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What’s It Like to Operate a Cannabis Website Out of a War Zone? Interview with AskGrowers in Kyiv

AskGrowers is a Ukrainian-based cannabis website focused on information and reviews about cannabis cultivars, brands, and dispensaries. It’s focus is on the North American market and after two years of operation it’s picked up 250,000 monthly visitors and has a database of over 5,200 strains according to 20 different metrics provided by readers, as well as interviews with various people in the cannabis industry.

 

AskGrowers PR manager Lara Braslavskaia did an email interview with Jackie Bryant of Forbes Magazine  on 24 February 2022 from Kyiv, the day Russia launched its invasion. She said the majority of the  Askgrowers team reside in the capital but that their content manager was in Odessa and the SEO specialist had been cut off from returning home to Kyiv and was stuck in the Russian occupied territory near Chernobyl. Two other employees have moved abroad and are now unable to return to their families in Ukraine.

 

Jackie Bryant: How is AskGrowers connected to Ukraine and its people? Is the entire team based in Kyiv? How did that come to be?

Lana Braslavskaia: Our team started working on the project in 2019. We are all specialists in the field of digital marketing. In addition, we are united by a love for cannabis and an understanding of its possibilities for a wide range of people. Our team was based mainly in Kyiv. Also, we have several specialists in the United States.

The only market where our project works is the USA. This location was chosen due to the huge market and the progressive level of legalization.

 

JB: What’s Ukraine’s cannabis culture like? What’s the current status of cannabis in Ukraine and, prior to this war, was there a path to legalization? What is the activism culture like?

LB: Ukraine has had a fairly close relationship with cannabis since the time of the ancient Scythians. But over time, we also began to stigmatize cannabis and people using it. But for now, with the exception of the limited use of certain cannabis-based psychoactive substances (nabilone, nabiximol and dronabinol), the medical use of cannabis is prohibited in Ukraine. Recreational use is even more so.

 

Ukraine is only at the beginning of its journey in the struggle to achieve the legality of cannabis. I can highlight three main milestones:

2019: The Ukrainian Association of Cannabis has submitted a petition to the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament of Ukraine) with a request to consider a bill on the legal status of medical cannabis. There is a big problem with cancer in our country. People burn out quickly or slowly with pain, many cannot afford expensive painkillers. If such a bill were adopted, it would ease the most difficult days for sick people. But then this did not happen, despite the fact that still a presidential candidate, Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his agreement with the need for access to medical cannabis.

2020: An all-Ukrainian survey was conducted on whether the population supports the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes – to reduce pain in seriously ill patients. The result was as follows: 65 percent were in favor, 30 percent were against, 5 percent abstained.

2021: The regulation of drug preparations containing nabilone, nabiximol and dronabinol, which are based on cannabis, has been changed. To be honest, this change did not help seriously ill people, since drugs containing these substances are still very expensive.

Also, cannabis, according to AskGrowers, has a great chance to partially replace alcohol as a way of relaxing for the population. But so far, due to their illegal status, many people do not use cannabis. Also, there are no prerequisites and conditions for the development of the industry for the creation of edibles and other cannabis products.

 

JB: How does cannabis’ illegality in Ukraine affect the business, if at all? Are there loopholes, things you need to work around? Is it considered risky for the business to do what it does in Ukraine?

LB: Since we work exclusively for the United States populace, we do not break any laws and thus we do not need to circumvent the laws. But if you are asking us if we will make a marketplace and cannabis platform in Ukraine when medical or recreational use is legalized, then our answer is, of course, yes!

 

JB: What’s the weed like in Ukraine? 

LB: Situation with cannabis in Ukraine is more like it was in the U.S before legalization. Growing up to 10 bushes is not a criminal offense in Ukraine, and many use this very loophole to grow for themselves. Also many people order cannabis seeds abroad, it’s legal and therefore they are well familiar with many strains that are currently sold in dispensaries in the US.

