Igor Russo, co-owner of The Onion Roll, 6935 W. North Ave., spent the first 19 years of his life in Kyiv, Ukraine and still has distant relatives in the war-torn country. Feeling distraught about the unjust attack on his homeland, Russo and his business partner, Ryan Rosenthal, have put their bagel bakery to use churning out blue and yellow bagels inspired by the Ukrainian flag. Sold for five dollars each, 100% of proceeds from the sale of the specialty bagels will be donated to the Heroes Protection Fund established through St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church.
“I mean it is a beautiful city, just look at pictures,” said Russo who is also a chiropractor. “I spent my whole childhood there. I started studying medicine there before coming to America.
An only child, Russo’s entire youth is wrapped in memories of Kyiv — he spoke wistfully about the chestnut trees he remembered growing throughout the city and crossing the Dnieper River to get home. Watching the violence and destruction unfold on YouTube and CNN triggered something inside of Russo. He was angered primarily because of the notable similarities and connections between Ukraine and Russia. He compared the senseless situation to “Michigan invading Illinois” and spoke passionately of people being made to fight against each other “for no reason.”
“Seeing everything that was happening brought up so many emotions,” said Russo. “I wondered how I could help Ukraine, the beautiful place where I grew up, and I came up with the blue and yellow bagels.”
Russo is clear the bagels are not a money maker for The Onion Roll, but merely represent a small way he can raise awareness and offer a way for people to show support for Ukraine. To date bagel sales have raised more than $2,000 for the Heroes Protection Fund. Started by St. Joseph the Betrothed Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, 5000 N. Cumberland Ave. in Chicago, the seven-year-old fund provides medical care for wounded Ukrainian soldiers. The fund also supports chaplains who serve in battle zones and provide necessities to soldiers and their families.
In a further act of solidarity, the Onion Roll has a blue and yellow “Pray for Ukraine” banner hanging in its front window and sourced 25 additional banners for other restaurateurs to pick up along with donation boxes to use in their own establishments. Russo reached out to Ravi Parakkat, founder of Takeout 25 and an Oak Park village trustee, to get the word out through the Takeout 25 managers and owners group on Facebook.
“The overwhelming response from owners in the Takeout 25 owner group shows their willingness to come together and support each other in a situation like this,” said Parakkat.
In a show of support for Russo and his home country, “Pray for Ukraine” banners are now on display in restaurant windows throughout Oak Park and the surrounding communities. Michelle Mascaro, owner of Happy Apple Pie Shop, 226 Harrison St., traveled to Kyiv, Ukraine in 1971 and looks back on the trip as a time that developed her sense of empathy for people all around the world. In addition to hanging a Pray for Ukraine banner in her shop, she intends to post a list of all the grave conflicts going on around the globe.
“We care about a lot more than making pie,” said Mascaro. “This is just one example of how restaurants can make a difference when we work together.”
Not only did owners from Autre Monde, 6727 Roosevelt Rd., pick up a banner from the Onion Roll to display in their decade old Berwyn restaurant, they expanded on the idea by announcing a community dining night with 100% of the profits going to Ukrainian refugee relief efforts. Autre Monde has teamed up with a network of Ukrainian churches who are working with relief efforts at the Polish border.
Reservations (via resy.com) are encouraged for the dinner to be held on Wednesday, March 16. The event will take place during regular service and Autre Monde’s seasonal menu offerings will be enhanced with special regional entrees, signature cocktails and Balkan wines.
“We have staff members who have family in that part of the world,” said Christine Tully, general manager and co-owner of Autre Monde. “Knowing that members of our local food community are suffering because of this situation compels us to want to do more for Ukraine.”
Russo is humbled by the outpouring of support. He is clear he will continue raising awareness and the Onion Roll will continue making blue and yellow bagels as long as the conflict continues in Ukraine.