‘We’re usually fully booked on weekends,’ says Lana Zoubata, the woman behind Ukrainian restaurant Dnister in Forest Gate. ‘It’s mostly Ukrainian people who come to celebrate things. It’s really beautiful, there’s music and dancing. But right now it doesn’t feel like the atmosphere for celebration.’
Zoubata herself has been busier than ever. On February 24, after the shock of the news that Russia had invaded Ukraine had passed, she set up a fundraising appeal to support her home country. Aside from Dnister, which serves traditional Ukrainian dishes, Zoubata owns Sawmill Cafe and Unit Six Cafe (both in Stratford). All have become donation points. Goods dropped off there are transported to a warehouse in Barking before being taken directly to Ukraine. ‘There are many companies and people who want to support us,’ Zoubata says. ‘We had a full lorry ready to go to the border and now have another one that’s being packed full of boxes.’
‘A British doctor who wanted to go to Ukraine to help called and said he can take a van with donations,’ she says. ‘We’re thankful to the British people who are helping.’ Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, also got in touch to make a donation. Zoubata came to the UK in 1996 and set up her first business in 2005 in Victoria before relocating to east London, where she now manages her three well-loved venues.
Dnister, named after Ukraine’s Dniester river, will host a fundraiser on March 25 to share Ukrainian cuisine with locals. Zoubata hopes to make it a recurring event for as long as donations are needed. She recommends the borscht (beetroot soup) served with homemade garlic doughnuts. ‘It’s a really healthy and filling meal, I love it,’ she says. ‘And the dumplings are really good too.’
Tickets for the March 25 dinner cost £45 and are available here.
Here's how to help the people of Ukraine if you're living in London.