When Russia invaded Ukraine, Anna Makievska fled the country with her baby and child. But her bakery has stayed open throughout, providing loaves to anyone in need. She tells Sophie Morris how they did it
“They were scary, scary days,” recalls Anna Makievska, a baker living in Kyiv with her husband and two children when Russia invaded on 24 February. The family awoke to news that the airports had already been hit by Russian missiles, so Makievska packed up their things and fled. “It was a cold winter and I was afraid for my baby’s life,” she recalls of her newborn Mariia, who wasn’t yet two months old. “My first priority in life is my family and I was saving the lives of my children”.
The family, which includes eightyear-old daughter, Varvara, spent two days on the road, in traffic jams and at road blocks, looking for a border crossing where they could pass as quickly as possible. “There were explosions all around us, and queues at every border,” she says. “I worried we would run out of fuel and be stuck in a freezing-cold car.”
Makievska says because of the ongoing aggression from Russia, they had not expected events to unfold in this way. “The war had been going on for eight years - we mustn’t forget that it started in 2014 [when Russian annexed Crimea from Ukraine],” she says. “We were stupid enough to think that if there was a big invasion, the airport would still be open”.
So, instead of flying to safety, Makievska, 39, spent a week on the move. Because men of conscription age were not permitted to leave Ukraine, she had to say goodbye to her husband of 10 years, Valeriy, at the Moldovan border, from where she continued her escape on foot. After Moldova, she travelled through Romania, to Vienna, then Spain and finally to Portugal.
Eight months on, although more than 2,000 miles from her home in Kyiv, Makievska has not forgotten her responsibilities. Back in the Ukrainian capital, her bakery, Bakehouse, has remained open day and night. Since the February invasion, it has given away more than 100,000 loaves to anyone in need, from soldiers and the territorial defence guards to the elderly, and medical staff treating war casualties in hospitals with no catering facilities.
“We never closed. When the invasion happened, people were already in the bakery, on the night shift.
Others were on their way in. Perhaps work stopped for a few hours while everyone was in shock. What changed was that we decided to only bake for people who needed bread. To customers [at the shop] we offered sourdough starter and flour [to make their own]”.
For Makievska and her staff, keeping the ovens going felt important. “Bread is an essential food,” she says. “If you decide to work in something like this, it is a commitment. The community depends on you.”
People needed bread, she says, but keeping the shop open also served a deeper purpose. “If you wake up in a country that has been invaded and you go to the bakery or grocery shop, and it is open, people smile at you and things seem as usual, you’ll be optimistic about life and able to go about your business, too. People must live and work, otherwise we will not win this war.”
Before the invasion, Bakehouse was selling 30 types of bread to retail customers and high-end restaurants, but now its bakers produce a more traditional loaf, called baton, to give away to People .
“It is a bread from our USSR [Soviet Union] past,” explains Makievska, “which is still baked in bigger bakeries and factories. It is a white yeasted bread, a little bit sweet and made with butter and milk. It’s the bread that most people eat”.
Baton is faster to produce than the artisan loaves Bakehouse usually sells. They have sometimes baked as many as 1,000 in a day, but more usually it will be 600-700, or only 200-300, depending on the need and logistics, as they liaise with other volunteer networks for distribution.
After Russian troops withdrew from Kiev in the spring and life in the city began to regain a semblance of normality, Bakehouse gradually returned to serving customers with artisan bread, cakes and patisserie. If there’s anything left over at the end of a day, staff will find someone who needs it.
“Sometimes I’ll get a message from someone saying thank you for the cherry pie,” Makievska says. “It makes me happy they can do this.”
The bakery suffered a huge setback a few weeks into the war, when a fire in its warehouse ruined millions of euros worth of stock. Bakehouse lost at least €65,000 (£56,000) worth of goods. “The business started to be really hard for all of us,” says Makievska. Even so, they never stopped baking. That month they took a group decision to only pay those who were working on site, and anyone who had no other savings or financial support.”
Makievksa launched Bakehouse in 2015. It is the city’s largest artisan bakery and operated in a basement below sister store Good Wine until a year ago, when she was able to open her dream bakery, after three years of planning. It was a vast, open-plan space, with huge windows, leafy plants, and the capacity to turn out 1,000 loaves a day, along with cakes and pies.
But it became too dangerous to work in overnight because of the windows and its location on an industrial site, which made it a military target. The bakers retreated back to their city centre basement. After the warehouse fire, they saved what they could, using every inch of floor space to store precious bags of flour. Commodities were hard to get hold of and prices were rising.
Makievska is both a manager and food buyer, and along the way has trained to be an expert baker herself. It is an egalitarian outfit, with staff making decisions about how they work and what they can bake. Nearly all of the former employees have now returned to Kyiv, although some are now serving in the armed forces. The bakery has not needed to make any redundancies. On 19 April, Bakehouse was able to reopen its bigger premises.
It isn’t easy to do her job from another country, Makievska says, and she imagines she is inefficient. When she reached Portugal, she was moving from place to place every few weeks because it was hard to find a long-term let, and she says, many landlords were not keen to rent to Ukrainians. With her daughters, she was able to find an apartment to rent two months ago. Her brother helps her with paying the rent.
Makievska recalls the achievements of her team at Easter with some buoyancy in her voice. It’s an important date in the baking calendar. While at the time, two months after the invasion, they had no expectations of turning out their usual range, they managed to bake 1,600 traditional Easter cakes for the military.
