Newly arrived Ukrainians can embellish their traditional Christmas fare with some classic Aussie sweets thanks to a cooking program delivered by Advance Diversity Services (ADS), The Kogarah Storehouse and TAFE St George.

‘We’ve been teaching the women some great Australian classics, including ANZAC biscuits, damper, pavlova and lamingtons,’ said course coordinator Inna Gimelberg, Community Services Officer with ADS. ‘They’ve been loving the immersion into Australian culture.’

The Bayside and Sutherland Shire LGAs make up the top settlement locations of the 937 Ukrainian nationals who have arrived in NSW since April.

Ms Gimelberg hoped the food, friendship and support to settle in the region would help make Christmas feel less alienating for the women.

The five-week program commenced in late October and classes have been facilitated by cooking teacher Johanne Champness from TAFE St George.

Lyudmila, a participant, said she was very happy to be a part of the class because people were so welcoming and kind.

‘Usually, at Christmas we roast a duck or a goose with apples, sour cabbage and cranberries,’ she said. ‘This year I might try to bake lamingtons!’ 

Olena wanted to ‘treat’ her family this Christmas by making a pavlova, which would round off the Olivier (potato) salad and the Pelmeni (Russian dumplings) that normally featured on her festive menu.

‘ADS has been very helpful with assistance since my arrival in Australia,’ she said, ‘from sorting out issues with Centrelink to helping me to find new, wonderful friends.

‘The community is incredibly warm and welcoming to us.’

Nataliia was excited to attend the class each week because Ms Champness explained things clearly and was very friendly and encouraging.

‘The recipes are quick, easy to follow and tasty,’ she said. ‘My favourites were the ANZAC biscuits.

‘Back in Ukraine we enjoy Kolach (sweet bread) and Kutia (a type of porridge) during Christmas. But I’d really like to learn the Australian version of Christmas turkey.’

Oleksandra said there was a great atmosphere in the class. ‘It’s not only cooking but works like therapy. I feel very comfortable. It’s a breeze of fresh air.’

Although she was still deciding which Australian dessert to cook for Christmas, one traditional Ukrainian course she would serve on the day was a ‘Seledka pod shooboy’ salad, which features layered vegetables and cured herring.

Ievgeniia wished she’d joined the classes earlier: ‘I like the company. And that we have to speak English.

‘I have a big family here now,’ she said. ‘We will cook many traditional dishes – salads, roasted lamb, “Holodets” (a jellied cold meat dish). And I will bake a layered cake.

‘I want to learn how to cook other things from different cultures – and would love to join more classes.’

Ms Gimelberg, course coordinator, made several memorable meals during the five-week program. One flavoursome lunch she cooked was for The Kogarah Storehouse volunteers who’d been hard at work that morning preparing food parcels for vulnerable people in the community.

‘We were blessed to have TAFE and The Kogarah Storehouse on board to help roll out the cooking course,’ Ms Gimelberg said. ‘Johanne is an excellent teacher and The Kogarah Storehouse has an industrial kitchen fit for purpose. It also generously bought all of the ingredients needed for each class.’

Kogarah Storehouse manager Lala Noronha also praised the collaborative effort, ‘We are delighted to host the Ukrainian cooking classes here, it is a wonderful initiative and a great collaboration between ADS, the Kogarah Storehouse and TAFE.’

Ms Gimelberg said the classes have been pivotal in helping the women settle well, ‘We’re committed to ensuring these people who have fled the war and left their homeland are welcomed warmly, their settlement journey is positive and they can find a little touch of joy during their first festive season in Australia.’

Pavlova was a firm favourite with the Ukrainian women who will celebrate their first Christmas in Australia in 2022.