Hummus on the front: volunteers feeding Ukraine's vegan troops

Ukrainian soldier Oleksandr Zhuhan has no intention of giving up on his veganism while fighting invading Russian forces.

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UKRAINE - Ukrainian soldier Oleksandr Zhuhan has no intention of giving up on his veganism while fighting invading Russian forces. The 37-year-old drama teacher, who enlisted with the army the day after Moscow attacked Ukraine on February 24, maintains his strictly plant-based diet while serving on the front lines.

"At the beginning, it was very complicated," Zhuhan, who is fighting in the southern Mykolaiv region, told AFP. "People told me that I would not hold out" because a special menu is not available, he said via video call from his barracks, with his rifle on his shoulder. But the soldier was adamant his diet would not prevent him from serving his country.

He found a network of activists on the internet helping vegan soldiers. "I wrote to them and in April the first package arrived, like a miracle," Zhuhan said. "There was pate and vegan sausages, hummus, soya milk... and all this for free," he said happily.

Deliveries under bombs

Zhuhan has Tamara Human to thank for the nutritious provisions. The former top model heads the "Every Animal" foundation in Kyiv, bringing together around a hundred people promoting veganism. This way of life combines a strictly vegan diet and the refusal to consume any clothing or cosmetic products derived from animals or their exploitation.

Human's organisation helps around 200 vegan soldiers reconcile their convictions while serving their country. "We deliver even under bombs," she told AFP, as she prepared bulgur and dumplings for civilians with two other volunteers. Her 13th-floor apartment in the residential Rusanivka area has become a surprising logistics centre for the movement.

Human has long been involved in animal protection, and dog Misha reins in the flat. There's even a beige rat rescued from a lab who's partial to a little meat -- and would gladly bite an unsuspecting finger. Economic patriotism is strong here and most of the food used by Human's team comes from Ukraine -- mainly from the western city of Lviv, where it is easiest to find.

"The packages we send them allow the soldiers to supplement for two or three weeks what they receive from the army so that they have a balanced diet," she said. She sees no contradiction between veganism and fighting on the front.

"I also wanted to go kill Russians, but I don't know how to use a weapon, so I am more useful here," she said.