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Western Ukraine loosens alcohol ban, Lviv says ‘no, thank you’

by Asami Terajima March 23, 2022 11:53 AM 4 min read
A woman walks near the beer shelf in Pravda Beer Theater, a four-story pub located in the center, in Lviv, Ukraine on March 21. (Asami Terajima)
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LVIV – Days after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, local authorities started banning all alcohol sales.

The measure is part of martial law. Although it was imposed on the nationwide level, it leaves local authorities the right to decide on the alcohol sales ban.

By early March, all major cities had halted the sale of alcoholic beverages.

“We will celebrate after the victory,” Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said on March 1 when imposing the ban.

However, nearly a month into the war, some began to question the strict prohibition.

In the western city of Lviv, now home to at least 200,000 internally displaced people from other parts of the country, shopkeepers say that they are tired of people coming to the store just to ask if they can buy alcohol there.

“Almost every second customer asks me whether we sell alcohol here,” a grocer in central Lviv told the Kyiv Independent.

Starting from March 16, several Ukrainian regions began permitting the sale of beer. On March 19, Lviv Oblast Governor Maxim Kozitsky announced that the sales of all alcohol would again be allowed between 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Yet residents of the regional capital Lviv had little time to enjoy the end of prohibition.

Hours after the announcement, the mayor of Lviv made it clear: “Lviv's position remains unchanged. Selling alcohol is banned.”

The regional capital became the only major city across western Ukraine to keep the doors for beer lovers shut.

Supporting the economy

According to martial law legislation, local authorities – governors, mayors and heads of village councils – have the right to decide whether to restrict alcohol sales.

After initially supporting the ban, local authorities across the country are now divided on their approach towards prohibition.

Cities on the frontline like Kyiv and Kharkiv, as well as Odesa, are keeping the restrictions in place.

Some western cities, far from Russian troops, lifted the ban.

Volyn Governor Yuriy Pogulyiko said on March 16 that the region is home to many local breweries and lifting the ban would support the region’s economy.

The decision was supported by Danylo Hetmantsev, a lawmaker and head of the parliament’s tax and customs committee, who has long been fighting against illegal alcohol sales.

“I do not want to shock fans of the prohibition, but vodka is sold anyway (under the rug),” said Hetmantsev. “By banning the sale, you are not stopping it, but rather taking away money from duties and taxes, the money needed by the state.”

As of March 21, western oblasts – Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Volyn, Rivne, Zakarpattia, Chernivtsi, and Khmelnytskyi – allowed the sale of beer, cider and wine.

Some regions closer to the front line – Zhytomyr Oblast and the city of Dnipro – also allowed the sales.

A conundrum

Governor Kozitsky announced that the sale of all alcohol would now be allowed in the Lviv Oblast, during the day. Residents of Lviv thought the new rule applied to them as well.

Lviv’s famous Pravda Beer Theater, a four-story pub located in the center, was packed with dozens of customers enjoying their beer on March 19.

Staff said a huge number of people rushed in to buy alcohol as soon as customers were told that they could buy alcohol.

A member of the staff told the Kyiv Independent that the next day, after about 25 minutes, they were told by their boss to close the cashier for alcoholic drinks.

Locals in Lviv were able to buy alcoholic beverages in Drunk Cherry, a widely-known Lviv cherry liquor brand with over 30 establishments across the country.

Photos of a large queue next to the Drunk Cherry location at Lviv’s central Rynok Square made rounds around the internet.

A video uploaded on a Telegram channel showed customers buying many bottles of alcohol in Auchan supermarket in Lviv.

That ended later the same day, when the city mayor Sadovyi announced that Lviv will maintain the ban, forcing the city back into prohibition.

Legally, Sadovyi may not have the authority to do that. According to the martial law legislation, the decision on alcohol sales is up to the local “war-time administrations.” In Lviv, such an administration is headed by Kozitsky, the governor. However, Kozitsky said that heads of local communities may strengthen the ban if they want to – and that’s what Sadovyi did for Lviv.

People walk on Rynok square in central Lviv, Ukraine on March 21, 2022. (Asami Terajima)

Split opinions

Lviv residents held polar views on their mayor’s decision to keep the ban.

A family couple, Andriy, 46, and Olga, 44, said that they weren’t necessarily looking for a drink, but they passed by Drunk Cherry while walking the streets and saw that they were selling alcohol.

“I really missed alcohol… Alcohol, you drink it, and everything is good,” Andriy said. “I can’t imagine Lviv without alcohol.”

Andriy said he was returning to his hometown Kyiv and would join the military, while Olga and their daughter were to head to Georgia.

Although he said that it was a surprise that the Drunk Cherry stand was open, he added that “we need to live.”

While several people agreed that the sale of alcohol would be appreciated, many supported the mayor’s call.

Doctor Leora Bilman, 27, said the ban was a good way to avoid having intoxicated people on the streets. She acknowledged that allowing customers to order alcohol at restaurants will help Ukraine’s current economy to grow, and profits from alcohol sales are substantial.

However, she said many people struggle to control their alcohol dosage.

“You can drink all you want later,” Bilman told the Kyiv Independent. “But not now.”

Yuriy, 30, said that he lost his alcohol craving ever since Russia’s all-out war began in February. He said he wants people to focus on how to win the war, and it’s important that people stay sober.

“People should think more, not drink,” he told the Kyiv Independent.

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