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Indian restaurant in Kyiv becomes makeshift bomb shelter, feeds free meals to more than 130 people

'If you don't have any proper safe place to stay during this time, please go here. We will try our best to arrange free food and stay according to our capacity,' the restaurant owner promised.

Indian restaurant in Kyiv becomes makeshift bomb shelter, feeds free meals to more than 130 people
Cover Image Source: People leave on a bus from the central railway station on March 1, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo by Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images)

As Kyiv residents desperately seek shelter amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Manish Dave—the owner of an Indian restaurant in the country's embattled capital—swiftly opened his doors. Over the past week, his basement eatery has doubled as a makeshift bunker, providing shelter from the deadly clashes to dozens of children, pregnant women, students, homeless people and older locals. In the last week, Dave has housed and fed more than 130 people. "I will continue to offer shelter and food for as long as I can," the 52-year-old told The Washington Post.


Dave hasn't been in Ukraine long. He moved from Vadodara—a city in the Indian state of Gujarat—to Kyiv in October 2021, with plans to open an Indian restaurant that would provide Indian students a taste of home. "I opened the restaurant to bring Indian culture to the country," Dave explained. Not long after his arrival in the Eastern European country, he found a vacant underground space about a three-minute walk from a hostel for international students who attend Bogomelets National Medical University. However, less than two months after Saathiya Restaurant opened its doors in January, disaster struck.


"Everything was going nice," Dave recalled. "Suddenly, all these things happened here. There was fire, blasts, bombs. It has been very scary. People are scared." As a barrage of explosions forced terrified civilians to seek shelter, Dave realized that he and his restaurant could be of help. "A basement is a safe place," he said. "The place is so big, and I should help." He got the word out through his regular customers—most of whom are students—that they could stay in his basement restaurant and he posted an invite on the messaging app Telegram, welcoming anyone and everyone to stop by for shelter and food.


"If you don't have any proper safe place to stay during this time, please go here," Dave wrote in the invite, including the address of his restaurant. "We will try our best to arrange free food and stay according to our capacity. Stand united with Ukraine." He emphasized that his hospitality was open to one and all. "Any nationality, any person can come here and take shelter," he said. Soon, frightened civilians started pouring in. Among them was Natali Antontseva, who said she woke up on Thursday, at 4:30 a.m. to an urgent call from her husband, who is working abroad.


"Get up," he shouted through the phone. "Russia is bombing Kyiv. The war has begun." Panicked, Antontseva drove to meet her mother and brother and began searching for the nearest shelter with some of her friends which included a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy and her husband. After first stopping at one shelter that was "wet, dirty" and without "electricity or drinking water," the group ended up at Dave's restaurant. "I can't express how happy we were when we entered a clean, warm room, with a pleasant smell of Indian spices," Antontseva said. "Despite the fact that there was not much space, doors were opened for everyone. They offered us some hot tea and dinner. I was also happy for my pregnant friend who could sleep on a small couch instead of a cold floor of the basement we were in before."


Antontseva and her family stayed at Dave's shelter for one night before heading toward the Western part of the country. Dave "was worried about our security even after we left. We are still in touch with him," Antontseva said. "The war has shown how important it is to stay a human being despite your race, country or religion." Dave and his staff of 11 employees—all of whom are sheltering at the restaurant—prepare traditional Indian dishes for shelter-seekers along with simple pastas and other European dishes that are inexpensive to prepare and easy to make in big batches.


"One day we accommodated 130 people," Dave said. He and his staff have also been delivering free food to another nearby bunker. However, he has refused to accept money from those who have eaten or taken shelter at his restaurant, explaining that "we are like one family. We all contribute things, not money." Instead of money, Dave has asked people to donate groceries, so that he can continue helping those in need for long as possible. "People are donating rice, food and vegetables," he said. "We are all contributing and sharing." Dave, who is a widower, explained that his mother and daughter in India are "quite worried." However, he hopes to stay in Ukraine for as long as he can. "We are all safe at present in my restaurant basement, but outside, when we walk, we are feeling very insecure," he said. If he does have to leave, Dave intends to hand over his keys to let people continue sheltering in his restaurant for as long as is needed.

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