These Canadians are doing their part to help Ukraine Including the creation of Zirkova Unity Vodka with profits going to the Ukrainian Humanitarian Effort
TORONTO, February 2, 2023 – When the full-scale invasion of Ukraine happened last February 24, 2022, Oakville’s Katherine Vellinga sprung into action. Her deep-held belief is that each of us can make a difference by donating our time, our talents, or our treasures. As CEO and co-founder of Zirkova Vodka, she has been in a unique position to do all three, including using her voice and platform to raise awareness about Ukraine and how to help. This includes contributing to countless fundraisers and donating 100% of profits of all Zirkova Vodka sold at the LCBO in those intensive first months, and then using her expertise to create a new made-in-Canada vodka called Zirkova Unity for the sole purpose to give back by donating 100% of its profits to humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.
Her commitment to give back and help Ukraine is more astounding considering her company’s fight for survival, because Zirkova Vodka is rooted in Ukraine. In Katherine’s words, “We embody Ukrainian spirit and pride in our homeland and have always made it our mission to share the quality and authenticity of the birthplace of vodka which is why we produce Zirkova One and Zirkova Together vodkas in the Cherkasy region of Ukraine. The distillery was forced to close when Russia invaded Ukraine and there were thousands of cases of Zirkova stranded in the warehouse.”
Determined to find a way forward, the idea for Zirkova Unity was born. “We were moved by the bravery and resilience of Ukrainians and by the unity and togetherness that we have seen around the world. Canadians have opened their hearts and their homes. In that spirit, we wanted to create a home for Ukrainian vodka here in Canada. We went from the idea of creating Zirkova Unity Vodka to seeing it appear on the shelves of the LCBO in just 16 weeks!”
Zirkova Unity vodka was launched in June of 2022 at the LCBO and in December 2022 in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. There were a lot of pieces to the puzzle that had to be moved into place to make the creation of the new vodka happen, starting with bringing their Ukrainian Master Distiller to Canada, to uphold the authenticity, quality and the profound art and science of vodka-making from Ukraine.
“Zirkova Unity is the first vodka that brings together the craftsmanship of vodka making in Ukraine, with the heart and harvest of Canada,” says Kathleen. “There were so many people and companies that got on board and helped us to make it happen, from packaging material suppliers to logistics companies, to artists who created original artwork,” said Vellinga.
“We had to build an entire supply chain here in Canada and source everything, except the bottles, for the project. We were set on using our exclusive, beautiful Zirkova bottles that were in Ukraine, so we had to find a way to get them out fast and that’s when Air Canada Foundation stepped in to help.,” said Vellinga.
Zirkova Unity is proudly made in Canada handcrafted by a Ukrainian distiller
“Zirkova Unity is proudly made in Canada, handcrafted by our Ukrainian Master Distiller and using the best wheat from the heart of the Prairies, cultivated by generations of Ukrainian and Canadian farmers, that is blended with natural artesian water sourced deep within the Canadian Shield. It’s very Canadian—lovely, smooth and approachable. It’s balanced and has a full taste and aroma with an aftertaste of aromatic homemade bread and a variety of berries and herbs. There are six unique bottles in the Unity Collection featuring artwork by Ukrainian and Canadian artists who give back to Ukraine.”
Since then, Katherine managed to get all inventory that had been produced before the invasion to the LCBO warehouses. It arrived at the end of August. Not only did it include cases of Zirkova One and Zirkova Together vodkas, but their first ever flavoured vodka, Zirkova Hot Honey, a natural infusion of honey and chili peppers and a modern adaptation of the classic Ukrainian honey-pepper vodka, that was produced two weeks before the invasion. It is available now in limited quantities in LCBO stores.
In September, they were able to restart production in Ukraine of Zirkova One and Together vodkas, which proudly display the flag of Ukraine on LCBO shelves.
In November 2022, Katherine had the honour of handing over a cheque for $25,180 to the Canadian Ukrainian Foundation. “What was moving to me was the collective efforts of so many people involved, united in wanting to help Ukraine. It all starts with the people who buy Zirkova Vodka. They are bringing the spirit of Ukraine to their homes, and we are bringing help from Canada to Ukraine. We have been told that our donation will help with the winter program to buy generators and more for the Ukrainian people. It’s so impactful.”
What is remarkable is that these efforts represent part of the contribution to Ukraine. As Zirkova Unity was being produced for launch, Katherine’s husband and fellow co-Founder, JohnVellinga travelled to Poland and Ukraine last March to volunteer his skills to assist with humanitarian logistics efforts. He returned again to Ukraine in June, travelling with Canada’s former Chief of Defense Staff Rick Hillier as part of the #UniteWithUkraine, raising funds for medical and protective gear for Ukrainian civilian defenders.
Katherine recently returned from Davos, Switzerland where she participated in Ukraine House Davos, held from January 16-19 during the World Economic Forum.
“I had the honour of being invited to attend a private event with Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenskyy,” states Katherine. “Her message was truly inspirational. One of the things she said that stood out for me was along these lines: ‘We understand that tomorrow we might lose our nearest and dearest and we know there is the possibility they might not return… we have no right to stop, to be fatigued or to be tired, and we hope that you will share this emotion.’”
Katherine reflects on her time in Davos: “It made such an impression on me, interacting with so many people who currently live and work in Ukraine. I met national heroes like the Head of Kharkiv Regional Perinatal Center, Dr. Iryna Kondratova, who has to deal with constant shelling as they care for babies each day, and Yulia (Taira) Payevska, a Ukrainian military service member, paramedic and volunteer, who was captured by the Russians in Mariupol while evacuating civilians. As I expressed my gratitude, their response was ‘we are just doing our jobs’.
“They are not looking for fame or praise, they do not consider themselves to be heroes,” says Katherine Vellinga. “They are using their gifts and talents to help the best way that they can. In this way, each one of us can be an everyday hero. We are just one of many Canadians who are doing what they are uniquely positioned to do to help. They in turn thanked me for all that Canadians have done.
As Iryna said to me, ‘When the bombing starts, when the electricity goes off, the heat, the water, the Internet and all communication is lost, it is easy to think that we are alone. I know that we are not alone, that you have not forgotten about us.’ My message is that our actions are not going unnoticed. If anything, I am now more committed than ever and have gained strength, focus and intentionality in my mission.”
Katherine is committed to continuing to produce Zirkova One and Together vodkas in Ukraine and Zirkova Unity Vodka in Canada.
“I care for the people of Ukraine and want to make a difference, why not do this through Zirkova Vodka?” says Katherine. “It’s my hope that when people buy Zirkova Unity Vodka at the LCBO that they realize that they are not only buying an exceptional product, but they are also helping the people of Ukraine, as 100% of profits to the humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. They get to honour the ‘spirit of Ukraine’ and I hope this brings love, connection and unity to every table.”
For more information visit www.zirkova.com
by Laurie Wallace-Lynch