As Christmas Day approached, the team of one popular restaurant in the heart of Kyiv was running against the clock to bake a large batch of Christmas cakes.
The cakes weren’t for sale, though.
Restaurateur Tetiana Mytrofanova and her team are on a mission to bake hundreds of Christmas sweets for Ukrainian soldiers who are spending the holiday season in cold trenches.
But Kyiv’s frequent power cuts, caused by Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, make the task difficult. The products are stored in fridges, and the oven only works with electricity.
“Sometimes we don’t have power for two hours, sometimes for five hours, and there are days when we don’t have power at all,” Mytrofanova, 58, told the Kyiv Independent. She owns Za Dvoma Zaytsyamy (Chasing Two Hares), a restaurant in the heart of Kyiv, named after a famous Ukrainian play and movie.
Fortunately for her, right before Christmas the restaurant got three days without power cuts, giving Mytrofanova’s team enough time to prepare the first 70 lamb-shaped Christmas cakes for the soldiers. More are coming.
“I really want these people who smell gunpowder and people who lost everything at home to smile,” Mytrofanova said.
Power disruptions add to the general hardship of running a restaurant in a wartime economy.
Mytrofanova said her team’s ability to help the military depends on the restaurant’s revenue. It doesn’t help that the number of customers has fallen twice since Russia’s mass strikes on energy facilities began in October, leading to severe energy shortages across the country.
As Kyiv restaurants see a decline in customer numbers, they are also dealing with rising operating costs. Inflation and having to buy a power generator and fuel add to the expenditures.
Still, as power disruptions worsen, Mytrofanova says she feels privileged to continue running her restaurant and deliver food to soldiers in the country’s darkest hour.
Worsening energy situation
Energy giant DTEK said that emergency power outages would continue throughout the holiday season in Kyiv and the surrounding region.
While power outage schedules used to be reliable in the first weeks of Russia’s attacks on energy infrastructure, the deepening energy shortage amid continued attacks has led to severe, abrupt blackouts, making it nearly impossible for restaurateurs to plan ahead.
After the last attack on Dec. 19, parts of Kyiv experienced power outages of up to 42 hours. Water outages were also recorded around the city.
Last week, Serhiy Kovalenko, the head of DTEK’s energy supplier Yasno, said that “10 hours without electricity is, unfortunately, a reality (in Kyiv) today,” though the repairs are underway.
On Christmas Day, Kovalenko said that the situation improved, meaning that every household in Kyiv should have electricity for a good part of the day. Ukraine celebrates Christmas both on Dec. 25 and Jan. 7, in the Western and Eastern Christian tradition.
‘It’s a lottery’
Kyiv’s power cuts have also been hard on Oleksiy Kamardin, 35, owner of the restaurant and pastry shop Bassano, a couple blocks away from Mytrofanova’s place.
While his newly purchased gas stoves allow the restaurant to serve warm meals regardless of the blackouts, the patissiers’ work has been constantly interrupted by power outages.
From mixing the dough to baking the pastries, their work is impossible without electricity.
Croissant is a particularly challenging pastry to bake now because any interruption could prevent the dough from rising and making it puffy, according to Bassano’s patissier Anton Shtypa, 30.
Even making stollen, which the restaurant sells during winter holidays, has become a challenge.
When the power goes off during dough mixing, ingredients can quickly get spoiled – leading to about $270 direct loss each time, in addition to patissiers’ work hours, according to Kamardin.
“It’s a lottery,” Kamardin told the Kyiv Independent. “We are doing everything cautiously because, at any moment, they can turn off the power.”
Some cafes and restaurants respond to the crisis by buying power generators, but this option isn’t for everyone. Generators suitable for catering services start from $1,350-$1,500 – a prohibitive price for some business owners.
Andrii Gudimov and his wife opened three small pizzerias called Хa in Kyiv after fleeing then-heavily bombarded Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. They decided it was “very unprofitable” to buy generators because of their price.
Gudimov admitted that his business is in a tough situation. One of his three pizzerias, located in the east-bank part of Kyiv, “never” has electricity.
Water outages also happen, but they are less problematic since restaurants can stock up on water in advance, Gudimov added.
For now, Gudimov is getting through the power outages by switching to gas – which takes longer to bake pizzas, and there is “a slight delay” in preparing the orders, he said.
“This is, unfortunately, still our reality,” Gudimov said. “We were not ready (for regular power outages), but we (Ukrainians) adapted very quickly.
“Ukrainians are amazing, and everything will be fine. We need to get through the winter.”