Music and the food of love — a baker and musician harnesses talents to support Ukraine
Motivated to help her home country in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion, Nadiia Pryimak, a Ukrainian woman living in Cape Town, has harnessed her musical and culinary skills to raise funds for people in war-torn Ukraine.
In the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Nadiia Pryimak, a Ukrainian living in South Africa, sought ways to assist those affected by the crisis in her home country. Through traditional Ukrainian baked goods and music, she has been able to raise funds for those displaced by the ongoing war.
Before 24 February, Pryimak did not keep up with the news or the antics of politicians, either in her home country of Ukraine or the rest of the world. Having been a resident of SA for about a decade, her focus was on closing her bakery of five years — an enterprise specialising in Ukrainian products.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, however, brought about a drastic change in her outlook.
“I was not interested in politics at all at the time, and always said ‘ugh, doesn’t matter’,” said Pryimak. “But when war is coming into your home, it changes your mind completely… Now I meet people who say, ‘Ah, I’m not interested, I don’t watch it’, [and] I’m just looking at them like my mirror — [that’s] exactly me before 24 February.”
Neither Pryimak nor her family members in Ukraine anticipated the invasion. The shock she felt when it happened took over her life for about two weeks.
“The first day it was shock. It was crying. It was shaking hands, legs,” she said. “You cannot focus, you cannot do [anything], you cannot resist just shaking.
“I asked my cousin … and she sent me a video with a long line of military [personnel] on their way to their city.
“And … when I saw it [for the] first time I cried because it was very scary, it was long … with such huge rockets, with missiles.”
Pryimak’s cousin fled from Kharkiv, near the Russian border, to central Ukraine in April, while her two older sisters are living in the western part of the country.
Baking for change
In the aftermath of the invasion, Pryimak took to watching, reading and listening to the news each day.
In listening to a speech by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in which he said he was waiting for reports on Ukraine from the country’s African ambassadors, she was motivated to find ways of supporting her war-affected country.
“I was thinking … in what way I can help. Prayers are good, yes, but Ukraine needs money; it’s much better,” said Pryimak.
The need for money in Ukraine is dire, she explained, as many residents have had to pack their whole life into one bag and leave their homes for safer areas. They are forced to build themselves up from next to nothing.
It was this need that led Pryimak to revive her bakery for the month of April.
She ran the operation from her home in Strand, Cape Town.
Pryimak’s decision to run the bakery fundraiser was a “genuine, personal, painful and heartfelt effort to help her country at a horrific time”, according to Iwona*, a Cape Town resident and customer of the bakery.
“Nadiia had actually decided to stop the bakery, but following the outbreak of war, she decided that baking and cooking again was the best way to raise funds for Ukraine,” said Iwona. “It was an amazing thing to do, and so focused at a time when she was so worried [about] her family and country.”
Pryimak said that when she first posted about the fundraising project on social media, she received a huge response from the local community. Through the sale of Ukrainian delicacies such as borsch (beetroot soup), varenyky (dumplings) and honey cake, she was able to raise about R15,000 for donation to the Ukrainian Association of South Africa. The association, in partnership with Gift of the Givers, is accepting donations for the provision of humanitarian aid in Ukraine.
“I shared and supported the fundraiser because Nadiia is Ukrainian, she has family in Ukraine, she’s passionate about her country and I know that she would know where the money raised would be most needed,” said Iwona.
Marek Zalewski, another customer of the bakery, described Pryimak’s baking as “art, patience, imagination, quality ingredients and family tradition”.
He added, “[W]e all should learn from Nadiia, how a single person can make the difference by constructive acts.”
The bakery fundraiser helped to raise awareness about the situation in Ukraine, according to Helen Dagut, another customer. Through sharing information about the fundraiser, she hoped that more people would see the “human aspect” of the ongoing crisis.
The power of music
While Pryimak has since brought the bakery fundraiser to an end, she has turned to a new avenue of supporting her country: music.
Before moving to South Africa in 2012, Pryimak was a music teacher. She plays the bandura, a traditional Ukrainian instrument and a symbol of freedom. “I chose it from my childhood because I loved the sound,” she said.
During a recent trip to Pretoria, Pryimak played her instrument for a gathering of ambassadors and delegates at the delegation of the European Union’s embassy.
On 8 May, Pryimak played at Freedom Park as part of an event to commemorate the end of World War 2. Later the same day, she performed at a separate event, a “Bazaar to Support Ukraine”, in Brooklyn, Pretoria.
Through her music, Pryimak has been able to raise about R10,000 for donation to aid Ukraine. “I never thought that I would present [my instrument] somewhere at the end of the world in South Africa, and especially in the Ukrainian war,” she said.
Raising money through her baking and music has shown Pryimak that “Ukrainians can organise themselves everywhere” — something that allows them to feel a sense of solidarity with the world.
“I feel [that] it’s important when … people support you in different ways,” she said. “Just with words. You can kill, [but] you can treat, heal. It’s really important to stand together.” DM168
* Iwona chose to have her surname left out of the article out of concern for her privacy.
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.