Goodacity – Dare to be Good

Olha Sahal
Written by
Olha Sahal
Written by
Technical Writer at United Thinkers

I am the author of the Goodacity blog, a journalist, and a translator. For 16 years, I have worked in professional journalism, contributing to regional and national publications, both in print and online media. I have written reports, conducted interviews, reviews, articles on cultural, social, and charitable topics, as well as materials in the style of "solution journalism" and communication materials.
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Yulia Didyk
Reviewed by
Yulia Didyk
Reviewed by
Culture Manager at United Thinkers

I am a manager of cultural affairs and a project manager with over 14 years of experience at United Thinkers. I have participated in the organization of numerous successful social and charitable projects and have implemented informational campaigns and communication cases.
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"Unbreakable City": The Craft of a Chernihiv Artisan

gingerbread houses

The recipe is simple: flour, eggs, butter, honey, spices, and – an enormous, incredible love!

Olena Zibert from Chernihiv, Ukraine, doesn’t just make gingerbread houses – she creates entire gingerbread worlds!

Her work is “sweet”, but our conversation has a bittersweet edge, tinged with war… Olena’s husband is currently at the front, having volunteered to defend Ukraine since 2014.

“It was his conscious decision,” the woman explains.

“He went to the military registration office three times: initially, they didn’t want to enlist him because we had three minor children at the time. But he persisted, going back again and again until they finally said – alright, submit your application… In 2015, Serhiy was seriously injured near Debaltseve, Ukraine, trapped for four days as the roads were already blocked by the enemy. It was a very tough and terrifying period…

When her husband finished his service, they stumbled upon a Ukrainian-Norwegian program supporting veterans of the Anti-Terrorism Operation and their families, where one could gain new qualifications. “I underwent training, successfully defended a business plan related to gingerbread houses – decided it would be my sweet relaxation. I started implementing the plan – orders for the houses started pouring in and I realized this venture was for the long haul!”

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The Gingerbread House That Won the "Confectionery Oscar"!

When you look at her sweet masterpieces, it’s hard to believe at first that they are all edible! These aren’t just gingerbread houses – they are incredible, elaborate multi-story palaces with stunning architecture, movable furniture inside, and glowing jelly windows – the artisan’s favorite “trick” and her signature innovation. In her gingerbread houses, you feel transported into a fairy tale, captivating both adults and children!

It’s no wonder that the creations of this Chernihiv artisan have even won the “confectionery Oscar”! At the prestigious global Cake International Virtual Edition COMPETITION, Olena Zibert’s gingerbread house clinched a gold medal!

“It was a very intricate piece of work, time-consuming and labor-intensive, and the competition had many technical requirements that had to be strictly followed – any non-edible element or decoration could lead to disqualification. I am thrilled that I managed to realize everything I planned and that my gingerbread house, ‘Old Lighthouse,’ received such high recognition,” says Mrs. Olena.

Then the ball really got rolling: “I made gingerbread houses, posted their photos on social networks, and my followers just flooded me with questions – when will you offer master classes, show us how you do it… They kept asking, and I realized – it’s time! I learned how to record videos and started offering master classes: now I have students in 48 countries around the world.”

With the onset of the full-scale Russian invasion, Mrs. Olena decided she would sell her master classes and donate the proceeds to the Ukrainian Armed Forces – this was her way of contributing to hasten victory.

gingerbread houses

Through her lessons and master classes, the artisan has raised 50,000 hryvnias, with additional donations from her son and her daughter’s fiancé – they used the funds to purchase equipment for Ukrainian aerial reconnaissance.

To her husband, currently on the front lines, his comrades, and simply to the Ukrainian soldiers, Olena also prepares and sends treats – this year she baked Easter bread and sent it, along with various sweets – it’s important for the boys that the treats keep well.

Incidentally, her gingerbread houses remain edible for up to six months – and even longer if stored properly (in an airtight container with a moisture absorber).

“For nearly three years now, I have not been selling my gingerbread houses. I give them to volunteers for charity fairs to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces or gift them to children – to the children of military personnel, to the children of fallen heroes. I want my houses to bring joy. Seeing how the children marvel, enjoy, and savor them also brings me joy – it increases the warmth, adds more goodness to this world.”

