Ukrainian evacuees serve home-cooked food at a Tokyo restaurant
About 20 people lined the stairs leading to a restaurant in a multi-tenant apartment building in the Kichijoji district of Musashino, western Tokyo, around noon on June 5.
They waited to taste Babusya REY restaurant’s popular Ukrainian dishes, such as borscht and varenyky, a Ukrainian dumpling.
The small restaurant has only eight counters.
“The dishes tasted the same as the ones I had there,” said a woman in her 40s who visited Ukraine six years ago. “They also reminded me of the beautiful cities in the country.”
A Ukrainian family who fled their country after the Russian invasion opened Babusya REY in the Kichijoji district, serving Ukrainian cuisine.
Just a five-minute walk from JR Kichijoji Station, it became very popular after its authentic dishes became famous on social media.
Victoria Bogdanova, 29, who came to Japan as a language student seven years ago and married a Japanese man, and her older sister Eugenia, 35, are among the restaurant managers.
Eugenia arrived in Japan with her husband, son and parents at the end of March after leaving Ukraine.
Eugenia and her family lived in the Donetsk region, where heavy fighting between Russia and Ukraine continued.
They originally intended to stay in Ukraine when the invasion began.
However, they decided to evacuate after a place a few hundred meters from their home was bombed and their acquaintances lost their lives, among other incidents.
Eugenia’s parents initially refused to go because they ran a clothing store, but Eugenia persuaded them to leave.
They fled Ukraine in mid-March, leaving their homes and shop as they were.
Eugenia, who lived in an area of the Donetsk region occupied by pro-Russian separatists, came to Japan via Russia.
Her parents, who lived in an area controlled by the Ukrainian army, crossed Ukraine heading west and arrived in Japan via Europe.
It took about 10 days for Eugenia and her parents to come to Japan.
They were accommodated in a house run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government after their arrival.
They had used all their savings to buy plane tickets to Japan. They had also lost all means of earning an income.
Then Victoria’s husband, 30-year-old Yukinori Ogasawara, offered to open a restaurant.
He said he remembered the home-cooked Ukrainian food he ate while visiting the country three years ago when he made the suggestion.
“Ukrainian dishes match Japanese tastes,” he said. “Also, my wife’s family members said they wanted to do what they could, not just be supported.”
The restaurant opened on April 28.
He uses a bar run by Ogasawara family members only during the day when the bar is not open.
The name of the restaurant was created by combining “babusya”, a Ukrainian word meaning a grandmother, and the name of the bar.
Victoria’s mother, Natasya, 57, does the necessary preparation to cook the dishes.
“These are the dishes we grew up with,” Victoria said. “It was a sad event that led to the opening of this restaurant, but I hope it will be a bridge between Japanese and Ukrainian culture.”
Babusya REY is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.