Milwaukee’s Ukrainian community shows love through foods, culture

“Are you hungry?”

The hello, how are you and welcomes can wait. When you step into the house of someone with Ukrainian heritage, this is how they greet you.

“We just want to feed you. Cooking is how we share our love,” says Vasyl Lemberskyy, who came to the US from Kyiv, Ukraine, just months before Sept. 11, 2001. And sharing that love is something he does for his wife and daughter in a northern suburb of Milwaukee — as well as diners from all around the area.

Growing up in a poor family, Lemberskyy was hungry a lot growing up, which is why he started cooking. In fact, he says it’s something he ca n’t not do.

As a pizza chef at Santino’s Little Italy, 352 E. Stewart St. in Bay View, and the opening chef for Transfer Pizzeria, he loves using fresh, local ingredients. It turns out that fresh and local are two of the characteristics that also make Ukrainian food so special.

“For us, everything is farm to table,” he says. “No matter what you eat, it’s going to be flavorful and fresh.”

Even as their home country is under siege from a Russian invasion, the Ukrainian community in Milwaukee continues its hospitable ways, with events such as after-church meals at St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on the south side.

St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church member Nadiya Kavyuk readies traditional Ukrainian dishes at St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church on South 11th Street in Milwaukee on May 15. Nearly each week after services parishioners are treated to an assortment of traditional Ukrainian dishes.

ukrainian staples

When asked what Ukrainian foods are the most common, Ukrainian-Americans will mention borsch and varenyky, dumplings similar to pierogi.

Borsch, commonly called borscht in the US, is a hearty soup with beets, which give it its distinctive bright red color. It’s made with pork stock, potatoes and cabbage and includes a dollop of sour cream on top.

“We have so many varieties, and family to family it can be something different,” Lemberskyy says.

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