‘People are so glad of taste of home’ – Ukrainian refugee on running her catering business from Citywest hotel room

A Ukrainian woman who was forced to flee Mariupol with her family has found a new lease of life after setting up a catering business from her Citywest hotel room.

Olga Zhuravlova was like any other hardworking individual in Mariupol in the lead-up to February 2022. She and her husband ran a popular cafe, their first business.

“Life was good. Our cafe was doing great, we were well-known for our freshly roasted coffee and a new catering business. We were planning for the future,” she told the Irish Independent.

After Mariupol’s brutal and unrelenting bombardment by Russian forces in March of last year, she had a choice to make, leave now – or face weeks of relentless bombing, which would eventually flatten the city.

Many people didn’t take the possibility of a full-blown invasion seriously, and after three days were unable to leave.

Olga didn’t take any chances and immediately uprooted with her family, including her husband Pavlo, her two young children, her mother Olena and her husband’s mother, also Olga.

They decided to come to Ireland, and have been staying in Citywest Hotel in Dublin since the summer of 2022.

“When we first arrived, we couldn’t even think about work. My son Dmytro was just two months old and my daughter Polina was only three. I spent the first six months holding them tight,” she said.

As time passed, the former businesswoman longed for her past life.

“I noticed that lots of Ukrainians here were living in hotels without any proper cooking facilities,” she said.

They too longed for the taste of home and after spotting a demand, she began delivering on a small scale to nearby hotels.

“I took some orders, cooked and delivered traditional Ukrainian foods,” she said, and putting her degree in business to use, scaled up and established her own catering company.

Sense Catering is a Ukrainian food and catering business she runs from her hotel bedroom, which her local Intreo office (the Public Employment Service) helped set up.

While logistics for orders and deliveries are taken there, the cooking is done in a shared kitchen in an enterprise park in west Dublin.

Her mother minds her son while she and her mother-in-law put together some traditional Ukrainian dishes.

Last week, they catered for the anniversary celebrations of the Ukrainian Community Centre in Rathmines. “People are so grateful to taste some of the foods they haven’t had in so long,” she added.

Olga says there is a real opportunity for Irish people to try out Ukrainian food, something which she said they could “really enjoy”.

Meat-filled crepes and cottage cheese dumplings, called syrniki, are two dishes that she feels would appeal most to the Irish palate.

While happy for now, she and her family hope to one day return home.

“We appreciate so much what Ireland has done for us. I dream that Mariupol will be free and we can return. For now we can only make short-term plans,” she said.

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