José Andrés Has Some Things To Get Off His Chest As World Central Kitchen Prepares For A Brutal Ukraine Winter

CHef José Andrés pulls out his iPhone to flip between two pictures from Ukraine. Another, a video, shows a crowd of people enjoying hot soup at a tent with workers from his international food aid group, World Central Kitchen. Another image is a tent emblazoned with the UNICEF logo. It’s dark and empty.

There was nothing in that United Nations tent but a “QR code,” Andrés said Forbes during an interview at his recently opened Zaytinya restaurant in New York’s Flatiron district. The World Central Kitchen, which travels the world to provide food to people devastated by war and natural disasters, has never donated so many resources in one place as it did in Ukraine. The organization has more than 4,000 cooks and volunteers, and Andrés himself has spent more than 80 days in Ukraine since Russia launched an unprovoked attack more than eight months ago. Now that the temperatures are dropping and there aren’t enough people and places to serve hot soup, Andrés worries that the World Central Kitchen will stand on its own.

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“Where were the people? Where were the people?” Andrés says about the United Nations tent, his voice was almost a sigh. “This is an open wound. Where does the money go?”

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That’s brutal from Andrés, who is among the most visible people in the world. He promises that World Central Kitchen will feed hungry Ukrainians until spring, but that is not the organization’s goal. Food must be distributed in emergency situations, not spend more than a year in a war zone because millions of starving Ukrainians have nowhere else to turn.

Stress is clearly something Andrés, 53, has struggled with. “We have been strong and quick to respond,” he said. “It’s a good question: where have they been? And why does the installation take so long? “

UNICEF declined to comment on the allegations of inaction.

World Central Kitchen Ukraine’s efforts are supported by $10 million from a $100 million prize Andrés received from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The rest, or what Andrés promises is “99.99%,” is paid for by small donations from foundations and concerned individuals.

So far this year, the organization has delivered 175 million meals to Ukraine from more than 8,100 distribution points that have reached more than 1,100 cities and towns. In total, worldwide, World Central Kitchen will serve 250 million meals by 2022.

Russia has used food weapons almost since the war began on February 24. In its first hours, a ship carrying Cargill grain was hit, and in June a train carrying World Central Kitchen supplies was destroyed by a Russian missile. According to the Ukrainian government, Russians have opened fire on grain silos and railroad tracks, and Russian soldiers have stolen 500,000 tons of grain from residential areas and tried to sell it on the international market.

Russian ships have also blocked the Black Sea, where 30% of grain exports are transported every year, holding about 20 million tons in silos and warehouses in Ukraine. That pushed up already high prices and cut supplies to countries in North Africa and the Middle East where millions are starving. International negotiations have moved forward to open the ships, but any agreements remain on shaky ground.

Since August, almost all of the food that has been distributed to the World Central Kitchen has been sourced from a network of farmers and producers in Ukraine. That gives survivors “a sense of dignity and hope and strength to carry on in a very difficult situation,” says Abiola Afolayan, a former United Nations official who is now a global policy adviser for Bread For The World.

As Ukrainians prepare for the long winter, they no doubt remember their own famine, the Holodomor, which killed millions between 1932 and 1933. at the same time to export it to other countries.

Andrés realized immediately how bad the war could be. When news of the Russian invasion broke in February, he left Miami and flew to Ukraine without pausing to grab a winter coat. The jacket was sent to him when he extended his stay.

Andrés says: “Ukrainians are used to cold, but they are used to cold and electric winters.” “The war is still going on in places where we can help, and this winter for us is urgent.”

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