From Kyiv with perogies: Ukraine couple finds safe haven, opens eatery

At Strathroy's quaint Muggs Coffeebar and Clayroom, you'll find a freezer full of perogies.

It was placed there in January, soon after Liudmyla Potomkina and her husband Anatolii launched Ukrainian Pierogies Strathroy, just seven months after arriving in Canada.

Back home in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, Liudmyla ran a café for more than a decade.

“This café was my pride,” she said. “But the war destroyed it. We lost my business.”

Not long after Russia invaded Ukraine Feb. 24, 2022, a pregnant Liudmyla, her husband and son fled to Poland for a few months before landing in Strathroy last June. Sheltering at first in a close friend's home they found a rental house in September, just before daughter Mariia was born.

Now, six months later, the couple are entering their third month in business, working from kitchens at home and at Muggs to prepare an expanding menu of handmade perogies, cabbage rolls and crepes for customers across the region.

It’s not unusual to find the Frank Street cafe's perogy freezer, filled up each morning, empty by afternoon.

Cherry perogies are Liudmyla’s favourite, but her husband’s favourite — cheddar and bacon — may be the biggest hit. “In Canada, in Strathroy,” she said, “people really like the cheddar bacon. Every day it’s sold out.”

At the café this week, Liudmyla and Anatolii reflected on life after fleeing war, the overwhelming support they’ve felt from Canadians and running a business while raising a newborn.

The conversation was punctuated by customers seeking perogies, the sort of “wonderful feedback” they've been getting in recent weeks, Liudmyla said.

“This past year has just been terrible,” Gael Sheridan, a Strathroy resident who nabbed one of Wednesday's last packs of perogies, said of the war in Ukraine.

After learning of the business online, “I had to support it for sure,” she said. “And I’m looking forward to more of their products as well.”

Liudmyla estimates she makes about 500 perogies on a typical day. For her, making perogies – a Ukrainian staple and national dish – is all about muscle memory and tradition. “My grandma taught me how to cook according to Ukrainian tradition,” she said.

She does most of the cooking, with help from her mother and Anatolii, who often deliver orders to customers, many of whom are in London.

Anatolii enjoys cooking, but it’s not his chosen career – he’s an engineer.

“Right now, I can’t find a job in my specialty,” he said. “So I decided to help my family, help my wife . . . to start the new business and give some support.”

The family is one of about two dozen Ukrainian families who have came to Strathroy since the invasion. And they’re not the only newcomers with businesses generating buzz in this town of 16,000.

In January, western Ukrainians Mykola and Iryna Bilovol and their two kids opened U.Cake, a bakery specializing in macarons, at 5-380 Albert St.

Newcomer Alla Shevchuk recently launched another Ukrainian perogy business, working out of Annie’s Ice Cream at 51 Front St. E. across town.

“The history of Strathroy-Caradoc is one of immigration,” Mayor Colin Grantham said, referring to waves of Portuguese and Dutch settlement in the mid-20th century.

“We’re just carrying on our tradition,” he said. “That is a tradition of Strathroy-Caradoc, to welcome people. It helps them thrive.”

As the Potomkins build their business, planning eventually to open their own store, the year-long war back home is still top of mind.

“When we sell something, part of that money we send to the Ukrainian army,” said Anatolii, estimating it totals about 10 per cent of profits.

He and his wife speak to family and friends in Ukraine every day.

But there's no mistaking the gratitude in their smiles and appreciation for those who’ve helped them call Strathroy home.

“My life has been filled with bright colours again," Liudmyla said in a recent social media post, "thanks to the people who live here.”

Check out Ukrainian Pierogies Strathroy on social media:



Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press