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Ukrainian restaurant drawing crowds — and "an overwhelming outpouring of love" — in New York's East Village

NYC Ukrainian restaurant offers support, aid
Owners of long-standing New York Ukrainian restaurant garner support for Ukraine aid 06:29

As the war rages in Ukraine, a popular New York City restaurant has been serving up traditional Ukrainian food… with a side of hope.

In Manhattan's East Village, customers can be seen lining up outside Veselka throughout the day to show solidarity for Ukraine amid Russia's brutal invasion.

"It's just been amazing, and I'm very thankful for that," third-generation owner Jason Birchard told CBS News' Vladimir Duthiers.

Birchard is carrying on his family's legacy of nearly seven decades. His grandfather opened Veselka as a storefront in 1954. Back then, the neighborhood was known as "Little Ukraine" as many immigrants had settled there during World War II.

New York City is now home to tens of thousands of Ukrainians — the most of any city in the U.S. At Veselka, about 40% of the staff is from Ukraine.

"They are in a state of shock, to be honest with you," Birchard said. "It's a miracle that they come to work. They do so out of loyalty to the business, out of loyalty to their coworkers."

Birchard said one of the line cooks lost four of his "best buddies" in the first four days of Russia's invasion.

"I have others that have parents that are still in Kyiv and sleeping in the basements or they have now moved into subway tunnels," Birchard said. "If we were in Ukraine, we would be asked to bear arms. Grandmas are making Molotov cocktails. I mean, it's a different time."

But what really hasn't changed is Veselka — as well as the food and the comfort that it brings. Part of that tradition is the Ukrainian fare on the menu. In the restaurant's basement, 5,000 pierogies are made from scratch daily by Ukrainian cooks, many of them with family back home, watching the news while they work.

Since the start of the war, Veselka has sold about 1,000 gallons — or 8,000 bowls — of borscht, a traditional beet soup that many Ukrainians consider a symbol of unity.

"This is love in a bowl," said Birchard's dad, Tom.

"It's been an overwhelming outpouring of love, literally," Jason Birchard said. "And I think people really relate to borscht, and what's happening abroad."

The Birchards said they're donating 100% of Veselka's borscht sales to humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

"What would you want people to know about what this place means, not just to you, to your family, but to New Yorkers, to the community, and now to your staff that has family members who are suffering?" Duthiers asked.

"Feel free to consider this your second dining room," Tom Birchard said. "We'd be glad to cook for you, welcome you. And if you're hurting, and you need companionship or company, you know, please come."

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