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In Ukraine, some see drinking Aperol Spritz as supporting Russia

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Picture: Oksana Parafeniuk/The Washington Post/Taken on August 16, 2023 – Bartenders Pavlo Lavrukhin, left, and Oleksii Rosynskyi, at Squat 17B bar in Kyiv, Ukraine, on August 16, 2023. In Ukraine, many bars that once served the quintessential drink, Aperol Spritz, are now boycotting it, citing the decision of the brand’s owner, Italy-based Campari Group, to continue operating in Russia, the writers say.

By Siobhán O’Grady and Kostiantyn Khudov

KYIV – The Aperol Spritz is so popular that the cocktail is practically synonymous with summer in Europe, where connoisseurs cram onto patios and around bar tops to guzzle down the bubbly, orange aperitif.

But in Ukraine, many bars that once served the quintessential drink are now boycotting it, citing the decision of the brand’s owner, Italy-based Campari Group, to continue operating in Russia.

“We had glasses with the Aperol name on them and we destroyed them or threw them in the trash,” said Pavlo Lavrukhin, 29, a bartender at Squat 17B, a hipster hangout tucked behind a residential building in central Kyiv.

Picture: Oksana Parafeniuk/The Washington Post/Taken on August 16, 2023 – As a statement against foreign funding in Russia, Ukrainian bartenders are changing their menus and cocktail recipes to boycott brands that are still operating in Russia. Bartender Pavlo Lavrykhin, 29, adds orange to the Aperol Spritz cocktail at the Squat 17B bar using Luxardo Aperitivo now instead of Aperol by Campari Group that is still sold in Russia.

Made up of two parts Aperol – a bitter whose core ingredients are gentian, rhubarb and cinchona – three parts prosecco and a dash of sparkling water, poured over a glass of ice and topped with an orange slice, the drink is viewed by devotees as the ideal antidote to sweltering weather.

Giving up the Spritz altogether is out of the question – Ukrainian fans love the cocktail. So, Squat 17B and other bars got rid of Aperol and are serving an alternative made with comparable orange spirits from other Italian companies instead.

Lavrukhin’s bar also dropped the word “Aperol” from the menu, renaming the cocktail a Venice Spritz. Last month, Squat 17B served 110 of the renamed drinks, 370 Negronis and 120 Boulevardiers – all without a single drop of liquor made by Campari.

After 18 months of war, Ukraine is still seeking ways big and small to choke off foreign funding to Russia – in part by shaming companies that continue to work in the country. This month, the Ukrainian government labelled Bermuda-based Bacardi as an international war sponsor, saying the company – whose brands include Grey Goose vodka, Bombay Sapphire gin and Martini – has expanded its work in Russia since last year and is even actively seeking new employees in the country.

The Campari Group announced last year that it had stopped all advertising and promotions in Russia, where it employs 122 people, and “reduced the business to the bare minimum necessary to pay the salaries of our colleagues.” It also said it assisted its employees in Ukraine with emergency funds and helped find shelters.

“Our position is the one we publicly communicated since the beginning of the war,” a Campari spokesperson, Enrico Bocedi, said.

But such statements are seen by many in Ukraine as platitudes. Russia – along with Italy, Germany, France and the United States – is one of the group’s “core markets” for sales of Aperol. In 2022, the group’s overall sales in Russia and Ukraine amounted to about 3 percent of its total.

In the first quarter of this year, the group’s international sales grew by nearly 20 percent. It has served as an official partner for the Cannes Film Festival two years in a row. In June, it co-sponsored an event on Capitol Hill featuring appearances by Representative (Rep) Bill Pascrell Jr, Democrat, New Jersey (D-NJ) and Rep Jimmy Panetta (D-California), both of whom have been outspoken advocates for Ukraine. Neither of their offices responded to a request for comment.

Completely withdrawing from the Russian market was “the only possible position in our view”, said Dmytro Krimsky, 52, co-founder of Goodwine, a large upscale grocery and liquor store in Kyiv that sold more than $338,000 worth of Campari products in 2021.

The store has since terminated its partnership with Campari as part of the “principled decisions” it took after conducting an assessment of its vendors’ responses to Russia’s invasion, Krimsky said.

Goodwine did not previously work with Bacardi, he said, but has written off any possibility of working with the company in the future and is “actively working to exclude” other brands with ties to Russia.

Some alcohol brands that didn’t quickly withdraw from Russia are now facing difficulties. Last month, after the Danish beer maker Carlsberg Group announced plans to sell its assets in Russia to an unnamed buyer, Moscow seized control of eight of its breweries and 8,400 of its employees.

