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After feeding Ukrainian refugees, chef José Andrés warns: ‘We didn’t learn enough from the horrors of the past’

Chef José Andrés, at his restaurant Zaytinya in Washington in 2019. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
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Chef José Andrés had spent nearly all day handing out plates of hot food to hungry Ukrainian children and women who’d fled Russian missile attacks in their country and crossed the border into Poland.

But by early Tuesday in Poland, the 52-year-old chef and founder of the World Central Kitchen organization had reached his breaking point in Sesow, a town in central part of the country.

He was about to go to bed in a warm hotel room, he said in a nearly four-minute-long video posted to his Twitter account, while thousands of refugees would face freezing temperatures as they continued their plight to neighboring countries. Others, mostly men, would be walking in the opposite direction to fight back against Russian forces.

“The snow is now coming as we speak. The temperatures are really freezing,” the chef said in the emotional clip, his voice breaking at times. He added, “It’s hard to know that even in this moment there are mainly women, because the men are staying behind, with children walking for hours out of Ukraine to safety, to different countries.”

He added, “Why do we put young men and women in this situation? We didn’t learn enough from the horrors of the past. People, we need to speak up against leaders that are breaking us apart.”

As of Tuesday morning, his video had garnered more than 1.7 million views and about 15,000 retweets.

The chef is known for quickly coming to the aid of those in need. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the restaurant and hospitality industries and left millions of workers without stable income, Andrés devised a plan to pay the costs to prepare 1 million meals at more than 400 restaurants across the United States. The plan, spearheaded by World Central Kitchen, also promised to provide jobs to some hospitality workers and feed those who had been laid off.

José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen feed refugees fleeing Ukraine

In Poland, the chef and his organization were among the first to arrive to feed thousands of refugees running from the violence, dishing out cups of hot tea and chicken-and-vegetable soup.

Nate Mook, the chief executive of World Central Kitchen, described the chaotic scene at the border in a Twitter video posted to the organization’s account early Tuesday in Poland.

“There are hundreds of cars lined up here, families fleeing Ukraine,” he recounted. “Many of them have been waiting 10, 20, sometimes 30 hours to get here, to get across the border.”

Mook said he was there handing out sandwiches, fresh fruit and chocolate to children. “Whatever we can do to support as they are here,” he said. “It is very cold out right now, and we’re just trying to do the little bit that we can to support and help out.”

Back in Sesow, Andrés condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s supporters.

“Anybody that ever thought about saying that Putin was a good leader should be ashamed,” the chef said. “Anybody supporting people that said that Putin was a good leader — they should be more than ashamed.”

Emily Heil contributed to this report.

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