Spanish chef Ciriaco Vicente, 47, serves paella at his beach restaurant near Valencia to eleven women Ukrainian refugees who have been living in a relative's house near the restaurant since they fled the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Valencia, Spain March 28, 2022. Picture taken March 28, 2022. REUTERS/Eva Manez | EVA MANEZ

Every Tuesday chef Ciriaco Vicente turns his beachside restaurant in the Spanish city of Valencia into a dining room for more than a hundred Ukrainian refugees to enjoy a free hearty lunch.

"They've been left with nothing," said Vicente, 47, as his waiters doled out generous portions of steaming yellow rice peppered with hunks of chicken and small succulent snails.
"We're here to give them some love and affection through gastronomy," he said.

Some 4 million Ukrainains have fled their country since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, according to the United Nations. Around 80,000 have come to Spain, the migration minister said in an interview with La Vanguardia newspaper on Sunday.

The dining room at Las Torres de Ciriaco filled up with the happy chatter of families tucking into their food, but memories of the ordeals they faced are never far away.

"It's a difficult situation all over the territory of Ukraine," said Alina Zahizoeta, 28, who used to manage a branch of sporting-goods store Intersport in Kyiv.

After an arduous five day journey to Ukraine's border with Hungary, she and her family eventually made it to Spain.

Besides providing food, Vicente's restaurant has become a meeting place for Ukrainians to trade stories and seek help with paperwork.

"People are very supportive," said Bohdan Turinska, 24, an English teacher from Kyiv.