What kind of country is Ukraine when it comes to alcohol? As a matter of fact, it is an astonishingly liberal country. The evil of alcohol abuse is allowed to roam about without much hindrance.
Alcohol abuse may well be the greatest evil in society, yet children can freely buy it, publicity is omnipresent and it is not uncommon to have a pint of beer out on the street, before midday. On festive days, parents encourage their children to drink, and this from a tender age. Beer used to be rather something for women and girls, but this is changing for the worse. Officially, drinking age is at 18 as is purchasing age, but this legislation is not being enforced. For sure, there does exist a “National Alcoholic Tradition” – see the NAT internet advertisement (pictured above on the left).
At the beginning of May, I visited the alcohol rehabilitation and prevention programme of the Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) “For a Sober Way”. In its desire to address maybe the greatest evil in Ukrainian society, the UGCC developed a programme to fight alcohol abuse. It pays special attention to the heart and soul of the alcoholic and to his family members, while state programmes deal only with the physical aspect: alcoholics undergo a kind of hypnosis, which makes them feel ill if they drink (“coding”), or do a cold turkey under medical supervision, return home and more than often start drinking again.
Father Andrey Lohin, a moral theologian from Ternopil, managed this Church initiative and in his capacity of head of the “For a Sober Way” comity he sought help from Communicantes. There are at present three centres in Western Ukraine (Lviv, Stryi and Ternopil), where alcoholics and their family members can go for help. In the summer of 2012 a new centre will open in Ivano-Frankvisk and, hopefully, more centres will be founded in Eastern Ukraine in years to come. The picture on the right shows Andrey Lohin (36) with his successor father Vasil Slipchuk (37). They are holding the “Golden Book of Sobriety”. As part of the programme, parishioners throughout Western Ukraine are invited to promise to abstain from alcohol for a fixed period of time.
The “For a Sober Way” comity also created an outreach programme, which aims at school children and adults (see previous post). Mr Roman Prochko and his “apprentice”, the 23 year old psychologist Ms Marya Novitska, regularly visit towns and villages throughout Western Ukraine. Roman Prochko (pictured on the left) is a former alcoholic, who with great personal sacrifice gives presentations five or six times a week, mixing up his very serious message with jokes and anecdotes. Prochko (52) drives some 40.000 km each year in his shabby 1991 Lada Samara.
Roman Prochko, Marya Novitska, Andrey Lohin and I visited the village of Kalne, where the local priest Ivan Havdyak is very active in fighting alcohol abuse. (Pictured below from left to right Mrs Havdyak and son, father Ivan, Marya Novitska and father Andrey in Kalne.) Thus father Ivan managed to stamp out the illegal sale of pure alcohol. He used folk tradition to blame and shame the people involved in this shady business. At Christmas time, groups of singers went from door to door to sing Christmas carols (kolyadki), ignoring the four houses where this alcohol was sold. Finally, the inhabitants of all four houses felt too ashamed to continue this illegal practice.
Inflicting great suffering on spouses, husbands and children, friends and family, alcoholism is probably the most disrupting force in Ukrainian society. Inflicting serious psychological, spiritual and social harm, alcohol abuse has had and will have devastating demographic consequences as well. For example, statistics show that alcohol abuse reduces the lifespan of about forty percent of men and twenty percent of women. If we add up to this the Aids/HIV and tuberculosis epidemics, smoking, malnutrition, emigration and low birth rates, Ukraine may well be an over aged and empty country in 2050 with only thirty million inhabitants. (FH)
Some background information:
- Communicantes also supported the Drohobych-Sambir rehabilitation centre Nazareth (in Ukrainian) of Caritas Ukraine
- In Genetic risk factors as possible causes of the variation in European suicide rates Andrej Marušič and Anne Farmer investigate the link between genes, alcohol abuse and suicide
- Interestingly enough, the annual reports of the United Nations Human Development Programme (UNDP) consistently show Ukraine below the level of a poverty stricken country like Albania
- In 2009 Frans Hoppenbrouwers wrote a comprehensive article (in Dutch) about Ukraine’s current demographic crisis: Oekraïne becijferd en gewogen. On page 4 is a graph showing three scenarios of population decrease
- There are some nice picture on the internet of the 200th anniversary of the Kalne village church (2011)