What is Makievska most likely to bake at home these days? “It’s a funny and a sad question,” she says. “Because being a working mum with two kids is very challenging and I think the only thing I’ve baked through all this time is stuffed poppy seed buns. There is a special day called Makoviya which was my father’s favourite holiday. Usually Ukrainians bake something with poppy seeds for this holiday - ‘mak’ means ‘poppyseed’.
“I decided to make these stuffed buns, a yeasted dough filled with lots of poppy seeds, sugar and jam. They were fabulous. But unfortunately I do not have time for proper baking and I do not know when I’ll have it.”
It’s bittersweet, but Makievska is not asking for anyone’s sympathy. In fact, she is reluctant to talk about personal hardships given that so many of her colleagues are currently serving in the Ukrainian armed forces. “Yes, it’s hard to be without my husband, but my children are safe,” she says. “More than 30 Bakehouse and Wine Bureau’s employees are serving in the army.
“We already lost two officers, and our driver who lived in Bucha. They were beautiful, healthy young men.” Horrifyingly, another colleague was killed in the drone attacks on Kyiv on Monday 17 October. Victoria Zamchenko was a sommelier. She was found in her bed with her husband Bohdan and their cat. She was six months pregnant.
When British baker Andrew Green heard about Bakehouse, he immediately wanted to help.
In just a few months, Green persuaded some of the world’s bestknown bakers to donate recipes, from sourdough, muffins and pretzels to sweet treats like doughnuts and cookies. The result, a fundraising baking book called Knead Peace, is out now (£2.50 from the sale of each book will be donated to the
Disaster Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal).
There’s something for every kind of baker, whether you’re ramping up your bread expertise or want to bake cookies with the kids - there are contributions from Tartine, E5 Bakehouse, Dusty Knuckle, Kitty Tait, Richard Bertinet and Vanessa Kimbell. There are seasonal Pumpkin Spice Snickerdoodles from Ottolenghi, Sticky Coconut Cake from Lily Vanilli and a Rosemary Focaccia from Green - this is the bread to make if you’re starting out and can’t be faffed with sourdough. From Makievska comes Bakehouse’s signature bread, a flaxseed sourdough .
“Throughout the horrors and turmoil of the war, Anna and her team have continued to bake day and night in order to feed the people of Ukraine,” says Green. “It is impossible to express how humbling their effort in the face of such hardship is, the power, generosity and defiance that they show is truly awe-inspiring.”
I decide to make Anna’s flaxseed loaf. It takes a number of days as there are a few preparatory steps, such as soaking the flaxseed and readying the levain.
Feeling otherwise powerless, I want to purposefully set aside this time to actively contemplate the war. I consider things that people here in the UK can do - such as buy Knead Peace, make donations, host Ukrainians, or set up your own fundraising project, like Andrew Green.
I try to use the time to assess and value my own safety and freedom, while on the other side of Europe pregnant women are hunted down by “suicide” drones and murdered in their beds with their husbands and cats. “They were only 34,” says
Makievska. “I am sure hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are already dead, but we don’t have the official statistics.
“In every city that our army reoccupies, they find mass graves where people have been buried without any identification. These are the important things to talk about. Bread is just bread.”
ANNA MAKIEVSKA’S FLAXSEED SOURDOUGH
Makes 4 loaves 585g bread flour 430g wholewheat flour 260g flaxseeds 35g sourdough starter (100% hydration) 28g sea salt
Soak the flaxseed for 12 to 24 hours before mixing the dough. Mix 260g flaxseed and 260g room temperature water in a container. Cover it with a lid and leave it on the counter.
Make a liquid levain approximately 7-8 hours before mixing the dough: mix together 155g bread flour, 155g water, and 35g liquid ripe sourdough starter and leave for 7-8 hours.
When the levain is bubbly, smells like yoghurt, and grows in volume 2.5-3 times, it’s good to go in.
For the dough, mix 430g bread flour, 430g whole wheat flour, 650g water and the levain. If mixing by hand, mix until homogeneous and smooth, if in a stand mixer, mix at first speed until smooth.
Cover and leave from 40 minutes to 1.5 hours for rest.
Then add the salt and the soaker and mix thoroughly by hand or on the first speed in the mixer.
The dough is quite wet and soft and needs to be mixed for a while to pass the windowpane test (stretching without tearing).
After mixing, the dough’s temperature should be about 23-25°C. Let it rest at room temperature for 2.5-4 hours, depending on your climate, and the initial temperature of the dough. Stretch and fold about every 45 minutes. Divide and round the dough into four 600g pieces. Place on a tray and cover for 40 minutes.
After 40 minutes, shape the dough into either a boule or batard (round or oval) shape and put them in thoroughly floured proving baskets, seam-side up.
Now you can put your loaves into the fridge for at least 12 hours. Anna recommends up to 48 hours.
Take the loaves out of the fridge about 30-60 minutes before you are ready to bake.
Preheat a Dutch oven at 250°C for an hour. When preheated, gently tip the loaves out of the proving baskets onto lightly floured baking paper sheets. Score with a very sharp knife and carefully lower into the Dutch oven. Spray with water and place into the oven with the lid on.
Bake for 15 minutes with a lid and then 15 more minutes without the lid on 230°C.
When cooked, the bread will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
‘Knead Peace: Recipes from the World’s Best Bakers in Support of Ukraine’ (Kyle Books, £25) is out now