Tadeusz Dorda is used to talking about Chopin Vodka’s special location, highlighting the regional products that go into the super-premium potato, rye, and wheat vodkas produced by his family’s distillery in southeastern Poland. And thanks to that location, Dorda now has a special perspective on what’s happening at Poland’s border with Ukraine, which lies less than 65 miles away.
“It’s agricultural land — there’s nothing between us and the border, just fields,” he says. “And millions of people are coming through it.”
That’s no exaggeration. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 2 million refugees from Ukraine had entered Poland by March 18, following Russia’s attack on their country. They are, Dorda notes, people just like you and me.
“The refugees that we see are our neighbors. We know them. We know their culture. We almost speak the same language — we can understand each other,” he says. “They are mostly women with small children. How can you not help?”
That help for Ukrainians has taken several forms, with the Dorda family finding short-term housing for some 25 refugees so far, he says, as well as coordinating relief efforts with local authorities. But Chopin’s next big step will require an assist from U.S. drinkers: Through May 17, all proceeds from the sales of vodka on Chopin’s website will go to World Central Kitchen, which is providing hot meals for refugees in and around Ukraine.
Dorda’s inspiration partly came from his own experience as a witness to the Soviet-led invasion of neighboring Czechoslovakia in 1968, as well as his family’s history in the region.
“Remember where we are,” he says. “I remember 1968. At my age, you lived through that memory. Your parents went through the wars — twice. We thought that we’d never have to, that this is behind us. Especially here in Central Europe. It’s unacceptable.”
The Chopin distillery is not alone in wanting to help — and that desire to help is not limited to producers in Central Europe. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its eighth week, members of the drinks industry around the world are working to raise money and build awareness of the tragedies unfolding in Ukraine — from bloggers and authors to distillers, winemakers, and brewers.
Made for Ukraine
Like Chopin, many producers are simply donating cash to various charities, the quickest and arguably most useful way to provide assistance for businesses both big and small. At Watershed Distillery in Columbus, Ohio, profits from the next two months of sales will also benefit World Central Kitchen. In Lumsden, Saskatchewan, Last Mountain Distillery is donating a share of the profits from its vodka sales to the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal of the International Red Cross.
While most producers are basing their donations around existing products, some special drinks are being designed with Ukraine in mind.
At Steadfast Spirits in Concord, N.H., owners C.J. and Lori Lundergan took their distillery’s “fan favorite” lemonade-whiskey drink and added whiskey-soaked blueberries to create a version inspired by the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag. As long as there’s support from the community, Lori Lundergan says, Steadfast Spirits will be donating a share of the sales from the new product — called Trouble’s Blueberry-topped Lemonade Moonshine — to Save the Children’s Ukraine crisis fund.
“Our own children are our life,” Lundergan says. “We can’t imagine what these families are going through.”
Others parts of the drinks industry are pitching in as and where they can, sometimes in order to assist their industry colleagues. Earlier this month, wine writer Jancis Robinson tweeted a call to help Stakhovsky Wines, an up-and-coming Ukrainian winery founded by recently retired tennis great Sergiy Stakhovsky.
“Due to the ongoing Russian invasion into Ukraine, my winery is on the brink of collapse,” Stakhovsky says. “Many others have already lost everything.”
Located in western Ukraine, near the country’s border with Hungary, Stakhovsky’s vineyards are in a relatively safe position, far from the front lines. But wartime shortages and logistic challenges mean that even basic commodities can be hard to come by in Ukraine, which is why Robinson was asking for help sourcing something that most vintners would take for granted: a single load of standard wine bottles.
“We are looking for one truck of bottles, so we can at least save the 2020 vintage,” Stakhovsky says. “So far we didn’t get any response.”
Once ranked No. 31 in the world, Stakhovsky recently made headlines by signing up to help defend Ukraine, leaving his family in Hungary while he attended military training back home. Before the war started, he had been asked to help develop Ukraine’s national training program for Olympic athletes. Now he’s talking about a similar program to help his fellow winemakers.
“There is no centralized help from the industry to help Ukrainian wineries, but we desperately need one,” he says.
Stouts Against Empires
While Stakhovsky is in his homeland, other Ukrainians are trying to help their country from outside it. A former employee at Kyiv’s Varvar Brewery, Lana Svitankova moved to Zurich three years ago when her husband took a new job there. When the war started, she says, she was emotionally overwhelmed and uncertain of what to do. A number of friends from the beer world started suggesting different ways to help — various charity auctions taking place in different locations, or possibly a solidarity brew, or a live fundraising event.
“We decided to do it all,” she says.
Called Drinkers for Ukraine, that sprawling umbrella program features a shared recipe for a stout called Resist, which any brewery can brew to support Ukraine. In an echo of classic Ukrainian borscht, the ale includes roasted beets. Thumbing its nose at the idea of a “Russian imperial stout,” it is being promoted as a “Ukrainian anti-imperial stout.”
“Imperial stouts are frequently called ‘Russian’ imperial stouts,” Svitankova says. “And because Russia wants to make a new empire again, we wanted to make an anti-imperial stout.”
Because the recipe is being freely shared with the public, Drinkers for Ukraine doesn’t even know exactly how many versions of Resist are out there; the best way they can find out is by searching for hashtags. So far, Svitankova says, at least 55 breweries have participated.
In addition to beer makers, some of the best-known names in beer writing have joined Drinkers for Ukraine’s online auctions. Pete Brown, the author of a dozen books on beer, cider, and food, including “Clubland,” offered a tasting in London of seven remarkable aged beers, including a bottle of Bass Ale from 1869. Stephen Beaumont, co-author of “The World Atlas of Beer,” held a similar event in Toronto. In Portland, Ore., beer writer Jeff Alworth has been running Drinkers for Ukraine auctions of rare bottles, including Hair of the Dog Fred 2011 and Deschutes Abyss 2011, as well as selling signed copies of his book “The Beer Bible,” on his blog Beervana.
Drinkers for Ukraine’s independent-yet-connected ethos, Alworth says, fits well with the community-driven craft breweries in his city, many of which have been raising money for Ukraine with their own auctions and events.
“As an industry, small-scale brewers are very engaged with the world around them. Breweries are quick to jump in and help,” he says. “I feel like we should care about all people subjected to war. I think we all understand how dangerous this moment is.”
For Svitankova, Drinkers for Ukraine is giving outsiders who want to help her country a number of different ways to do that, as well as increasing international awareness about the conflict. But perhaps more importantly, it’s also providing a light of hope for her fellow Ukrainians, counterbalancing the desperate feeling of watching a war devastate the land in which you were born.
“I’m torn, being absolutely heartbroken and amazingly happy at the same time,” she says. “Because one part of everything happens, it literally kills me. But so many people are reaching out — reaching their hands, their hearts, their minds — in support, and embracing and enveloping me in this feeling of kindness. This is really amazing.”