Baking for good
The Good Bread from Good People bakery in Kyiv is a social enterprise which employs people with mental disabilities - who bake free bread for people living on the frontline.
Bakers hard at work
When you walk inside the Good Bread from Good People social enterprise bakery in Kyiv, it really is like walking into a family home. Everyone is hard at work, but there's no tension, no drama - the atmosphere, they tell me, is one of love. "We like to create a family here", Galina tells me: currently they have 24 staff members with mental disabilities like Down's syndrome and autism, working alongside other professional bakers and volunteers: and since the full scale invasion began they've baked hundreds of thousands of loaves of bread for communties on the front line.
Vlyadyslav Malashchenko set up the bakery in 2017, frustrated by the lack of opportunities for people with disabilities in Ukraine, he wanted to give them a chance to work, to socialise, in a place where they would be treated with dignity and respect. They made cakes, pastries and cookies for sale, until the war began - and then they realised that it was more important to begin making bread for people who really needed it. The first time I visited, in the summer of 2022, they were operating out of a small space in Kyiv, keeping going thanks to donations from supporters inside Ukraine and abroad. Those same donors managed to buy a large generator in the winter when Russia's attacks on infrastructure cut millions of people off from electricity and power supplies - thanks to that support, Good Bread could keep their ovens on.
Every loaf is made from scratch
Now the bakery has a new home on Kyiv's left bank - with a large, well lit space on the ground floor with plenty of room for the kneading tables, proofing shelves and bread ovens, with a separate kitchen and space to pack the loaves so they can be driven to areas like Donetsk region and Kherson, where many people don't have the means to make or buy bread of their own. The extra capacity means they've been able to diversify beyond the more basic loaves of white bread - I saw one man preparing seeded sourdough, there was a plaited challah, and some lemon poppyseed cakes for families with children. "Every day, we bake almost two thousand loaves, from scratch" says Galina "and sometimes we have to help our people remember how to make bread again every morning, but we take our time - it might be slower but we treat everyone like part of a big family." It's an incredibly efficient system: on the wall, a whiteboard shows a list of all the places where deliveries are going, while the loaves are carefully packed into bags and boxes, ready to load inside large lorries which will make the dangerous journeys south and east. They've taken bread to Bakhmut, to Chasiv Yar, to Avdiivka, to Kypyansk and villages around Kherson - risking driving under shelling and artillery fire to bring bread to those in the greatest need.
Patrick Longfield at the bakery
Among the other volunteers is retired American diplomat Patrick Longfield, who's been helping out at the bakery since the beginning of the full scale war. He had worked in a defence role at the US embassy in Kyiv, married a Ukrainian and was still living there when the invasion began - and despite the fact he had never baked a thing before, Good Bread seemed the ideal place to help. "I've got to tell you, this is a very humbling experience", he says, and talks about the times he's been out with the volunteers who deliver the bread all the way to the front line areas where people live under constant bombardment and entire villages have been reduced to ruins. "We were in this one village which had been occupied, I would say 60% of the place had been destroyed, and there was a lady who was living in a tent with her daughter - her home was all burnt out, the roof was gone. But she has hopes of rebuilding it. And there are stories like this all over the place. People always want to give you something, 'Take this jar of pickles, some eggplant!'. Another lady he met had lost her leg: "She asked me if she could have two loaves of bread and I wanted to give her the whole box. So yes, it makes you feel you've got to work harder, to do more."
Packing the loaves to be delivered
Good Bread's new building offers scope to put on workshops and therapy sessions for their employees - while Vladyslav has dreams of creating a hostel space upstairs so people can live and work there too. The ultimate dream is to have a big house outside the city, with a bakery, art workshops, accommodation - "it could have its own ecosystem", Galina says. But it’s a constant battle to raise donations to enable them to keep working. ‘Prices for everything have gone up - electricity, flour. Sometimes people donate twenty, fifty hryvnias and sometimes businesses support us, and we are applying for grants - although we don’t have much experience we are learning and trying our best. It’s a journey!’
Before we head off, clutching a large bag of freshly baked bread, Patrick Longfield has one more important message: "If I was to ask anyone for a favor from Ukraine, it would be this - Don't forget."
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