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This Sweet Victory...

Incredible gingerbread castles and palaces, transformer houses, and this year’s creative innovation — decorated Easter bread houses — and soon… wedding gingerbread houses!

“I find it fascinating to develop, grow, create, and come up with something new each time,” says the artisan. “And for the wedding gingerbread houses, there’s an extra special reason: my eldest daughter is getting married, and I want to delight her with something interesting and original.”

Gingerbread houses, gingerbread worlds… And — a whole gingerbread city! Not just any city, but — an unbreakable one! “Unbreakable City” consists of nearly two dozen handcrafted sweet houses — several streets and an avenue.

“Created with love, faith, and hope, and with boundless gratitude to the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” smiles Mrs. Olena, discussing the “Unbreakable City” project.

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“All the street names there are symbolic: if it’s an avenue, then it’s Victory Avenue; if it’s a house number, then it’s 4.5.0 — to ensure everything goes well for everyone. No two houses on Victory Avenue are alike, each is unique. The trees and street signs are also edible. ‘Happiness,’ ‘Dream,’ and ‘Freedom’ — this is what Ukraine is fighting for right now… And, to remember all that we have gone through — some houses with scorched windows, just as can still be seen in my hometown of Chernihiv,” says Mrs. Olena.

Even in the smallest, most intricate details, the artisan has preserved this symbolism: on the balcony of a gingerbread house — a flower box… in yellow and blue colors! So much soul and effort invested!

gingerbread houses

Creativity That Saves!

But that’s not all. A particularly moving and symbolic creation by Olena Zibert is a gingerbread replica of the famous historical landmark — the Tarnovsky House in Chernihiv, which survived World War II but was destroyed by a Russian missile in the spring of 2022…

“On the night of March 11, missiles fell on the Tarnovsky House near my home and on the stadium in Chernihiv,” the woman recalls. “I remember feeling those blasts… I remember sleeping on the floor in the hallway, while my younger daughter was in the built-in wardrobe. I remember the sorrow I felt after hearing the tragic news. People lost their loved ones, were left without homes. We had no information about friends and relatives.”

“We didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. Who would still be here tomorrow…

The feelings I experienced that spring, I relived them while making the gingerbread replica of the Tarnovsky House.

… Despair, when I learned that explosions were heard, and that Russian tanks had already passed Senkivka…

… Fear for our three children and for my husband, who on the morning of February 24th went to defend our country…

… The strength of unity – when all the men I knew joined the Armed Forces, the territorial defense, and also made Molotov cocktails and barricades…

… Grief – when I learned that people who were queuing for bread would never return home…”

gingerbread houses

This house, into which a whole spectrum of emotions has been invested, is not about “pleasing the eye” or being edible, its creation is a form of therapy, primarily for the one who makes them…

Technically, it’s a very complex task, involving numerous calculations. Mrs. Olena searched for various old photos to recreate the house model, striving to achieve the right color palette — the color here is composed of four shades to make the gingerbread replica of the Tarnovsky House as close to the original as possible.

“The people of Chernihiv warmly received the gingerbread ‘Tarnovsky House’ — for all of us, it’s a very poignant topic. And, you know what else moved me — the way this gingerbread house was received by confectioners from other cities. When I posted the photo on social networks and wrote that this work helped me cope with pain and despair, confectioners from various cities across Ukraine wrote to me offering their support, saying they also want to make gingerbread replicas of buildings destroyed by the war in their cities…

I remember how several people wrote to me on social media: ‘If Ukrainian confectioners can make such things during the war, what will they be able to do after the war?!’

Yes, in conditions of blackouts, frequent air raids, and anxiety, waiting for that cherished ‘plus’ from my husband in the messenger — it’s all incredibly difficult. And at the same time, it’s this work, this creativity that inspires me and keeps me ‘afloat.’ I thank our defenders for every new day, for the opportunity to create, for the belief that good will prevail. Glory to our Armed Forces!”