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Starting from Scratch: Bizinka Bakery celebrates Ukrainian Independence Day in Union City this Saturday

Konstantin & Olena Kostanyan of Bizinka Bakery in Union City, TN
Bizinka Bakery
Konstantin & Olena Kostanyan of Bizinka Bakery in Union City, TN

August 24th is the Independence Day of Ukraine. To celebrate, some local Ukrainians have programs at the Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tennessee, this Saturday. We talked with local baker, Konstantin Kostanyan about the event, his experience as a Ukrainian refugee and adjusting to life in Tennessee.

In Ukraine

Konstantin was born in the Soviet Union – in Armenia. He says it was difficult because there was a lack of food and goods. When he was 12, after war started in Armenia against Azerbaijan, his family moved to Ukraine. There, he graduated high school and university, opened his business, built his house and started his own family.

“My wife, we got three kids, and everything was my aim, you know, like my dream, that that I did it in Ukraine. It was good time for us, and then the war starts in our city.”

Konstantin lived in Kharkiv, about 30 miles from the Russian border.

“We woke up at 4 o'clock in the morning from the bombing. It was like the building was shaking, you know, like windows were shaking. And I didn't recognize first what's happening like… Just think, because it was early morning, and then we just I just pass my whole family to the basement of my house. And then I got news that they attack us. We lived in basement like 2 weeks.”

Konstantin drove his family to the border, then went back to help with his family business. They had about 60 employees he felt were relying on him for money to survive. But after about a month, he says business stopped. Most employees ran away from the city, two of his workshops exploded. Konstantin realized he needed to be with his family. Because he had three small children to care for, he was allowed to cross. They had only their clothes and some first aid items with them.

As a refugee

They lived for a couple months in Latvia, where his wife’s family was from. Moved to Italy to search for work. Then France. Finally, his wife’s sister – who was married to a U.S. Citizen, suggested that they move to Tennessee through the Uniting for Ukraine program. They arrived last year in July.

I asked how his kids are adjusting. Konstantin says his smallest son, who is 6, has picked up the language quickly.

“He just started to talk without any help after like a couple of months… Like, you know, actually with a Tennessee accent.”

His older children are learning the language a little more slowly, but still getting good marks at school. He says it’s been a difficult challenge for them: because when they were at a Latvian school, they started learning Latvian. When they were in France, they started learning French.

“And then he said, like, father please stop it... We will stay here for awhile… this city is very friendly to us. We like it”

Starting from scratch: the baking begins

The Bizinka Bakery (named after wife Olena’s grandmother) started when the family didn’t like the bread available at the store.

“We didn't like it, you know some stuff, and we just start to bake the bread for us, and some of our friends just come and take it and taste it, and they say, like, Whoa! It's awesome like, why, you don't sell it?”

They’ve been operating through pre-orders for now, but are in the final stages of opening a physical location in Union City.

“It’s mostly European desserts like Anna Pavlova, like Tiramisu, Italian. Brioche. French baguettes.”

He says so far, their customers have liked having something a little different.

“First time I taste the cake in United States. I was like, I like sweet, you know… I took the big piece, I start to eat, and I just had 3 spoons. I said, like I'm done.”

Their desire, he says, is to use less sugar and more variety to their desserts.

“Because dessert… you need to feel the fruits, you need to feel the filling, some ganache inside of it. If it’s only sugar, you just feel the sugar.”

What he likes most about the business so far is that you can see the results of what you bake right away - after 3 or 4 hours. In the past, all of his projects took many months to see the results. They hope to announce their physical location soon. Konstantin is excited to grow the bakery and to give back through paying taxes.

“We really thank to this to United States, to the State of Tennessee. They helped us with insurance first time, some SNAP benefits. But we don't want to be on the shoulders of, you know, citizens long term.”

Independence Day celebrations this weekend

Konstantin says Ukrainians will celebrate Independence Day for sure this year, with the war going on.

“Even before the war, let’s say 60% of people were talking Russian [in Kharkiv] because we were close to the Russian border… Now every friend that I call and talk with, they talk only Ukrainian. Nobody wants to talk Russian… Before we were thinking that yeah, they call us all the time like little brothers, but you know it’s not good style to beat your brother and kill your brother.”

This Saturday, August 26th at Discovery Park, there are programs on the culture & history of Ukraine. With histories, live music, and Ukrainian food from Konstantin (include potato pancakes, cabbage pies and pastries). Kids can also decorate wooden spoons like those used in Ukrainian villages. See the schedule here.

You can read more about the Bizinka Bakery here. Or pre-order by phone at 731-446-4941.

Asia Burnett is WKMS Station Manager.