In the spring, French company Pernod Ricard, which distributes Sweden’s Absolut vodka, faced outrage in Sweden after reports that it was selling products to the Russian market. In April, it backtracked previous plans to just scale back, announcing it would suspend all sales of Absolut to Russia.

Western companies under pressure to end operations in Russia have cited concerns that completely stopping production could lead to accusations from Russian authorities that they are intentionally going bankrupt – and could leave local employees liable.

Ukrainians are not sympathetic to this narrative.

Any companies that continue to work and pay taxes in Russia “are sponsoring the war,” said Dasha Andriushchenko, 32, marketing manager at Pure & Naive, a popular bar and restaurant in central Kyiv.

For two months after Russia’s February 24, 2022, invasion, “we didn’t even think about alcohol and didn’t make any orders”, she said. The restaurant transformed into a volunteer hub where civilians gathered to make meals for Ukrainian troops fighting around Kyiv.

When the bar reopened for business in spring 2022, it consulted with other bars in Kyiv about the links of liquor companies to Russia, she said. It was then that managers opted to stop buying from Campari and Bacardi.

In August, as at Squat 17B, customers sipping bubbly orange drinks on their patio were drinking spirits from Italian company Luxardo – not Aperol. Pure & Naive later switched to a different alternative, called Gamondi. It was “pretty hard to check if [Luxardo] are working with Russia or not,” Andriushchenko said.

Luxardo did not respond to several requests from The Post for comment on any existing ties to Russia, but Instagram posts from a Moscow-based liquor distributor suggest some Luxardo products are still available there.

Yevgeny Babiy, 20, a bartender at Champagnella, a pizza restaurant and bar in Kyiv, still has a bottle of Martini extra dry vermouth on display behind his bar. “It’s kind of a joke because it’s empty and no one can order it,” he said.

Picture: Oksana Parafeniuk/The Washington Post/Taken on August 16, 2023 – Emilia Bulatetska, second from left, drinks cocktails with her friends Maryna Volzhyna, right and Maryna Vakoliuk in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Aug. 16, 2023.

In general, Babiy said, his bar has tried to replace brands that still do business in Russia. “But it’s kind of complicated,” he said. “Frankly speaking, we are not going to stop these companies from making money in Russia if they want to. … All companies who on a moral basis wanted to leave Russia have already left.”

At a bar next door, Aperol, Martini and Campari were all on display. When a Post reporter asked in Ukrainian to speak to the bartenders about how they felt selling the products, their manager refused. “They’re not going to talk to you, because they’re just the workforce,” she replied in Russian. “When everything is gone, we will deal with that.”

Not everyone in Ukraine is paying attention to the politics of intoxicants.

On a recent evening in the city of Kryvyi Rih, Yana Ovdii, 31, and her friend Natasha Polyakova, 46, sat down in an upscale hotel restaurant and each ordered an Aperol Spritz – not knowing about the backlash against Campari.

The pair had gotten together to try to cheer up, they said, because Polyakova’s husband had just been mobilised. Her 24-year-old son was already in the military, and she was scared she might lose them both. “This time is difficult,” Ovdii said.

For some bartenders, ensuring that the products are not for sale feels personal.

Ilya Petrovskiy, 26, a bartender at Malevich, a drinking spot in a bustling part of Kyiv, said brands that still operate in Russia were being phased out. The only Bacardi product Malevich still has on its shelves is Oakheart spiced rum. Once the bottle runs out, “we have no intention to place any more orders,” Petrovskiy said. The bar has also renamed its “White Russian” cocktail a “Dead Russian” and donates all proceeds from purchases of it to the Ukrainian military.

“Being Ukrainian, being in a country where we’re at war … I don’t want me or the bar where I work to support these brands with any money,” he said.

Lavrukhin, the bartender at Squat 17B, moved into the bar last year when Russian forces advanced on Kyiv. He and other employees slept side by side on the floor and spent their days making petrol bombs, anticipating Russian tanks potentially rolling through the streets of Kyiv. They took turns guarding the door with a machete and a shovel.

After the Kyiv region was liberated and the bar reopened, they decided to do whatever they could to support the war – donating to the military and boycotting brands still present in Russia. They know their effort is small but hope other bars in Europe will follow suit.

Any boycott of products still sold in Russia “is in our favor,” Lavrukhin said. “It’s more emphasis on Ukraine.”

Anastacia Galouchka and Heidi Levine contributed to this report

This article was first published in The Washington Post