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In Ukraine, a Charlotte baker finds hope by breaking bread

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Manolo Betancur
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Manolo Betancur described destruction and pain, juxtaposed by resilience in Bucha, Ukraine.

This story was produced through a collaboration between WFAE and La Noticia. You can read it in Spanish at La Noticia. Puedes leer la nota en español en La Noticia.

A Charlotte business owner has returned from a humanitarian trip to Ukraine, where he fulfilled a promise to support a war-stricken bakery.

Manolo Betancur, the owner of Manolo’s Latin Bakery on Central Avenue, says he’s feeling spiritually tired after traveling to Ukraine. He grew up alongside armed conflict in Colombia and fought in the military there, but the destruction he witnessed in Ukraine was even worse than he expected.

“Anyone that you talk to, tears come from their eyes, and they want people to hear their story,” he said. “There's a lot of real pain. A lot of fear.”

Earlier this year, Betancur made a commitment to help alleviate suffering in the Ukraine war the best way he knew how - through bread. First, he raised funds in Charlotte to rebuild a wood-fired oven for a bakery in Bucha, Ukraine that had suffered bomb damage.

“The only bakery that was baking was this bakery because they had a wood oven, and that wood oven was built by Charlotte,” he said. “So, we saved a lot of lives, and we saved a lot of people. And we brought fresh, warm bread to all these people in need.”

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Manolo Betancur
Yuriy Boyko, left, and Manolo Betancur make bread together at Хатинка Пекаря bakery or the Baker's Hut in Bucha, Ukraine.

For his second round of fundraising, he committed to purchasing a delivery van for the bakery, known in English as the Baker’s Hut, so the workers can deliver free bread this winter. On this occasion, Betancur traveled to Bucha and worked alongside the bakers there.

So, we saved a lot of lives, and we saved a lot of people. And we brought fresh, warm bread to all these people in need.
Manolo Betancur, owner of Manolo's Latin Bakery in Charlotte

He said it was like meeting with brothers and sharing a strong hug after years of shared love and pain.

While they weren’t able to find a delivery van on this trip, Betancur gave the bakery $5,000 to continue their search. He donated an additional $5,000 to local churches and organizations working in the community.

“My bakery here is a symbol of hope for the immigrant community. And we have worked so hard to make our immigrant community proud of who we are and what we do here in Charlotte, and now we have another bakery in Ukraine that we are supporting,” he said.

Betancur said that the Ukrainian bakers are doing the same thing and that they're "a symbol of hope for Bucha, a symbol of inspiration for the war."

Betancur says the experience has taught him something about resilience and human potential. If his bakery can help feed people across the world, he wonders what else the Charlotte community could achieve by uniting around a common cause.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.