Volunteers pack borshch soup ingredients into ready-to-make kits for frontline troops

Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) - Volunteers in camouflage aprons packed the ingredients for Ukraine’s UNESCO-recognised borshch soup into ready-to-make kits, preparing food with a symbolic weight for troops battling Russia’s invasion.

While some in the West think of the soup as synonymous with Russian cuisine, Ukraine claims the dish as part of its national culture dating back to the 14th century.

“At the front, the main thing is ammunition and food,” said Svitlana Kozina, coordinator of the volunteer group Capital Kitchen Unit, which produces in Kyiv 4,000-5,000 sachets of borshch mix per month for troops.

“You can keep a package like this in a bag or even in a pocket of your jacket, wear it, put it behind your bulletproof vest,” she added, referring to the dry soup packets.

The dish carries particular cultural weight for Ukraine, which has waged the so-called Borshch war to claim ownership of the culinary prize.

'Carrots, beets, onions, greens, potatoes, spices, tomato paste -- a complete meal,' says Korotkova

After Moscow’s invasion, the United Nations’ cultural agency inscribed in 2022 the culture of cooking borshch soup in Ukraine on its list of endangered cultural heritage in a move urged by Kyiv.

As she worked, volunteer Svitlana Korotkova proudly noted she was preparing “the intangible heritage recognised by UNESCO that is the Ukrainian borshch”.

“Carrots, beets, onions, greens, dried potatoes and spices. And tomato paste. It’s a totally ready-to-use set. You put it in a pan, you can add meat as you like and there will be a complete dish,” she said.

Feeding Ukraine’s forces has become a job shared by the government, individuals and volunteer groups across the country.

Elsewhere in Kyiv, the Field Kitchen B-50 group – which was named for a nearby military unit – prepared energy bars from nuts and dried fruit.

“Food is always important but in wartime it is especially important. It’s our frontline,” said Alina Yeshchenko, a 35-year-old volunteer.

“They’re out there on the front line protecting us,” she said of Ukraine’s soldiers. “We do what we can for them.”