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Ukrainian refugee sets up vodka importer in the UK

As war approached, Fedir Haidai and his family left their home in Kyiv to stay with a sponsor family more than 1,500 miles away in Harrogate, Yorkshire. Now, he is preparing to set up a new a business bringing Ukrainian vodka to the UK market.

Credit: Instagram/ hetman-vodka_us

Haidai was involved with two businesses in Ukraine, a paving tile manufacturer and a central heating pipe importer, but had to abandon both when the Russian army invaded, as he told The Yorkshire Post:

“I was on a business trip to Kherson in February when we heard that Russia was assembling soldiers, tanks and military equipment around 100 kilometres away. I spoke to my wife in Kyiv and said we must go now. She left work, picked up our son from nursery and a few belongs from home. We crossed into Moldova, where we were able to stay with friends. A few hours later we watched on TV as the invasion started.”

Upon eventually arriving in the UK some weeks afterwards, he joined the North Yorkshire branch of the Institute of Directors and used his connections to set up three new businesses. SunFlower-UA supplies Ukrainian sunflower oil to the catering industry (and demand is high as the invasion has caused major shortages). Another business assists in relocating Ukrainian IT experts to other parts of Europe.

The third is a response to what Haidai has called: “[the] significant demand for Ukrainian vodka”. Indeed, the combination of heavy tariffs on Russian products and a desire among consumers to express solidarity through their buying choices has created a call for the spirit.

The vodka Haidai will be importing is Hetman, produced in Lviv. The brand name refers to a high-ranking military officer, as the city’s vodka was known to be a favourite among Cossacks.

Perhaps fittingly, the specific Hetman on the bottle, Petro Doroshenko, sought to unite the left and right banks of Ukraine against Russia in the 17th century, though the Hetman company itself was founded in 1996. The decision to import a vodka from Lviv was partly due to the city’s relative security, being in the west of the country.

Haidai intends to sell the vodka online, via retail and through the on-trade. He said that he was “surprised and happy” to see the support Harrogate locals had given him in this new venture: “I need a lot of money to import vodka due to alcohol duty, but I have found some people who want to help me.”

Though he has been joined in Harrogate by his sister and niece, Haidai’s parents are currently still in Ukraine. He expressed optimism that his businesses would benefit his compatriots: “My business will be paying money into Ukraine and my hope is that will help local companies to employ more people”.

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