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November 18, 2020
Although news from the US and Western Europe tends to make up most of the discourse around the rise of veganism, the truth is that veganism is growing rapidly around the globe, and Ukraine is no exception.
In January, Vogue Ukraine proclaimed 2020 “the year of the vegan.” Indeed, it has never been easier to be vegan in Ukraine, and it’s a promising country for creating both a powerful vegan movement and a competitive marketplace for plant-based foods. Below we discuss a couple of reasons for this exciting momentum and share what Open Cages Ukraine is doing to both capitalize on this growth and push for further progress.
Ukrainians are mostly Christian and take the Great Lent (the longest fasting period of the year) quite seriously. Most people consider Lent as an opportunity to get in shape and feel better, so choose to follow a mostly plant-based diet for 40 days every year. Thus, there is a connection between plant-based foods and well-being in the minds of many Ukrainians.
Also, traditional Ukrainian cuisine as such is mainly vegetarian, except for dishes prepared for special events and celebrations. Most dishes are based on affordable and shelf-stable vegetables such as potatoes, cabbage, carrots and beets, while deserts are often prepared with seasonal fruits. Dishes prepared with animal products are quite easily veganized, especially with help of simple meat alternatives. As a result, most people are used to plant-based cuisine, even if they still consider meat necessary.
Finally, a lot of Ukrainians have personal experience of living in a village and witnessing what it’s like to befriend an animal which is going to be served for dinner at some point. This often forces them to question the normalcy and acceptability of eating animals, and a lot of vegans and vegetarians in Ukraine are people who had lost their childhood animal companions for food.
Ukrainians seem to be quite prone to activism, no matter what the cause is. Compared to the older generation, young adults are much more aware of global problems and their ramifications, and thus often choose to become actively involved in the vegan movement. Some prefer street protests and demonstrations, some choose volunteering in animal rights organizations, and others simply demonstrate their passion via plant-based food blogs and YouTube channels. Producers are noticing the growing demand, entrepreneurs are jumping on the emerging trend, and activists are working non-stop to make the movement stronger and more appealing.
The Ukrainian media has definitely become more interested in the topic of veganism, with headlines like “Five Reasons to Become Vegan and “Steps to Veganism” in Ukrainian Vogue. Smaller platforms are catching on as well, with articles about the benefits of a plant-based diet, vegan restaurant reviews, and mentions of animal rights events. (The huge animal rights march now happens annually, with tens of thousands of people participating all over the country.) Vegan groups are now present at marches for a variety of causes, including the environment, social equality, and many other causes directly and indirectly connected to animal rights, which increases their media coverage. Activists’ voices are becoming louder and their messages are definitely getting recognized.
The arrival of the Beyond Burger to Ukraine was huge, with plenty of media articles and people eager to try the novelty as soon as possible. The same thing happened when its Ukrainian version Eat Me At was created by a young entrepreneur. Press events are important for vegan advocacy, and even more so in a country that is earlier on in its journey towards becoming a plant-based paradise. While the Vegan song by Jerry Heil on the Eurovision contest may not have directly saved a lot of animals, the visibility it provided the vegan movement is quite valuable, especially as the Eurovision audience can be quite difficult to reach for an animal rights campaign otherwise.
The educational side of the vegan movement is slowly but surely making headway as well. Ukraine hosted its first law conference about animal rights for students and lawyers, as well as its first CEVA training for activists (both were organized by Open Cages Ukraine). The Vegan Challenge program was introduced to Ukraine by Anima International in order to spread quality information about plant-based diets and to give people positive experiences with it. Well over 10,000 people have registered since the beginning of 2019, and 64% of participants who were not vegan before starting the challenge state that they are willing to stay vegan after completing it. The Ministry of Healthcare of Ukraine finally declared veganism as a healthy and appropriate diet for all stages of life in accordance with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, thanks to Minister Ulana Suprun. There are more high quality resources about vegan nutrition than ever, which makes it much easier for people to learn and make informed decisions about what they eat. Once they do, they discover the impressive selection of vegan foods on the Ukrainian market.
Ukrainians are eager to receive information, which was quite clear when all the tickets to The Gamechangers screenings sold out. And plenty of people are ready to devote their time to spreading the vegan message. Instagram pages pop up that are searching vegan products in Ukrainian supermarkets, selling cruelty-free cosmetics and vegan specialty foods. Online and offline events organized by volunteers make Ukrainian vegans' life easier and help them to connect with others in the community. This strengthening of the community contributes to its ability to influence producers and governmental bodies. Recently, for instance, a new political party Ecological Alternative was created by young activists which is deeply climate-focused but also has a vegan-friendly agenda.
Despite focusing mostly on animal right campaigns, Open Cages works quite a lot to promote veganism and plant-based nutrition in Ukraine. The Vegan Challenge project is a huge part of their work, as well as the Eating Better campaign which also promotes plant-based eating. CEVA training organized by Open Cages was an important first step to educate young vegan activists and to stimulate cooperation. Finally, research conducted by the organization about the number of vegetarians in the country is extremely helpful as it shows the dynamics of the vegan movement (the number grew from 5,2% in 2017 to 7,1% in 2019).
Ukraine has huge potential in terms of the development of veganism and plant-based foods. Kyiv is on track to become the next Warsaw in terms of the popularity and availability of vegan food, and other eastern European cities are sure to catch up soon!
Alevtyna Kozachok is an Executive Director of Open Cages Ukraine. She is involved in strategic planning and building the organization as a whole, but her main responsibility is improving the internal processes and operations of the team. She is also the coordinator of the UA Plant-Based campaign, which aims to grow the Ukrainian plant-based market and promote plant-based alternatives among consumers. She is solely responsible for running the campaign in Ukraine: coordinating the work of volunteers, making industry research, establishing various business partnerships, organizing food industry events, and creating relevant content for media.