Corrections & Clarifications: A previous version of this article had the incorrect spelling of Anna Makievska’s last name.
They met four years ago over sourdough rye.
Anna Makievska was ramping up bread and pastry production at Bakehouse, her bakery in Kyiv, Ukraine. Meanwhile, 6,200 miles away, Jon Przybyl and his wife Amanda Abou-Eid were hand-mixing dough in their garage in Mesa, Arizona.
Their paths crossed at Grain Gathering in 2018, an annual event where bakers, millers and scientists congregate in Washington’s Skagit Valley. The fertile area, lush with golden fields of wheat and barley, is a fitting place for people to geek out over grain varieties.
Makievska and Przybyl met in a bread-making workshop and kept in touch over the years through Instagram and sporadic messages, swapping techniques and the occasional update on their bakeries. Przybyl and Abou-Eid went on to open their own brick-and-mortar bakery, Proof Bread, in downtown Mesa.
It was an acquaintanceship built on bread and — because of Przybyl’s Polish heritage — a shared Eastern European background. Then, in 2022, a war united them for a common mission.
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Neither of them intended to make a career out of baking.
Makievska was born in Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea, a peninsula that from overhead, looks like a loose tooth dangling into the Black Sea. She later moved up the river, first to Dnipro, then to Kyiv, where she has now lived for more than half her life.
Other than her parents’ disastrous attempt at making their own croissants, baking was far from her mind while growing up.
Przybyl grew up in Chicago after his parents moved there from Bielsko Biala in the 1980s as part of the third wave of Polish immigration to the city. He later moved to Arizona, where he met Amanda Abou-Eid, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants.
For Makievska, baking started as a matter of business. In 2015 she became the director of the bakery at Goodwine, a food distribution company in Kyiv where she had worked as a purchaser. She wanted to understand how to make bread so she could do her job better, Makievska said.
“When you manage the business, the decision you make today, the result is in several years. When you make the bread… you see the results,” Makievska told The Arizona Republic. “This is very exciting. This is something that is real. People can taste the bread and say if it’s good or bad. You know the result of your efforts right away. It was something I was missing.”
A year later she launched Bakehouse as a separate bakery from Goodwine, offering an array of artisanal sourdough bread with certified organic ingredients.
She returned to school to study baking and graduated in 2019 from the San Francisco Baking Institute. That same year, Bakehouse won its first award for best bakery in Ukraine, presented by the SALT National Restaurant Awards.
This was an especially impressive achievement in a country that has long been a fertile land for growing grains, with centuries of bread-making history. In 2021 Ukraine alone accounted for 10% of the world’s wheat exports, according to the United Nations.
Flying into or driving through Ukraine it’s common to glimpse fields of rye, spelt, buckwheat and sweet hay, Makievska said.
Some of the most popular items at Bakehouse are the whole wheat sourdough, referred to as country bread in the U.S., as well as a bread made with 25% flaxseed. The round loaves are about the width of a soccer ball.
Bakehouse makes buckwheat croissants and baguettes because the taste is familiar for Ukrainians, who grew up with buckwheat porridge and buckwheat soup, she said.
People also eat bread with borscht, a sour soup that in the red variety is made with beet roots, cabbage, carrots, onions, potatoes and tomatoes. Green borscht is made with sorrel and is popular in the summer. There’s a particular bread that’s traditionally served with borscht, pampushki, which are soft and garlicky yeast buns shaped like dinner rolls.
Many rural homes have an oven to bake simple wheat breads, Makievska said.
The pich was a central piece of masonry in Ukrainian homes, functioning as a heater, stove and oven.
Historically the pich is the center for life and afterlife, according to Ukrainian tour guide Andriy Dorosch. People often gave birth at the pich and families used the pich to communicate with the dead.
For Przybyl and Abou-Eid, their interest in baking was sparked by a man named Jared Allen, who made bread in his garage to sell at the Gilbert farmers market.
In 2017 the couple, who had been loyal customers at the time, learned that Allen was moving. They decided to purchase his business. Before he left, Allen gave Przybyl a two-week crash course on how to make sourdough bread.
“It was like a Medieval-style bakery,” Przybyl told The Republic in 2020. “We hand-mixed huge batches of dough with no air conditioning in the summer. We were baking this beautiful, artisan, Old World-style bread.”
Przybyl and Abou-Eid eventually started running Proof Bread as their full-time jobs, selling at farmers markets. In 2021, they opened Proof Bread a storefront bakery in downtown Mesa.
They also opened Main Street Harvest, a shop selling local products, next door. Przybyl hopes that Main Street Harvest can be similar to one of his favorite neighborhood groceries in Poland. It was there in 2014 where he got his first taste of Old World bread — bread made from ancient techniques and recipes from before industrialization. He’s been hooked ever since.
The invasion that changed everything
Makievska hasn’t been home in nearly three months.
On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. When troops began advancing toward Kyiv, she evacuated with her two small children, leaving her husband, her bakery and her home behind. Makievska also closed Bakehouse so workers could get their family affairs in order.
“Anna, Are you and yours safe? We are thinking of all of you,” Przybyl wrote to her.
“It is hell… I am OK. But my husband is there.. my company, my colleagues…” she responded, trailing off.
The next message Przybyl received from her was a photo of burning buildings — dark, billowing plumes of smoke rising into an overcast sky. By then, Makievska and her children had taken refuge in Spain.
