In Ukraine, One Brewery Puts Putin, Politics on its Beer Labels

The lights flash crimson and blue as the multi-piece brass band blares out Balkan gypsy jams and Adele cover songs in the Pravda Beer Theater. All around, locals and tourists sip their beers and wiggle emphatically along with the groove. At one point, a man hands out hundreds of plastic bottles to bang on the tables and the crowd creates a cacophony of self-made percussion as the band builds to a crescendo. In the hollowed-out middle of the venue, the brewers check the kettles and tend to the engine that drives this nightly celebration: A constant flow of excellent craft beer.

There’s more to Pravda, though, than brass bands and boozy nights in the center of Lviv, Ukraine. In the bowels of the brewery, Pravda produces a series of bottled beers that are distributed throughout Ukraine and Europe with an emphatic message of Ukrainian patriotism. They feature mocking illustrations of heads-of-state and snarky names like Putin Huilo (a word that translates to “dickhead”) and Frau Ribbentrop (bequeathing Angela Merkel with the name of the foreign minister of Nazi Germany). They are not subtle.

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The recent rise of craft beer in Ukraine has coincided with a surging nationalism, driven by the tumultuous geopolitical crises the country finds itself in. In 2014, a movement against the country’s Russia-aligned president Viktor Yanukovych culminated in the bloody Maidan protests in central Kyiv. Yanukovych eventually fled and remains in exile in Russia. Soon after, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and sparked a separatist war in the country’s Russophile east which has continued to roil the region. The ongoing insecurity in Ukraine has led to an increase in nationalism and fervent patriotism—it’s not unusual to see men strolling the streets of Kyiv or Lviv in full military camo.

“Because we are Ukrainian citizens, we have our own political views,” says Yuri Zastavny, Pravda’s founder. “This is our view and this is our beer and this is our label, so we do what we want.”

Those labels pull no punches. Their “Obama Hope” beer—a hearty stout—shows the former president sitting cross-legged and grinning on an armchair, with a joint in his hand and John McCain lurking in the background. The bite comes in the caption. “As the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama is a symbol of democracy and a guarantor of the global justice... In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and occupied part of Ukraine. This violated the world order established after World War II and set off the expansion of the Russian terrorism in peaceful Europe. Obama is still hesitating to provide real help to the Ukrainians in fighting it. He has all the chances to go down in history as the one who got it all wrong.”

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