 

The proof of this is that Ukraine until the 1950s was the leader in the world in the cultivation of hemp.

 

JB: How has this invasion and war affected AskGrowers’ operations so far? Is everyone safe? What’s the plan going forward, is everyone planning on staying in Kyiv? Why or why not?

LB: At the moment, there is a full-scale war that has engulfed my entire country, and not just the front line. But, in part, we are grateful to the pandemic for the fact that the remote work format has become quite familiar to us. That heightened anxiety after the pandemic has not yet been completely forgotten, too.

 

There are no interruptions with the Internet, so we work as usual. The only difference is that we now have breaks not for coffee as before, but for a sprint to the bomb shelter. Kyiv from the very first day is endangered from the sky.

At the moment, most of our team is in Kyiv, including me. Our content manager in Odessa. Our SEO specialist was cut off from Kyiv and is now in the occupied territory near Chernobyl. Two more of our colleagues moved abroad before the war and now cannot return to their families. We keep in touch with everyone.

 

JB: What is the company’s view on the current actions in Ukraine?

LB: I’m not sure that I have enough words to describe our fear for the lives of our compatriots, anger at the occupiers and endless faith in our armed forces. We also do not understand why the entire western world, including the United States, does not give us real support. We hear only words of support and faith in our strength. While Ukraine, a country that has been at war for 8 years, is holding back one of the most powerful armies in the world, the whole world keeps silent and pats us sympathetically on the shoulder. The new Hitler revealed his face, is it possible that the whole world will again delay the massacre of him, as it was during World War II?

 

AskGrowers’s Founder Igor Dunaevsky and CEO Irene Stepanenko did everything to make us feel safe and assured that the project would not suffer. It is possible for us to bring our families and pets to the office which has everything for comfortable work and safety: bomb shelter, food, shower, internet, and more. 

You know, when choosing a company, it was important for me that the office had a homely comfortable atmosphere, but I didn’t think that a bomb shelter should appear on my comfort list.

We have sufficient financial cushion to ensure that the project is also safe. Also, anyone from the team who decides to go to defend their country in any way will, of course, save the position and full salary for each month.

 

JB: As a digital property, what is the company doing to ensure its safety and that of its clients from a possible cyberattack? Is that a concern? What’s the contingency in that case?

LB: We have experienced data security specialists on our team who have already reported phishing attacks. But this is observed throughout Ukraine, and our project is no exception. There are no real reasons to worry. Our servers are based outside Ukraine. We’re definitely can operate, work and support our project.

 

JB: What do you want international and especially American cannabis consumers to know about what is happening in Ukraine right now?

LB: I think the idea is simple. Each of us, regardless of the industry, must contribute to the development and stability of the country. Even if it’s a cannabis business. We do not stop and do our best to develop our business. We will be grateful if everyone among the community will spread the news from reliable sources on Russian invasion to Ukraine in their social media.

 

People who want to go even further in helping my country can donate to the official account of the National Bank of Ukraine, which was created for this purpose yesterday. 

 

JB: What do you hope for the future of Ukraine? Its cannabis culture? How can it and the business around it be kept alive during wartime?

LB: Before the war, we had forecasts in the company regarding the legalization of first medical and then recreational cannabis in Ukraine. The time frame varied from 5 to 10 years, depending on the change of power and the growing up of a new generation. Now, it is quite difficult to build a new forecast, because it is not at all clear when this war will end.

As practice shows, we manage to work successfully in wartime and even achieve record metrics in our project development strategies. But in general, this is an incredibly scary time that requires a lot of resources.

 

JB: What did I miss? Please feel free to add anything we didn’t touch on that you think readers need to know.

LB: As a human being and as a woman, I would again ask you to draw attention to the war and the horrors that we are experiencing here permanently scrolling through the news feeds and our official state pages or when we say goodbye to our fathers, brothers, and husbands when they go to protect us. But I understand that I need to focus on cannabis.

