The relationship between Wales and Ukraine has got even sweeter with the launch of a new honey that encapsulates the essence of both countries.
Wainwright’s Ukranian Sunflower honey is the result of a collaboration between Ceredigion-based Wainwright’s Bee Farm and Ukrainian producer Honey Brothers.
The honey is being sold at Marks and Spencer stores on Merseyside in time for next week’s Eurovision Song Contest, which is being held in Liverpool on behalf of Ukraine. And, for every jar of honey sold, Wainwright’s is making a donation to the Bees for Development's fund for rebuilding the Ukrainian bee farms damaged in the war.
Honey Brothers co-founder, Dmytro Kushnir, has been on a fact-finding visit to learn more about honey production in Wales and meet with Welsh beekeepers.
Originally from the small town of Horodok in Western Ukraine, Dmytro has lived in Kyiv for nearly 30 years, where he runs Honey Brothers with his brother Yuriy.
Beekeeping in Ukraine stretches back centuries, and the country is one of the largest honey producers in the world and has around 400,000 beekeepers (1% of the population).
Describing himself as a “half beekeeper”, Dmytro’s main focus is on product analysis and the sales side of Honey Brothers, with Yuriy, the full-time beekeeper.
Dmytro said, “I work on developing ideas and creating and promoting Ukranian honey. We have around 110 hives, and as well as these; we have a community of small beekeepers – so there are about 250 hives in total.”
“I’m always interested in discovering cultures, and honey is a part of the culture, a part of the territory, and the area. Welsh honey is a reflection of Wales’ territory – they are incredible and completely different to what we have in Ukraine, and this diversity is something we need to celebrate together.”
The connection with Wainwright’s Bee Farm was formed when the company’s director, David Wainwright, saw an advert about Honey Brothers in a bee farming magazine.
Dmytro said, “I received a message from David saying he was interested in discovering more about the kinds of honey we have in Ukraine. I went on his website and saw that he was doing pretty much what we were doing in promoting regional honey. We understood we were on a similar page and shared each other’s philosophies, and he invited me to come over to the UK."
Despite the war in Ukraine, exporting honey is not a problem, but for Dmytro to leave the country required special permission.
“Ukraine is open, the economy is functioning and operating, We keep on sending and receiving goods, but there are restrictions for men of my age, and we can’t go abroad as easily now because we have martial law. To travel, I had to go through our beekeepers’ association, and I had support from the Minister of Agriculture in Ukraine."
On his return to Ukraine, Dmytro will share the knowledge he has picked up from the Welsh beekeepers, particularly David’s technique of minimum stress for the bees. And in Ukraine they refer to bee colonies as ‘families of bees’.
Dmytro said, “If you start the colony off with the best conditions and leave them alone as much as possible, they will do their job on their own. A colony has a common collective memory, and once stressed, it will keep the stress throughout its lifespan. I find this concept very interesting and will take it back to Ukraine.
“It is all about supporting beekeepers and small producers. There are so many different ways and practices. This is a profession where there are almost no rules, and the only rules are that you work in a way that’s respectful to the bee and you get your honey whilst respecting the environment.”
Wainwright’s Bee Farm began near Aberystwyth in the early 1970s when David got his first hives. Today the business has some 1,500 colonies of bees in apiaries across Wales and England. After volunteering with forest beekeepers in Zambia, the family-run business began importing organic honey and beeswax from Africa.
David said, “Each different honey is a moment in time and place captured by the bees, with flavours, aromas and colours depending on the flowers around the apiary on those fleeting days when the weather turned right.
“We consider ourselves more as shepherds of bees, taking care of them but giving them space and allowing them to do their own thing. Our company tagline is ‘United by the Bees’, but it could also be ‘Still learning from the Bees’.
“A lot of Ukrainian honey that is exported is mixed together, but if you look at all the different samples of honey from across Ukraine – from the mountains, the forests and valleys – the range of flavours is amazing, and that’s what we want to get across. We will dedicate ourselves to continuing this partnership with Dmytro and promoting Ukranian honey here in Britain because it is such a special honey.
“Also, we are paying above a Fairtrade price for Ukrainian honey so that the beekeeping families get an increased income and a reliable market to sell their honey.”
During his visit to Wales, Dmytro met with members of the Welsh Honey Cluster, which is part of the Food & Drink Wales cluster initiative to foster connections between businesses in the sector. The Honey Cluster is facilitated by Cywain, which has as its tagline ‘Growth through Collaboration.’
As part of the collaborative process, Dmytro and the Honey Cluster members attended a knowledge exchange day visit to Tropical Forest Products near Talybont in Ceredigion, where Wainwright’s honey is produced.
Welsh Honey Cluster Lead Haf Wyn Hughes said, “I’ve found over the past few years that a brief telephone call with David Wainwright can inspire many innovative ideas.
“As the leader of the Honey Cluster, I’m always thinking of ways to encourage our members to move their businesses forward and to learn as a group, when possible, about various sector news.
“When David mentioned that he had established an online relationship with Dmytro in Ukraine, I just had to find a way to support us all by inviting him over to meet us. It is remarkable, and an irony, that we are welcoming Dmytro from a country in the midst of bitter conflict to talk about the sweetness of honey.”
Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd said, “Wales has a proud record of promoting the spirit of collaboration and forging connections with enterprises from across the world.
“I am delighted Wainwright’s Bee Farm is helping Honey Brothers and beekeepers in Ukraine to develop new markets and, in so doing, help to sustain their production and safeguard the environment.”
Dmytro said, “Thank you to the Welsh Government and the Honey Cluster for their support; I am so grateful. I have been so impressed by Wales, the landscape’s beauty and the people’s kindness – I feel very lucky. I think Wales will be one of my most loved destinations.”