates, however, “we try to make Indian food less spicy,” says Dave, adding that the restaurant has been closed for business and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
They also cooked simple pasta and other European dishes that were inexpensive to make and easy to make in large batches. Given the influx of people, they had to ration their resources.
“One day we hosted 130 people,” says Dave.
He refused to accept funds from those who ate or took refuge in his restaurant, explaining that “we are like one family. We all bring things, not money.
Instead of financial offers, Dave asked people to buy groceries, so he could continue to take care of those in need for as long as possible.
“People donate rice, food and vegetables,” says Dave. “We all contribute and share.”
As well as making sure the people in the restaurant stayed well fed, he and his staff also delivered free food to another nearby bunker.
While Dave hopes his shelter and meals will serve as a small source of solace amid the chaos, “we’re very panicked,” he says.
“Every night we hear explosions and gunshots,” echoes Hernandez Flor.
Dave says as an Indian in Ukraine, the situation has become increasingly worrying, after his home country abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution condemning the invasion Russian.
“We are all safe at the moment in the basement of my restaurant, but outside when we walk we don’t feel safe,” he says, adding that many of his regular customers have fled. to the western part of Ukraine, which is closer to Europe. Union countries and NATO troops.
Dave, who is a widower, said his family in India – including his mother and daughter – are “quite worried”. Still, he hopes to stay in Ukraine for the time being. If the situation gets any worse, he says, “I have to go.”
In this case, he intends to hand over his keys to allow people to continue sheltering in his restaurant for as long as necessary.
In the meantime, as the crisis continues to unfold, he will welcome anyone who comes to his door asking for help.
“I’m doing my best,” says Dave.
© The Washington Post