The Coventry man feeding frontline troops in Ukraine

The Ukraine war has led one Coventry man to be among the many volunteers across the world feeding troops on the frontline.

Ryan Glenville’s interest in Ukraine may seem obvious in the context of the current conflict but his interest in Ukraine goes back years before the first Russian soldier stepped across the border in 2022.

Living in Coventry, Glenville was grabbed by Ukraine’s food and from there, sparking an interest in a country that had a low profile compared to the European nations on the other side of the continent. In 2020, when Glenville started delving into the world of Ukrainian culture, the Donbas War and occupation of Crimea had entered a stalemate in its sixth year.

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Seeing the images of a country plunged into war by Russian aggression, Glenville sprung into action and it was through his love of Ukrainian food that he found a way to assist a country he’d already developed a great affinity for.

Starting in November 2022, he worked at volunteer kitchens in Lviv. He then came back and did a further stint in October 2023 in Lvin and Ivano-Frankivsk. Though far from the frontline, he worked with teams packing food packs that would then go to the military for distribution on the front.

“There was produce everywhere and international volunteers from America, Australia, even as far as Chile. We’d be in the kitchen chopping vegetables and then most of those vegetables would go into a shredder and be dehydrated.

Glenville said the food packs were designed so that when the soldiers were out on the battlefield, all they would need to do was add hot water to then have a meal that would keep the soldiers fed and in fighting shape.

“There would be borscht which is like a Ukrainian beetroot soup and there would be Kaska which is like a Ukrainian porridge. It was a great experience - everyone in the kitchen was like a big family.”

“I cook a lot of Ukrainian food. I knew all the recipes and just absolutely love the food over there.”

The War in Ukraine has been disastrous for the country. 30,000 civilians have been killed since 2022 and over 9 million have been displaced, both internally and abroad as refugees. Cities like Kyiv, Kherson, and Odessa have suffered constant rocket attacks and severe damage to civilian infrastructure, including power generation and telecommunications.

It's a hard country to enter. Every airport, from Boryspil International Airport in Kiev to small rural airports, have been closed to commercial flights. To get there, it's a flight to Poland and a long train journey or road trip through Ukraine.

The war has brought scores of volunteers to the country, assisting in a variety of ways. Some have been involved in humanitarian aid, assisting civilians close to the frontline and providing healthcare and treatment to wounded soldiers and civilians caught in the crossfire.. Others have been involved in logistics, transporting cars and ambulances to the frontline.

British 4x4's have been especially popular, with hundreds transported over to be turned into technicals.

Glenville said that while Lviv had so far escaped the worst of the destruction, attacks on power generation facilities meant boiling water for showers and struggling to keep devices charged.

When war broke out, men between 18 to 60 were barred from leaving the country. Glenville said that despite the normality, the presence of soldiers was constant.

“When men leave the front on rotation, a lot of them would go to Lviv for the weekend with their families because they can’t leave the country.”

Prior to arriving in Ukraine, Glenville had been learning the language and said that while he wasn’t fluent, he had enough knowledge to travel independently and communicate with local people. He said, despite the war, the people were nothing but friendly.

“I think you get a little bit more respect because they can tell when you’re a foreigner by the way you speak Ukrainian through the sounds of the vowels and the consonants. I think the Ukrainians are just so stoic and they just get on with it. It’s amazing to be around. The whole country is still at war but they still carry on.”

Glenville said he had no intentions so far to be there long term. He’s happy to do stints before returning home but says that he’s looking forward to getting back out there.

“I just hope to return as soon as I can. I do love that country and there’s really nice, really good people there, despite everything going on.

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