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Moved by the stories of his Ukrainian employees, Tutta Bella owner finds a way to help

Joe Fugere of Tutta Bella said he wanted to recognize the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and honor his employees at the same time.

BELLEVUE, Wash. — It is a move that is largely symbolic: a boycott of Russian-made vodka. It has been one of the online movements in the wake of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Joe Fugere said he’s been phasing it out of Tutta Bella restaurants for years, so it doesn’t have much of an impact on his day-to-day business.

But he said he wanted to recognize the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and honor his employees at the same time.

Fugere said hearing from his head gnocchi maker and a pair of other Ukrainian-born employees prompted him to shift focus to how he can raise money for relief.

“We are worried about our friends and family in Ukraine,” said Iryna Mykhalchuk, as she worked in the restaurant’s culinary hub in Bellevue on Monday. “No one knows what is going to happen to them, even tonight."

Mykhalchuk’s parents, sister and extended family all call the country home. Mykhalchuk said she moved to the U.S. five years ago but just visited with her family in Ukraine last summer. She’s been talking to them on a nightly basis.

“A restaurant company can't change the world, but we can certainly be symbolic,” Fugere said.

That’s meant ordering a bunch of Polish-made vodka and raising glasses of ‘Peremoha,’ a mixed drink that means ‘Victory’ in Ukrainian. The lemon slice and blueberries reflect the blue and yellow colors of the country's flag.

Fugere said all proceeds from sales will go to Ukrainian relief and to families like Mykhalchuk's.

“What can I do for my family,” she said. “I can’t really bring them here.”

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