In the two weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, two million Ukrainian citizens
have fled their homeland to seek shelter in other countries. Some have crossed the border to Poland, where humanitarian organizations like chef José Andrés' World Central Kitchen
are there to greet them with a warm meal. Others have embarked on longer journeys, including to South Florida, to stay with relatives.
Miamians have been finding ways of helping the people of Ukraine through donations and prayers but the people behind one local restaurant group decided to take a more direct route to aid in the humanitarian crisis.
Nathaly Petrey, project manager for Miami-based Baires Grill, says the small Argentine restaurant chain's principals wanted to do more than donate money to help the people of Ukraine. Partners Martin Koenig, Gustavo Abudiab, and Natalia Denegri decided to give 50 Ukrainian refugees the same opportunities afforded to them years back when they immigrated from Argentina.
"The owners of Baires are immigrants. They came to the United States and this country gave them a chance to grow from zero," Petrey says. "They wanted to give more than a donation. They want to give an opportunity."
Petrey says Baires enlisted the help of a local Ukrainian organization, FL4UK.org
to locate people who'd already arrived in the United States and needed immediate help — and ultimately, assistance in starting a new life. "Our lawyers are working on the paperwork to get them work permits," she explains.
In addition, Sofia Koenig, daughter of Baires partner Martin Koenig and a licensed social worker, will help the new arrivals navigate life in Miami.
Petrey says the restaurant group will also provide temporary housing.
"Once they have a salary, they will have the capability to support themselves. At that time, we can provide housing for more people that need it," she says.
With five Baires locations throughout South Florida — including one in Weston
— and more in the works, there are plenty of jobs to go around, Petrey notes, adding, "We have people that started entry-level that are now managers. We want to help these people for life."
Earlier today, Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez held a press conference to commend Baires on its actions, saying, "Our Ukrainian brothers and sisters desperately need our help."
Petrey says the restaurant's campaign is ongoing and urges anyone who knows of a Ukrainian person who would like to apply for assistance to visit the Baires website
and fill out the contact form.
"It's not about power or money," she says. "It's about life and family. What is happening in Ukraine is shocking. Now, more than ever, this is not the time for war."
Baires Grill. Numerous locations throughout South Florida. bairesgrill.com.