Mr Sutulov says he had a very strong response to job ads on social media and has so far hired six or seven young Ukrainian workers.
Staff at Mavka cafe in Sydney’s Waitara. Credit: SBS / Sandra Fulloon
All had fled Ukraine since the war started in February 2022, arriving in Australia that year with few possessions and even less money.
“It was so dangerous that our parents decided it’s would be good if we went somewhere safe outside Ukraine.”
Barista Maksym Kobzar at Mavka cafe. Credit: SBS / Sandra Fulloon
Maksym arrived in Australia last May and, with limited English language skills, faced new challenges finding work.
“So I feel more comfortable as I try to improve my English.”
“We have peaks, like some nights we are completely booked out, and unfortunately have to send people away,” he says.
A customer inside Mavka cafe. Credit: SBS / Sandra Fulloon
“But the café is not always busy, it is up and down, up and down.”
The new venture opened in October 2022, and is one of the career changes that defined his life.
Life in the Soviet Union
Ukraine reclaimed its independence when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, forcing many like Mr Sutulov to adapt.
“A lot of people lost their jobs, their incomes, their prospects,” he says.
Oleg Sutulov with his daughter Anastasia, 17. Credit: SBS / Sandra Fulloon
“But we had to survive. So we bought items cheaply in the Soviet Union, and took them by road to Poland and then brought hard currency back.
“Believe me, professors, teachers, and many highly qualified people were doing that because there was no other way to survive.”
Why Oleg stopped speaking Russian
“Until 1991 we were made to feel that speaking Ukrainian was embarrassing. They made us feel that if we spoke Ukrainian, we were from the country, and not well educated.”
He finally migrated to Australia in 2005 and remains fluent in Russian. However, when Russia invaded Ukraine last year, he made a decision that still stands.
“Ukrainians are fighting for our freedom, and they are struggling. When I talk to people back in Ukraine they say ‘it’s winter and we don’t have heating, but we have wood. So, we’ll cut the wood. We don’t have lights. Okay, we’ll survive, we’ll survive.
“The Russians think they can break us now. But they only make Ukrainians more determined.”
Sharing Ukrainian culture through food
“Local people are having breakfast with us, and learning a few Ukrainian words. And they’re showing us support and appreciation.”
A traditional Ukrainian dish of meat filled crepes. Credit: SBS / Sandra Fulloon
Mr Sutulov’s café serves traditional dishes – cabbage rolls with potato and mushroom dumplings among the most popular.
“We just do what we can, making food with love. And yes, people love it.”
Neila Sutulov does a lot of the cooking. Credit: SBS / Sandra Fulloon
Mr Sutulov’s 17-year-old daughter Anastasia is finishing high school nearby, and also works as a waitress part-time at Mavka.
“When people are dining here they often ask how to say ‘thank you’ in Ukrainian, and then they speak with us. So, we are starting to get more traction for Ukraine.”
A ‘little island of Ukraine’ in the middle of Australia
“This restaurant is like a little island of Ukraine, in the middle of Australia,” he says while enjoying a meat-filled crepe.
Mavka customer Volodymyr Chornenkyi. Credit: SBS / Sandra Fulloon
“I’m really missing my country. And when you come here, you see this food, and it feels like coming back home.”
“A few days ago, there was a strike maybe five kilometres from my house. It is still there, but for how long?”
“Ukraine will win because we are defending our country, we are defending our families, and we have the spirit.”
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