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This Tampa Bay kitchen aims to stand up for Ukrainian culture with pierogi

The family behind St. Petersburg’s Pierogi Bar says while Ukraine is under attack, so is their national identity.
Pierogi Bar, a cottage kitchen restaurant in St. Petersburg, makes pierogi for customers who ordered online on Wednesday March 2, 2022.
Pierogi Bar, a cottage kitchen restaurant in St. Petersburg, makes pierogi for customers who ordered online on Wednesday March 2, 2022. [ AYA DIAB | Times ]
Published Mar. 7|Updated Mar. 8

Daryna Voloshyn rolled dough on her kitchen countertop and cut it into cylinder shapes.

She filled each one with potato, cheese or a combination of the two before folding them into the Slavic dumpling known as a pierogi. She’d make about 2,000 savory treats by the end of the day. Normally, she’d make that much in a week.

Orders have been streaming in constantly since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as the St. Petersburg community wanted to show support, said Voloshyn, 28, the owner of Pierogi Bar.

Pierogi Bar is a cottage kitchen, meaning it operates out of a home. There are strict rules about selling food from a home kitchen in Florida. The health department requires that a home kitchen not use meat, food delivery must be in-person only (not through a service like UberEats) and prohibits freezer stock. But Voloshyn said she doesn’t mind the inconveniences.

“Everything is made from scratch,” Voloshyn said. “It’s really time-consuming. But it’s something I like to do because I like to get my culture out there.”

The past week has been stressful for her family, Voloshyn said, as she balances the rush of orders while checking the news and waiting to hear from friends still in Ukraine. She hasn’t been able to get in touch with some of them.

Voloshyn is from Lviv, a western Ukrainian city about 50 miles from the border with Poland. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and since has become a refuge for people escaping the fighting in Kyiv and the eastern part of the country since Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of the nation on Feb. 24. Her father Roman and mother Ulyana fled to the Tampa Bay area as refugees in 2002 when she was 9 years old.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine struggled with corruption.

“The communists didn’t want to give up yet,” Roman Voloshyn said. “There was freedom of speech, but you may have consequences.”

They came to America for freedom and opportunity, he said, and St. Petersburg has much nicer weather than Eastern Europe.

Daryna Voloshyn launched Pierogi Bar a year ago after friends asked her to make more pierogi and borscht. Her mother and father assist with the cooking, website and finances. Since then, she’s used her business as a way to educate people about Ukrainian cuisine.

There’s not much consensus on the origin of pierogi. The dough-wrapped treat is a universal dish similar to Italian ravioli or Chinese dumplings. Many people may know pierogi as a Polish meal but Ukraine played an important role in the spread of dumplings around the world, Roman Voloshyn said. Ukrainians also call them “varenyky”.

“Did it travel from China through Ukraine or did it travel to China through Ukraine? The dispute is still there but Ukraine was the highway between Europe and Asia,” Roman Voloshyn said.

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For a long time, Daryna Voloshyn said people would confuse Ukrainians with Russians. Now she hopes people will value and protect Ukrainian culture.

“Do you really know what that means? I think the best way to prove that or to show them is through food,” she said.

The owner of Pierogi Bar in St. Petersburg, Daryna Voloshyn, makes pierogi for customers who ordered online on Wednesday March 2, 2022.
The owner of Pierogi Bar in St. Petersburg, Daryna Voloshyn, makes pierogi for customers who ordered online on Wednesday March 2, 2022. [ AYA DIAB | Times ]

Every Slavic family has its own dough recipe and preference for fillings. Daryna Voloshyn uses the recipe passed down generations through her family, with potato, cheese, mushroom, sauerkraut and cherry fillings. She also sells potato pancakes and Ukrainian borscht, a red beet soup. Now she’s looking to expand to a physical restaurant with more options including meat — but it’s been difficult.

St. Petersburg is getting increasingly expensive, especially downtown. One leasing application was denied because the landlords didn’t believe their business could work, she said.

“There’s all these Chinese, Italian, Korean, Burger King, McDonald’s and all these types of restaurants. But I don’t even know anyone in the area that’s Ukrainian,” Daryna Voloshyn said. “We’ve been here for centuries. And there’s nobody that opened a restaurant?”

As the war continues in Ukraine, her brother is working on a setting up a nonprofit to help send doctors to treat wounded civilians and rebuilding the country when fighting ceases. Daryna Voloshyn will use 10 percent of Pierogi Bar’s sales to help with her brother’s project. She said she appreciates the support she’s gotten lately and hopes it doesn’t slow down.

“I just want to put my culture out there,” she said. “And show people hey, this is what I’m made of.”

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