April marked the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster—a solemn, terrifying occasion made even more severe by its overlap with another deadly, global microscopic crisis. And while tourists and researchers are now permitted to visit the 1000-square mile Exclusion Zone (including the nuclear plant’s actual control room) on certain conditions, many still stigmatize the area, with unfortunately economic reverberations echoing throughout the region.
Last week, the first, 1500 bottle batch of ATOMIK—a vodka made with apples farmed from within the nearby, still inhabited Narodychi District—was seized by “Kyiv City Prosecutors following a Ukrainian Security Services investigation,” according to a press release from The Chernobyl Spirit Company. And while one could easily think this was due to the whole “apples farmed within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone” thing, co-founder Professor Jim Smith says the confiscation stems from accusations of tax evasion.
“It seems that they are accusing us of using forged Ukrainian excise stamps, but this doesn’t make sense since the bottles are for the UK market and are clearly labelled with valid UK excise stamps,” says Professor Smith, while adding that the entire project is primarily aimed at fostering economic growth in regions many still view as risky, with 75% of all profits allegedly being funneled back into local communities.
The Chernobyl Spirit Company explains that Ukrainian and British scientists have already proved that “slightly radioactive products from the zone could be distilled to make spirits with levels of Chernobyl radioactivity below what they could measure,” thus making them safe for public retail and consumption. The company’s lawyer, Elina Smirnova, adds the forged excise stamps were an excuse to stymie a foreign business operating within Ukraine.
“This case is a clear example of violation of Ukrainian Law by the Kyiv Prosecutors and the SBU. They have targeted a foreign company which has tried to establish an ethical ‘white’ business to first of all help Ukraine,” they said in the statement, concluding that “We still believe that the truth will win.”
Are we somewhat curious to try a bottle of ATOMIK? You bet your irradiated ass we are. If nothing else, we want to support anyone optimistic enough to believe “the truth will win” in a place like Chernobyl.
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