Nemiroff CEO: Ukraine is ‘fighting for freedom’
Amid the peril of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Nemiroff CEO Yuriy Sorochynskiy speaks candidly about the atrocities and challenges facing the nation.
“Never, in my wildest dreams did I think it might happen,” says Yuriy Sorochynskiy, CEO of Ukrainian vodka Nemiroff.
Over the past months, there have been worldwide discussions about a possible invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army, which reached a crescendo last week as worst fears were realised. Russian president Vladimir Putin had amassed thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border – and on 24 February, the Russian army was sent in.
“We had some contingency plans; we knew we had to arrange safe places for our employees, and put some things in place for the distillery. We did some preparation but never thought it might happen in such a way,” Sorochynskiy says. So much so, the distillery had been due to hold a ‘health and safety’ briefing with employees on Saturday 26 February, which was to include what medical supplies to have in case of invasion.
“As a distillery, a producer, you have to produce your products, it’s impossible to relocate your business to the safest place. Of course, we did some preparations, we took the government advice of what should be done, but still, I did not believe at that time this would happen,” the CEO explains.
The new reality for Sorochynskiy is daily air-raid sirens, driving Ukrainians into basements and underground shelters seeking safety.
“In big cities like Kiyv, Odessa, Dnipro, the alarms are ringing 10 or 15 times per day because the Russian troops start to attack these cities with strange weapons,” Sorochynskiy says. “People have to go underground to save their lives. We’ve seen in movies about the Second World War, in particular in London, people saved their lives by going underground. It’s the same story right now in Ukraine. This is our reality.”
Nemiroff employees join the Ukrainian army
‘Fighting-age’ men, between 18 and 60 years old, are forbidden from leaving Ukraine. Several of Sorochynskiy’s employees have joined the Ukrainian army, as it strives to protect the country from Russia’s invasion.
“The situation is changing every day,” Sorochynskiy says. “Last week, a lot of volunteers from Nemiroff came to army points and requested to join the Ukrainian army. We are collecting this information, I wouldn’t like to share the whole numbers, but we have people who are in the army serving and supporting the army. The whole of Nemyriv city is working to protect and defend Ukraine from these terrible attacks.”
Meanwhile, some female employees have sought refuge outside of Ukraine’s borders, joining the hundreds of thousands seeking safe passage in neighbouring countries.
“I know that some of our female employees with kids are outside of Ukraine,” Sorochynskiy assures. “We are checking every day where the team are, how they are, how they survive.
“I know some of them are in Poland because it’s more convenient and easy to cross the border. The roads were fully jammed with traffic, with cars and lots of scared people. We just hope they are safe, in shelters, and we ask God to save their lives, which is terrible.”
Nemiroff condemns Russia’s ‘military aggression’
The pressure of Russian troops from all directions, north, west, east and south, Sorochynskiy says, forced the company to temporarily close the Nemiroff distillery in Nemyriv city, in the Vinnytsia region of Ukraine, on Friday (25 February). The distillery, whose history can be traced back more than 150 years, is the main supplier of Nemiroff products, which are available in more than 80 countries and global travel retail.
For now, production at the facility has ceased, but work – such as global communications – continues between the piercing sirens that fill the air, and drive locals underground.
Yesterday (28 February), Nemiroff submitted legal documents to cancel the licence to manufacture its products in Russia as a direct consequence of the nation’s “military aggression”.
“Nemiroff is proud to be Ukrainian. We condemn military aggression and encroachment on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Today we are all united to defend freedom and the independence of Ukraine. This is our land, our people, our future,” Sorochynskiy declares.
Sorochynskiy explains he resides in a suburban area, “not far from Kiyv, a more quiet place”. His building has a basement, where he has welcomed friends and relatives from Kiyv to safety – as safe as a war zone can be – “because it’s too dangerous in Kiyv right now”.
“We try to survive. During the day, we are working with volunteers in our region, in our small village to help take food, water and supplies to people,” he says.
When the Nemiroff distillery will reopen again will depend on how long the war will last. Sorochynskiy says the distillery is “ready to start production immediately”, but logistical challenges will be inevitable.
“One of our glass suppliers was in a neighbouring area to the first place that was attacked by Russian troops, about 20/30km to the north of Kiyv,” Sorochynskiy says. He adds this was “near the airport where the biggest aeroplane in the world” was located. The one-of-a-kind aircraft, Antonov AN-225, was destroyed during the invasion.
“I was in contact with the general manager of the glass supplier two days ago, and he told me that the factory was not destroyed, they could be working, but the area around the factory is fully destroyed. The roads will need to be renovated to deliver raw materials and finished goods,” Sorochynskiy says.
“I imagine once the war is over, and we start to work and rebuild and renovate Ukraine, it may take us one week, maybe 10 days to restore our operations at Nemiroff. The biggest problem is logistics. The war has destroyed roads, bridges and railways, and this is mostly the problem.”
The right to be free
The heartbreak of seeing Putin’s callous destruction of the country he loves cracks through Sorochynskiy’s voice. At 50 years old, he remembers Ukrainian life both pre- and post-Soviet Union.
“This is a terrible story,” he laments. “What I see right now, regarding Russia, they are still living in the Soviet Union, still under the Russian propaganda, and they are not free. They are not able to say what they think. Nobody wants to go back to Soviet times in Ukraine. We would like to be with democratic countries, we would like to build our own country and be proud to be Ukrainians – and we are proud to be Ukrainians.”
Sorochynskiy urges global support to continue raising awareness of Ukraine’s plight against Putin. From ordinary citizens in powerful nations, such as the US, the UK, France and Germany to name a few, to influential figureheads, Sorochynskiy stresses all support is appreciated, and imperative if Ukraine is to succeed in its defence.
“The last 30 years [since the dissolution of the Soviet Union] have shown us how to be free,” he adds. “Young people who were in free Ukraine, they are fighting for their freedom. They did not live in the Soviet period and would not like to be closed in its hands, not able to meet other people or visit certain countries.
“This is the big, big, big difference between Ukraine and Russia. Our young generation, they are completely free. They like freedom, and we like freedom, and we are fighting for freedom.”