I want to share a few surprising things I have learned from my Ukrainian paroles in 2023. I sponsored a Ukrainian couple (who legally left Ukraine at the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War) to travel to the USA. They arrived in Seattle in November 2023, and I have been living with them as roommates ever since. I’ve been helping them learn about American culture, such as using a dishwasher, buying groceries, and maybe soon, how to drive.

A few times per week, we have deep discussions about Eastern European culture, the Russian-Ukrainian war, and adjusting to American culture.

Food: Snowy Tomato Slices

A popular holiday dish in Ukraine is “Помидоры С Майонезом и Сыром” or Snowy Tomato Slices. With smiling faces, they presented to me a tray of shredded cheese, tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons of white mayo.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo, but they looked like this:


The flavor was exactly what you’d expect: cheese, mayonnaise, and tomato. They told me the history of this dish, rooted in the USSR’s failure, where limited ingredients were available. This reminded me of “Depression Meals” my grandparents told me about when they were growing up. My grandma would be sent to the store to make purchases alone because she was a “cute little girl,” and the shopkeepers wouldn’t say no to her, allowing her to borrow until the debt could be paid.

Politics: What will Ukraine do with deserters?

In U4U Facebook groups, people brutally attack young men seeking parole because they want them to stay to fight or participate in the local economy.

They told me that when the war first broke out, many Ukrainians felt sorry for the people that ran. They abandoned their friends, family, jobs, and personal possessions to pack up their bags and hike across the border to escape a war that would only last a few weeks.

Now, the Ukrainians that have stayed are upset that the expat Ukrainians have such happy and prosperous lives. The expats are earning more money, traveling, and living in safety. Back in Ukraine, life is dangerous and more difficult to obtain basic items.

These feelings of jealousy and unfairness are visible in the Facebook groups that support refugees and political bills. On Facebook, keyboard jockeys attack anyone trying to leave Ukraine or migrate to the USA. They look to see if they have already left Ukraine and claim that “there’s no need to sponsor this person because they are already in the EU.” They post news articles saying that if young men leave Ukraine, they will be arrested when they return or how Ukraine will cut off consulate and banking services to those that leave.

But I know the Ukrainian government is smarter than this. I think their current goal is to discourage people from leaving so they can operate their economy and fight their war, but once the war ends, they will be desperate to attract the talent (and money) that left Ukraine back. I suspect the government will flip and offer tax incentives to bring in the wealth that is currently generated by their expats.

Food: Tea culture

America is a melting pot of tea cultures, but I learned that Ukraine, like India, is highly opinionated about teas but in unexpected ways.

When I visited the Grab office in Bangalore, India in October 2023, my team took me around to a few chai shops where they give you a shot glass of the most amazing boiling hot sweet milk tea I have ever had. I often ordered 2-3 different flavors so I could experience them all. During one of these lunches, my team member in a deadpan tone shared, “Kevin, you cannot have tea without milk. If there is no milk, then that is not tea.” I had a good chuckle and made a mental note to bring high-quality green tea on my next trip.

But in Ukraine, I heard the exact opposite: “How can you ruin tea by adding milk?”.

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