But in wartime one must still eat. After a temporary closure, those who stayed behind opened Bakehouse again and as tanks approached Kyiv, Makievska worked on the bakery’s administrative tasks from afar.
It’s hard to be this far away, she said. She and her husband had decided to take their children out of Ukraine for safety. They drove for two days to reach the western border. The roads were jammed with traffic and Makievska was changing her two-month-old baby’s diaper in the car, she remembered. She was also making calls to ensure her employees got their February payroll deposits early, in case the banks shut down soon after, she said.
Originally they wanted to spend the night at a hotel near Rivne airport, but changed plans because they heard of an incoming Russian airstrike on the airport. Even from 30 to 40 kilometers away from Rivne they could hear the explosions, she said.
She and her two children eventually crossed the border of Moldova while her husband turned back. Men ages 18 to 60, with less than three children, are prohibited from leaving the country in case they are called upon to fight.
“As a mother, I felt like I don’t have a choice,” Makievska said. “I think if I was alone or with just my husband, maybe I would stay. This is the person I love and I would stay with him and risk my life as well.”
Makievska had been on maternity leave at the time of the invasion and said she had been excited about returning to work. She now lives in Portugal, where she manages Bakehouse from a laptop.
“This is a bakery, this is not some remote or IT business,” she said. “I usually bake myself and develop recipes … I was dreaming of coming back to work and planning bread classes, and now it’s not possible.”
She misses the days cradling plump mounds of dough. She misses the smell of bread baking every morning at Bakehouse. She misses walks on the riverbank of Kyiv with her family, surrounded by coffee shops and greenery and, in May, the chestnut trees blooming with cones of white flowers.
“I just pray for my bakery to stay safe and all my bakers, all people who work there, who live there,” she said. “This is just crazy what’s going on.”
A helping hand in Mesa
Makievska’s situation hit close to home for Przybyl and Abou-Eid.
In the early 1980s the Polish government imposed martial law and the Przybyl family fled, fearing the threat of a Soviet invasion. Abou-Eid’s mother left Lebanon in the 1980s after her grandfather was murdered during the civil war.
As Makievska’s friend, Przybyl felt compelled to help Bakehouse feed families and soldiers who remain in Kyiv.
“I mean, everyone we know in Poland was actively doing something, so it just felt like we needed to do something,” Przybyl said. “They were just adjusting to the reality of millions of people crossing the border into Poland, adjusting to the fact that these people needed somewhere to stay.”
Przybyl started a GoFundMe that has raised more than $192,900 for Bakehouse since March 2022.
The funds have gone to the bakers who stayed behind and to purchase flour. Bakehouse has donated tens of thousands of loaves to restaurants providing free meals to the city’s defenders and elderly residents.
Proof Bread in Mesa also sells fundraiser items, such as lemon curd Danish pastries topped with blueberry to mimic the colors of the Ukrainian flag and loaves of baton, the same bread Bakehouse has been making for the Ukrainian army. A portion of each sale of the Proof batons goes to Bakehouse.
‘We all are fighting, just in different parts of this war’
“One of the bakers, he came in the morning and said, ‘Listen, I have an easy recipe for baton. Let’s make it for army and hospitals and refugees,’” Makievska said.
She described baton as a popular bread in Ukraine, the one “you find in every store, in every region of the country.” It’s made in big factories with sugar, milk and butter and children in particularly like baton, she said.
Typically the bread at Bakehouse has a long fermentation process, which is not ideal for making large quantities of bread, she said. Their sourdough breads take 24 to 48 hours to make, while baton takes four to five hours – only two hours at massive industrial bakeries.
Bakehouse donates the baton to kitchens that serve meals to the military, as well as a restaurant that feeds the elderly and unemployed. The name of the restaurant, coincidentally, is Palyanitsya, a type of white wheat bread.
“This word is particular for Ukraine pronunciation,” Makievska said. “If you ask a Russian to say this word, he or she will not be able to pronounce it right way. We make jokes about this, when a Ukrainian meets a Russian, that’s how we know if they are Russian or Ukrainian.”
For Easter, Bakehouse donated pasky. It’s tradition for families to buy or make the soft and slightly sweet, brioche-like egg bread For soldiers unable to reunite with their family around the table, hopefully a taste of paska offered a taste of Easter, she said.
“We say now in Ukraine, we all are fighting, just in different parts of this war,” Makievska said. “I think my team is doing a very, very important job. Just imagine the city without bakeries, other food productions, working. This would be very bad. This would not support the people who stayed in Kyiv.”
Przybyl and Abou-Eid traveled to Portugal recently to meet up with Makievska. Together with their host bakery in Lisbon, Gleba, they’re filming bread-making tutorials for Proof Bread’s YouTube channel.
The channel has more than 157,000 subscribers and Przybyl hopes to tap into that network to spread the word about the Bakehouse fundraiser, as well as Ukrainian bread-making traditions.
“My bakers are so brave and they are doing such an important job,” Makievska said. “All of them say, it’s easier to bake bread than sit home and read the news.”
Ways to help Bakehouse
Details: To donate to Proof Bread’s fundraiser to Bakehouse, visit gofundme.com/f/bake-for-ukraine-help-a-kyiv-bakery-continue.
Proof Bread is located at 125 W. Main St., Mesa. For updates follow instagram.com/proofbread.
Bakehouse is located at 9, Mechnykova St., Kyiv. For updates follow instagram.com/bakehouse_bh.
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