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Khasan and his falafel in bread

"I’ve been making falafel in bread since 1997. During this time, I haven't changed the recipe. I always do the same thing. My first selling spot was near the Industrialny bridge, the second one at the Bylshovyk, and the last 15 years it’s at the Lisova market. Nobody in Kyiv was making falafel when I started. Back then, everybody kept saying: “How can one eat a sandwich without meat?” But you try first.

I make falafel in bread because there's no pita n my homeland, Iraq– only bread, which is very similar to the loaf. When I started, the bread cost 59 kopecks, and now it’s 22 hryvnias. My first falafel cost 4 hryvnias, and now it’s 60.

Everyone at Lisova knows me. Maybe there’s a couple of people who don’t. The same people are coming to me, primarily the young folks. I don’t know why but in Autumn, the fall of people increases. In general, it's not always the same: sometimes there are ten customers, sometimes 40, sometimes 50. There’s a girl named Kate, who’s been a loyal custom since the Shulyavka times. She was 16 when we met. She still comes; she has two kids. So much time has passed.

I stayed in Ukraine by chance, when in 1997 my passport had been stolen at Kyiv railway station, where I had a transfer.

I traveled from Iraq to Moldova. Then I went to Germany. It just happened, and I have no regrets. I’ve already got a family here. I like here in Ukraine, and if I wouldn't, I would be gone many years back.

My father was a judge, and my mother was a housewife. I have eight brothers and two sisters in Iraq. When I was a kid, I didn’t like to study, so when I turned 9, I quit school and started to work at my father’s friend’s garage. He hired me and taught me how to fix engines. I could even fix the tank engine. When I came to Ukraine, I collected all the documents and went to Odesa to find a job as an engineer. They told me to leave my documents and wait for a call. After that, they called and offered a half-year internship for 480 hryvnias per month. It was 2001, and I asked them whether they were kidding. How am I supposed to live on that? They said that it was not their business. After that case, I didn’t look for a job as an engineer anymore.

I never wanted to return to Iraq because it’s never safe there. The last time I was there in 2017, people there changed a lot: everybody thinks only about money, more than about close relationships. But I call my close friends by phone occasionally.

Now I live in the Kyiv region, where I own a house and some land. I grew everything alone with my wife: cucumbers, tomatoes, and cabbage. This year I have planted some chickpeas as well.

I’ve got seven apple trees, three pear trees, five plump trees, one cherry tree, and two wild cherry trees. Also, I grow some strawberries. I’m fond of Ukrainian borsch, and I can cook it better than Ukrainians. I make borsch with meat broth, without potato and cabbage, by adding beans, carrot, beet, and sweet pepper.

My elder daughter is already 15, and the youngest is two years and four months. The elder one is called Dalia, which means “vine branch” in Arabian, and the youngest is Yasmin. They’ve never been to Iraq, and why should they? The elder one used to help me with falafel once, but she didn’t like that. That’s just not hers. After finishing school, she’s going to study design.

Ukrainian women are different: some are normal, some are not so good. Each person has their character, and you can’t always understand them at once. There are some people you can tolerate and some that you simply can’t. I’ve divorced my first wife; this one is my second. Both of them are Ukrainians. I’ve met my first wife when she was buying a falafel from me. My second wife was working in the Vietnamese store, replacing the ill girl. We married in four months. Seven months later, she got pregnant for the first time in her life. She was 39.

When I moved to Ukraine, I did not hear the Ukrainian language at all. Everybody was speaking Russian, but I didn’t know it back then. It was challenging to manage without knowing the language for the first few years, but I listened to other people speaking, learned Russian by myself, talked to people, and as a result, I’d mastered the language.

After 2004 many people started to speak Ukrainian, so I began to learn it also. I can understand everything, but I can’t speak. I speak to my kids only Arabian, to my wife – Russian. My kids know both Ukrainian and Russian.

There are different people in Ukraine. I’m not a nervous sort. I overlook offensive remarks, and they just do not affect me. Let them speak what they want; I’m not offended at all. During this period, I was in the Carpathians twice. I don’t like the sea. I’ve been to Dnipro, Odesa, Kharkiv, Summy, Lviv, Rivne. I like Lviv most of all – such a cultural city.

I like Kyiv. It’s a normal place to live in. But I don’t like when it’s crowded, and I don’t like sitting in the cafe – I’m not a man of a city. It takes 33 minutes to get to Lisova from my house by car. During the warm season, I take my family out in the forest. We put up a tent and stayed there for a night. In a day we come back home.

They still don’t give me citizenship in Ukraine. Now it’s more complicated. It used to be possible to get it in a year, but now you have to wait up to three years. Last year, I applied for citizenship after 24 years of living in Ukraine for the first time. I just don’t like all this paperwork. For each document, you need to take a day off and go somewhere.

I was told that someone had created a Facebook page about my falafel, but I don’t know who it is. I don’t have time for stuff like this because I often don’t even have time for dinner when I come home. I go straight to bed. Usually, I get up quite early. For example, today I got up at 4:45 am because I’m used to it. I’m such a person who doesn’t like to stay at home, so I’ll work until the last breath."

If you want to taste falafel cooked by Khasan, you can find his kiosk here.


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