Jose Andres, whose World Central Kitchen (WCK) group has offered more than 130 million meals in Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February, called for better coordination of food aid efforts in the country in the face of what promises to be a brutal winter.
He warned that donations were declining as the war dragged on, meaning the WCK, which provides short-term emergency aid, needed to start scaling back its operations just as cold weather could exacerbate the problems faced by millions of displaced Ukrainians.
Andres, whose work was praised Thursday by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a televised address that usually focuses on the battlefield and diplomacy, is visiting some of the WCK’s 7,500 distribution points in Ukraine this month to rally support for continued food aid in the country.
“The money, sooner or later, is going to start running out, that’s why I call on (…) all the countries that want to support Ukraine, … that we have to be one,” he told Reuters this week at a distribution site in Irpin, a city near Kiev.
Irpin was retaken by Ukrainian forces following Russian attacks that killed nearly 300 people in early March.
“If everyone does their own thing, we may be doubling down on efforts, wasting money and not helping Ukraine, especially as winter is approaching,” added the Michelin-starred Spanish chef (EPA:MICP).
The United Nations estimates that at least 12 million people have fled their homes in Ukraine since the invasion, with more than 5 million heading to neighboring countries and 7 million believed to be displaced within the country itself.
The WCK began feeding people on the Polish-Ukrainian border a day after what Russia calls a “special military operation” and soon expanded its work in Ukraine, as people waited, often for days, to flee the bombed areas.
Andres, who met Zelensky in Kiev on Thursday, said 5,000 volunteers had prepared and offered millions of meals in Ukraine since then.
Food needs could rise again as Ukrainian authorities aim to relocate up to 350,000 people to the eastern Dombas region, where fighting has been intense.
Zelensky said he and his government had agreed with Andres to “expand the scope of the WCK’s humanitarian mission, especially in areas that are step by step liberating themselves from Russian occupation.” No further details were immediately available.
Andres said his group was faster and more agile than larger institutions, such as the United Nations World Food Programme, in responding to disasters, but was looking to partner with these agencies to continue their food deliveries in Ukraine.
The chef, who helped popularize Spanish tapas in the United States and founded the WCK in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed more than 200,000 people, said Ukraine’s problems were a global concern given its role as a key exporter of cereals around the world.
He said WCK could have withheld some of the $250 million it spent to prepare meals there, if it had known its services would be needed for longer, but all the meals it served were needed at the time.