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Day 15: Helping Farmers in Ukraine

At the market in Lviv, Luksaz stopped by the booth of an older couple. They only had a half bag of produce left: a bag of onions, spring onions and parsley.

He asked how much money to buy it all.

The couple looked tired; how many hours had they been at the market?

Did they pick the produce this morning, as many in the market did to keep a competitive edge?

A man looks at produce in a farmer's market.
(Two farmers look on as Luksaz considers their produce.)

The woman regarded him slowly, as if she were expecting him to run off when she named a price. She named a price.

Luksaz nodded and paid her more than she asked for.

She turned to her husband and said something. He looked up fast. Really, this Polish man was buying them out?

An old woman smiles.
(He bought the rest of her produce. Now this farmer can go home.)

They wore big smiles as they bagged the rest of their home-grown food into a large plastic bag. They could go home early.

But we were just starting. Luksaz wanted to help out Ukrainian farmers who were having trouble selling crops during war time.

The produce fit easily into the car where Jullia was texting with her children who were out of town.

We returned to the market. The next stop was a booth nearby run by a husband and wife team of farmers who were selling small cucumbers. He bought a sizeable amount and again, overpaid for the produce.

A man buys cucumbers from a farmer.
(Buying cucumbers)

The man helped fill bags with cucumbers, his wife stood by smiling.

I watched as people around the market bought; most people bought small amounts that they fit into a cloth bags.

Luksaz brought along paper bags and plastic bags, knowing that he wanted to help Ukrainians in as many ways as possible.

I won’t share a photo of the mushroom booth at the market. After he bought a large bucket of mushrooms, he dumped them into a paper bag from his car; mushrooms do best in paper bags. In checking them it was clear that the kid had filled the bottom of the bucket with rotten mushrooms.

So 30% of the mushrooms were inedible.

Many stalls in a farmer's market.
(A farmer's market in Lviv, Ukraine.)

I thought that it was his bad fortune and that he would have less mushrooms, but I was wrong.

He brought the bag back to the market and approached the kid whose father was now selling with him.

Luksaz said something to the boy as he handed back handful after handful of rotten and dried out mushrooms.

Other customers who were considering this stall backed away.

The boy and his father didn’t argue. The younger tossed the bad mushrooms into a trash bin at the back of the booth while his father handed over handfuls of quality mushrooms until Luksaz was satisfied.

When we left, I asked what he said to the sellers to have them take back the bad produce without a fight.

“I said that they could either replace the rotten ones, or give me my money back.”

I nodded.

He added, “You have to live with a warm heart and a hard ass.” And went on to say that when he started doing humanitarian work, he had to learn how to harden and take control.

When he arrived at a place where hungry people were desperate for food, he would announce in a loud voice what they had and how people had to line up. He always added to the end that if people could not follow these simple rules that his group would leave.

Setting up the expectations first always worked for him.

He said that when buying from a market, you have to demand excellence; some sellers will cheat you if you don’t stand up for yourself.


We packed the produce into the car and went to a café to wait until it was time to pick up the mother and daughter from the train station.

Two giant teddy bears wait for new friends at a table.
(Teddy's in Lviv, Ukraine.)

We found a place called Teddy’s, which has giant Teddy bears at random tables, loud music and memorable desserts.

We snuggled up to a teddy bear and sampled desserts. I had to agree, the Crème brûlée was amazing. No, I did not lick the bowl.

The mother and daughter arrived on time and joined me in the back seat of the car. They had smiles on their faces, but I could see that their hearts were breaking. How difficult to be home for three nights and then have to return to a refugee center.

We rode quietly. I looked out my window to give them some privacy.

(Buying mushrooms from a farmer along the side of the road. Luksaz will use the mushrooms for his family and then give the rest to charity.)

Luksaz pulled over the side of the road where the mushroom sellers were stationed.

I told him that I liked an older man who sat behind twenty buckets of mushrooms. Later I realized that maybe I liked this seller because he wore a hat similar to one my father

A farmer packs up his many buckets.
(A happy farmer)

used to wear.


Luksaz went up to the booth, studied the mushrooms and asked how much for all of them.

The man looked from the mushrooms back to Luksaz’s face a few times, put his hand on his head as he calculated and then offered him a deal.

Luksaz gave him more money than he asked for and the rest of us got to work bagging the mushrooms into paper bags while Luksaz moved on to the next seller.

Pople begin to bag mushrooms.
(How much for all of the mushrooms?)

The next woman was as surprised as the first farmer was when Luksaz bought all of her mushrooms.

I felt bad for the farmers at the end of the row; I worried that they were too far from this shopping extravaganza. I walked down to a woman and bought a tub of wild blueberries from her.

She said, “Fresh.”

I smiled, thinking that it might be the only word she knew in English.

This would be lovely on my morning yoghurt.

A man and woman sit over buckets of mushrooms.
(Liksaz bought out another mushroom farmer.)

But Luksaz didn’t forget those sellers. He approached each, asked for a price and then bought all of their stock, one seller at a time.

He bought out every seller that day. Five ecstatic families.

We stood next to the trunk of the car wondering how we would get that many bags of mushrooms into the car.

We pushed luggage. We moved luggage. And slowly we filled the spaces between luggage with 11 grocery bags filled with mushrooms and a few large tubs of freshly picked wild blueberries.

People stand outside a car with many bags of produce that need to fit in.
(Can we fit all of these mushrooms into the car? Yes, very carefully.)

Yes, they all fit into the car, some in the trunk and some up front with us.

As we drove away, I looked back at the families packing up early: their day was done at 2:30 in the afternoon, a rare treat.

I sat carefully next to a large bag of mushrooms while balancing a large tub of blueberries between my feat.


It was a joy to see so many happy farmers.

I said to the group in the car, “Those families would never forget this day; they will tell this story for years to come.”

Everyone in the car agreed.

But what I was also thinking was that I would never forget this day, either.

a man and a woman stand in front of a hotel.
(Jullia and Luksaz outside the Chopin Hotel in Lviv, Ukraine.)




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