Our team, thanks to the frequent fiery speeches of our founder Igor Dunaevsky, for two years now has a feeling that the cannabis industry is freedom. The freedom to choose what is good for your body and mind. Of course, I’m talking about responsible consumption 21+. 

This is something that feels good in the example of what is happening now. Russia, with an authoritarian regime, where even for the toke of cannabis people are imprisoned, where no one can even hint in the media field about the issue of legalization, since you will immediately be accused of promoting drugs. A vivid example is the persecution of journalist Yury Dud for this interview.

While Ukraine and its citizens confidently choose what they consider to be the best for themselves and not be afraid of anything and anyone.

 

About Jackie Bryant: I’m a San Diego-based freelance journalist who covers cannabis business and culture. In addition to my newsletter about cannabis culture, Cannabitch, my work has been published in a variety of print and digital publications, including MJBizDaily, Leafly, High Times, Voice of San Diego, Uproxx, the San Diego Union-Tribune, Playboy, Sierra, Eater, Healthline, California Leaf, 

 

ASKGROWERS IN THEIR OWN WORDS: About Us

AskGrowers is far more than a simple cannabis product news outlet. We are a tightly-knit group of cannabis connoisseurs, industry journalists, growers, manufacturers, and industry fans. We are on a mission to keep our community informed of the ever-growing selection of сannabis product offerings available and the stories behind the people innovating the cannabis space. Whether you’re new to cannabis or a seasoned patron, you will find a home here amongst our readers.

Our motivation at AskGrowers.com is to introduce our readers to the voices and personalities behind the brands. Ever since the regulatory environment changed, thousands of manufacturer licenses have been issued each and every year, and we strive to give every last brand a chance to share their rating process, interact with consumers, and share their respective journeys. We are excited to ensure every last producer has a voice and a platform to share their story with their consumers.

Our vision extends far beyond simply providing helpful information to beginners and blossoming consumers. We aim to conduct our own research and create a dialogue, unifying and connecting cannabis professionals and enthusiasts to share their knowledge and create a leading cannabis marketplace. At AskGrowers.com, all legal-age consumers can easily connect with local growers and brand leaders, giving them secure access to legal cannabis throughout their region.

 

Our Goals

Help Consumers

At AskGrowers, we educate consumers and provide an in-depth introduction to cannabis for newcomers and experienced connoisseurs alike. Our dream is for our clients to learn more about the various cannabis strains, brands, products and manufacturers available to them, and facilitate safe and reliable connections between them and retailers.

Help Businesses

The cannabis industrial marketplace would not exist without brand partners and cannabis retailers. AskGrowers provides an opportunity for global and local businesses to build awareness of your offerings and processes. Our online platform builds brand exposure and helps manufacturers tell customers about their products and the philosophy behind them.

 

Help Growers

We help both novice and experienced growers looking to enter the ever-expanding legal cannabis industry. We are here to act as your growing encyclopedia, telling you everything you need to know about cannabis growing, from seed, to harvest, to cultivation and more.

 

Cannabis Industry Overview

In the USA, both medical and recreational cannabis is gradually expanding state-by-state. However, each state has its own licensing rules with no encompassing nationwide brands. Here you will find regional grower and manufacturer profiles, top brands and products (everything from flower to cookies), where to buy them, and informative customer reviews.

 

AskGrowers Blog

To provide readers with up-to-date, verified information, our team conducts market research, communicates with cannabis brands and business owners, examines complex issues and monitors trends in the industry. In our team of authors: Tia MoskalenkoLana BraslavskaiaDenis SvirepchukHelga GreenAnastasia. Also, you can find articles by Irene Stepanenko, CEO of AskGrowers and Igor Dunaevsky, Managing Partner. We regularly invite cannabis journalists for special projects, among them: Chris KudialisDante JordanOcean MalandraAdam Pallay and others.

Would you like to join our team as a writer? Email us contact@askgrowers.com!

 

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