This report first published by High Times 4 April 2022
By A.J. Herrington
Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.
Ukraine cannabis community standing strong
The small but growing cannabis community in Ukraine is standing strong with their country as the nation resists an unprovoked invasion from Russia.
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine now in its second month, the Ukrainian people have time and again shown their determination to keep their nation a free and independent country. Ukraine’s military and civilian soldiers who have joined the fight continue to repel the invasion from entering the capital of Kyiv, while last week the Russian aggressors announced a change of strategy in the face of mounting losses.
But despite their bravery and resilience in the face of a much larger force, the unprovoked war has taken its toll on the people of Ukraine. The south-eastern city of Mariupol and other areas have been left in ruins, and the U.N. estimates the number of displaced Ukrainians who have fled the country at 4 million. Many of those who remain are facing a growing humanitarian crisis.
Ukrainians from all walks of life are resisting the Russian invasion, and members of the country’s cannabis community are no exception. Although cannabis is illegal for both recreational and medical use, consumption and cultivation of up to 10 plants have been decriminalized. As a result, Ukraine has a vibrant underground cannabis community, including a growing rank of activists advocating for the end of prohibition. Victories so far have been modest, with the country approving the cannabinoid pharmaceuticals nabilone, nabiximol and dronabinol last year.
Freedom March activist badly wounded
One group, Freedom March, has been advocating for progressive drug policy, leading demonstrations for the legalization of cannabis in Ukraine and defending the rights of medicinal cannabis patients since 2005. Freedom March member Nazarii Sovsun says the majority of the group’s activists are involved in the resistance to the Russian invasion in some fashion. Some have taken up arms and headed to the front lines to face the aggressors head-on. Others are supporting government logistics to provide humanitarian aid in the cities being shelled by Russian forces. Sadly, one of the group’s activists has been badly wounded and is receiving medical treatment for his injuries. Even those in the western part of the country, away from the most intense fighting, are unable to feel safe during the ongoing conflict.
“Russian rockets can reach any part of our country and air raid sirens have become a routine for all of us,” Sovsun explained in an email from the war-torn nation. “It is an unprecedented situation, and it is hardly possible to foresee what comes next for us.”
To help their fellow countrymen, Freedom March has launched a fundraising campaign, Cannabis Stands with Ukraine, that is seeking donations from the worldwide cannabis community and freedom lovers everywhere. Donations to Freedom March will support the cause in conjunction with the Kyiv School of Economics Charitable Foundation, which has already purchased nearly $300,000 worth of emergency medical supplies for delivery to the region, according to wire transfer documentation and invoices provided by Sovsun.
Freedom March has designated two causes to support with the funds raised by the campaign. As in any conflict, the Russian invasion has taken its hardest toll on Ukraine’s most vulnerable populations. The group’s first priority is the children who have become victims of Russia’s aggression.
“According to the officials, at least 145 children were killed, and 222 injured since the war began,” Sovsun explains. “Thousands of children lost their parents. We will use raised funds to provide those children with shelter, food, physical and mental recovery.”
Freedom March focusing on getting medical cannabis to Ukrainian patients
Secondly, the fundraiser will support the people that have been Freedom March’s central focus — Ukraine’s medical cannabis patients. Supplies of many traditional medications are running low and getting cannabis to the patients who need it is even more difficult than before. To help address the shortages, members of Freedom March are supporting the nation’s medicinal cannabis community on multiple fronts.
“Together with our friends from the local community, we are working to find a way of providing CBD-based medication to those who need it urgently: epileptic patients and wounded soldiers above all,” says Sovsun. “Hopefully, this war makes it obvious to our politicians that people should have access to medical cannabis, so we are active on the legal front, as well.”
Despite the challenges faced by the Ukrainian people as they stand up to the Russian invasion, their resolve is palpable, even from thousands of miles away. Sovsun is confident that Ukraine will emerge from the conflict victorious.
“We fight for our friends, our families, loved ones and children — what do Russians fight for? Ukraine is a very freedom-loving country. Just take a look at the demonstrations of our people in the occupied cities,” Sovsun maintains proudly. “They are not afraid of armed soldiers firing rounds at them. They are not afraid to stay in front of a tank column, not letting them go further. Unlike Russian people, afraid of getting days in prison or a fine for protesting, we think of ourselves as free people. Our society has come a long way and we will not surrender.”
Sovsun says that donations are needed to continue the fight, and is calling on those who can help to do so in the name of what is right and just. The group has already raised thousands of dollars, but wants to make it millions.
“Sometimes, if you refuse to take a side you support the evil, so we encourage you to take a strong stance in supporting our cause,” he says, adding, “With your help, peace is one step closer.”
AskGrowers Team displaced and fighting
One of Ukraine’s few cannabis brands, AskGrowers, is also supporting the effort to fight the Russian invasion. Because of the illegality of cannabis in Ukraine, the online cannabis marketplace and educational resource focuses on the U.S. market, growing to about 250,000 monthly visitors and a database of more than 5,400 cannabis strains in only two years. The AskGrowers team is based in Ukraine, although some members have been displaced by the war.
Lana Braslavskaia, who heads the brand’s marketing and public relations operations, was able to make it to Belgium to stay with friends, while the company’s SEO specialist has made it safely to Poland. But the male members of the AskGrowers team have remained in Ukraine to help resist the invading forces. No matter their situation, however, AskGrowers is continuing to support its workers during this time of crisis.
“First of all, it was important for our management to preserve the life and health of our employees and their families” Braslavskaia explains in an email. “To this end, it was announced that all salaries will be paid in full, regardless of the number of hours worked, even if the employee does not work at all. Moreover, this rule works for those who volunteer or join the Territorial Defense Forces or the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”