Whatever Putin may have been planning in order to mark the one-year anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine didn’t come to pass last week despite the rumors.
Russia simply continues with more of the same, with their forces attempting to chip away at the same Ukrainian positions they’ve been attacking for months now seemingly waiting for Ukraine to run out of ammunition, as we wait for some form of spring offensive. As it has become cyclical, it may have drifted more to the back of most people’s minds in Europe, but it’s still there and it’s important we don’t forget it.
For me it’s impossible to simply let it be in background. It’s not because the mug I use for tea everyday (see right) is from Orner, a very smart homeware company based in Kyiv. Or because of the echoes of the Yugoslavia wars I see, starkly showing how Europe has learned nothing from them. Over the last several years, we’ve had a lot of the country slowly come into our home including people who have become friends and some are now living in the United States as refugees…
But beyond these personal connections that others may or may not share, it’s the fact that Ukrainians are dying every day in their country for no reason other than Putin’s (and Russia’s) continued thirst of empire, the fear of becoming irrelevant in the current world order.
And, much to no one’s surprise, sanctions have done nothing to cripple Russia’s economy or influence this war in any way.
There’s still Champagne and still Levi’s as well as fancy glass maker, Riedel either operating in plain site or mildly disguising their product by tacking on a different name (Levi’s). This is in addition to the surge in product movement through countries bordering Russia. Suffice to say, Russia isn’t really hurting as sanctions don’t work even when enforced properly (which they aren’t). I see Russians in wine still drinking whatever they want and exports continue to grow despite the toothless sanctions.
If you’re based in Barcelona and would like to pick up something to drink that shows solidarity with Ukraine, the last bottles of my “Tocat per l’Est” Grenache wine are at La Vinícola wine shop (seen above) in the Eixample neighborhood. I’m not taking a cent from the sale of this wine so that proceeds will continue to go to the non-profit Rebel Volunteers who are based in the south of the country. There are of course many humanitarian organizations funding efforts in Ukraine now but I chose this one as it’s in Mykolaiv where my friends now based in the US are from and also one of the people who started it is, winemaker Georgiy Molchanov.
Molchanov is the fellow who had the misfortune of finding a Russian Grad missile lodged in his vineyard one morning. In what has become typical Ukrainian spirit (and dark humor), he posted it on social media, and then went and created a “Grad Cru” wine to make as much light about the situation as one can.
I caught up with him this past weekend to see how things are and he said that it’s “all been quiet” lately in their region. This has thankfully allowed for demining operations to start taking place and get wine production back on its feet. Molchanov told me that they only made wine from their own vines for 2022 and as September was rather cool, it will result in a very small production of just 3,000 bottles. I can’t see this being a vintage many Ukrainians will want to remember anyways. He says he’s looking forward to the 2023 harvest as they’ve had a warm winter (which, unlike Western Europe, is good for them) and are hoping for a larger crop.
Wine educator Jenia Nikolaichuk wrote two articles for this site about making wine in war as well as what she deemed the war-life balance as the year went on.
While she was initially in Portugal a year ago due to many wineries around Europe opening their doors to refugees, she’s now based in Georgia. You can find her leading tastings and being very active in the wine scene. Like many of course, she would very much like to go home and get her life back there as she’s one of the foremost voices for Ukrainian wine and had a great professional life in Kyiv before the Russians decided to upend everything.
Efforts she’s been part alongside Ukrainian wine promotional bodies of are bearing fruit as Ukrainian wines were featured at Wine Paris. And, in dealing with the realities at hand, the Ukrainian government is looking to allow bottling wine in non-glass containers which one would hope help their wines arrive to more markets as well since they have a glass shortage like no one in Western Europe can even begin to imagine.
Also, the wine fair in Kyiv, which Jenia’s article mentioned happened in a smaller, underground form in 2022, is set to take place at the end of March. While there will be no international producers for obvious reasons, they plan to have 70 Ukrainian producers and continue showcasing the resilience of the Ukrainian wine industry.
Marina Revkova (Best Sommelier of Ukraine 2020, aka Sobersomm_) has been posting a greet deal on her Instagram and laying bare what it’s like being forced to leave your home. On one post she stated that when “all you have is in one suitcase, nothing seems like a big deal anymore”.
She’s also made mention of various Russian wine colleagues who have not only have not reached out nor commented about the war, but actively support it and call former Ukrainian colleagues liars for speaking the truth they’re experiencing. One she mentioned was Roman Sosnowsky who also unsubscribed from my newsletter a year ago when I’d mentioned a wine auction in support of Ukrainian humanitarian aid. Let me emphasize that there wasn’t any anti-Russian comment in the newsletter and yet, he unsubscribed as clearly, supporting Ukrainians is “too much”.
May no one forget that this is not just Putin’s war and that many “good” Russians actually support it.
Lest we also not forget that in a war people keep dying, including many bright and creative people as well as those in the wine industry. Alex @winter.harvest.ukr has compiled a list to date of those who worked in wine before the war and are no longer with us thanks to the Russians:
- Alexey Sukhorov – Winemaker for Vin Prydniprovia
- Serg Zolotor – Winemaker for Vinoman
- Sergey Kushinsky – Sommelier
- Viktoria Zamchenko – Sommelier for Goodwine full story
- Pavlo Gumeniuk – Sommelier for OKWine
- Igor Terokhin – Wine Specialist for Vinfort
- Eduard Kostritsa – Vitis Wine Group
- Denis Galushko – Restaurant Manager of Bel Gusto
- Pavel Savchuk – Sommelier/Sales Director for Arda Wine Trading
- Grigory Moroz – Sommelier for Wine Time
The resilience of the Ukrainians has been awe-inspiring, but at the same time, for those of us living in the comfort of countries not invaded by Russia we simply can’t forget about the situation in Ukraine and that any gesture of support will be appreciated no matter how small. In this Twitter thread there are some ideas, such as:
Donate to humanitarian organizations.
Continue the pressure on your respective governments to give the Ukrainians the weapons they need to defend their country. Those who keep victim-blaming Ukraine to cede territory, work towards “peace”, and not be given any more weapons are simply delusional. One would assume they’re the same folk who would have thought handing Poland off to Hitler would lead to “peace”.
Educate yourself, perhaps watching a movie or subscribing to the newsletter of history professor Timothy Snyder.
Gestures don’t even need to be grandiose.
You can simply celebrate Ukraine through food, recognizing that so much of their cuisine (and that of other other countries in the former Soviet Union) was appropiated by Russia.
Make a Borsch! Most people probably don’t even know that it was originally vegetarian (crazy, I know!), let alone truly Ukrainian and now a registered intangible cultural heritage with UNESCO.
Also, pick up Olia Hercules’s latest book as her recipes are fantastic and she’s been a big promoter of the #CookForUkraine movement.
So much has been done, but there is still so much to do and, as pithy as it may be to say, every grain of sand counts when it comes to educating oneself and others, showing support and continuing to push the agenda for Ukraine to wine and prevail.