Eugene Shneyderis, founder of Beykush winery on the Black Sea coast in southern Ukraine, said he was keen to reach out to vineyard estate owners who may have the space to host refugees.
More than three million people have fled the war in Ukraine since Russia began its invasion on 24 February, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.
Shneyderis, 49, lives in Spain with his family and said he was inspired by the story of a nearby wine company in Penedes, which was using accommodation normally reserved for harvest teams to house the refugee family of a Ukrainian employee.
‘I think it’s a nice idea,’ he said, speaking to Decanter late last week. He said he was planning to contact wineries and regional wine associations to ask for assistance with his initiative.
‘I have a winery. I understand that wineries right now have some possibility to take some refugees,’ he said.
He cited the ‘icanhelp.host’ website, which has been set up to connect refugees with potential hosts.
George Kachanouski, a Belorusian tech entrepreneur based in Krakow and part of an international team behind icanhelp.host, told Decanter that he and others began the project after discussing how to help Ukrainians in hard times.
He welcomed the prospect of wineries offering up spare accommodation. ‘I believe that the best accommodation for Ukrainian people right now is by nature, because they are in psychological shock.
‘I think a wine farm is a perfect place to stay, get calm, recover, and then move on with your life.’
One pressing issue for the team is verification of hosts. Kachanouski said the team was working on adding extra verification steps, and currently has moderators looking at hosting offers.
‘We have a team of engineers from unicorn start-ups, and they’re quite skilled at working in this environment where you grow really fast and you have a lot of demands on the technical side,’ he said.
Airbnb is also among the organisations to have launched a scheme to enable hosts to offer accommodation to refugees.
Moldovan winery helping to shelter Ukraine refugees
One winery that has already joined the wider relief effort near to the Ukrainian border is Moldova’s historic Château Purcari.
Around 344,000 people have crossed the Ukraine border into Moldova, according to UNHCR.
At Purcari, people have been temporarily staying in rooms, the restaurant and car park, said Andrei Leahu, senior marketing manager, after being contacted by Decanter.com on 10 March.
The winery also set up a roadside tent to help refugees, ‘informing them what to do next in Moldova, providing all the necessary directions, internet, hot drinks and some meals, medication, even sweets for children’, said Leahu via email. ‘We do our best to support the people of Ukraine.’
Others across the wine industry have been seeking to raise money or donate funds in aid of the Ukraine refugee crisis.
The Primum Familiae Vini group of wineries, including some of the world’s top family-owned producers, said recently it was donating €25,000 to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Vineyards under fire in southern Ukraine
In Ukraine, some wineries in the Black Sea region – including those lying closer to the city of Kherson – have been occupied, said Svetlana Tsybak, director at Beykush winery and also head of the local craft wine association.
Beykush, in the Mikolaiv region, has been untouched so far. ‘Our winery is still our winery,’ said Tsybak, who has been helping to organise humanitarian aid in the area. ‘We just hope we still stay free,’ she added.
Vineyards have not escaped shelling. ‘It’s very dangerous working in the vineyards,’ she said, adding she was scared for colleagues.
Some wine industry people with military experience have joined the army to help defend the area, Tsybak said.
She added that she’s received offers of jobs and accommodation from foreign winery contacts, with whom she did business when working as an importer.
‘Personally, I’m staying in Ukraine,’ she said. ‘All my people stay here in the winery, and they plan to go to the vineyards…because they need to prepare the vineyards for the season,’ she said.