May 19, 2022

Ukrainian identity & the war

By Joseph Stashko-Adamaszek

When I launched Panko in late 2021, I wanted to use it as an opportunity to explore my Ukrainian heritage and to share Ukraine with the world. Scents often transport us back to a particular time and place and can be surprisingly powerful. They allow to us travel around the world and create a sense of place within our homes - bringing reminders of open fields, forests, or cities. When I create a fragrance to be used in the home I'm trying to create a sense of place, to evoke a particular feeling. 

What I didn't expect shortly after launching was that the war in eastern Ukraine would escalate to a full scale land invasion by Russia.

I didn't expect that the places mentioned on my candle packaging; Odesa, Kyiv, the Carpathians, would suddenly become more mentioned in western media than they ever had in my lifetime, and for the most terrible reasons. 

I didn't expect to watch a video of missiles hitting the airport in the region where my grandmother grew up.

I didn't expect to be worrying about my family in western Ukraine, largely shielded from the worst of the war but still affected by conscription and decimated medical facilities. 

It may seem trite, but running a Ukrainian candle company has now taken on a stronger meaning for me. If prior to all-out-war I was doing it to share Ukrainian culture, then it's more than important than ever to continue to do this when the Russian army is attempting to snuff it out. 

We have been here before. Ukrainian artists, athletes and writers were historically grouped under the Soviet Union, and therefore considered Russian. Growing up in Britain in the 90s, when I told people my family was Ukrainian they would generally say something like "oh right, Russia". One person's dad told his son that it was "where Smirnoff comes from". These are really minor things, but they serve to show how, as a Ukrainian, you are often required to patiently explain not only Russia's colonial relationship with your country, but the existence of your country itself.

Over the past week I have been in touch with a friend in Kherson, in southern Ukraine. The things they have told me are horrifying, but have historical precedent. The native Ukrainian population being removed, and Russians arriving on buses to take their place - to live in their apartments, to work at their markets, to dampen down dissent.

This is the exact same playbook that was used in Crimea in 2014, and countless other times in history. Remove the Ukrainian population, replace it with faithful Russians, and then claim legitimacy when the new population inevitably votes for integration with Russia. 

For many Ukrainians, the spotlight on Ukrainian culture caused by this war is bittersweet. The fact that it took a full scale invasion to happen in order for people to believe that yes, Russia does regard Ukraine as its own fiefdom and yes, many Russians view Ukrainians as less than human, is its own tragedy of not listening to Ukrainians in peace time. 

Those of us who are thousands of miles away from the conflict have felt helpless during the invasion, which is about to enter its third month. All we can do is continue to raise awareness, to fundraise, to advocate for our families and friends, and be proud of our desires for Ukraine to be independent of Russia, and win this war. 

Слава Україні.