In Ukraine trip, Shelburne Falls brewer sees war-torn country’s ‘sustained struggle’ firsthand

  • Floodwater Brewing Co. owner Zack Livingston meets residents of Ukraine during his four-day trip. Contributed Photo

  • Floodwater Brewing Co. owner Zack Livingston meets residents of Ukraine during his four-day trip. Yuri Zastavny, who owns a brewery in Lviv, gave Livingston a tour and introduced him to his family, with whom he stayed. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/29/2023 11:53:39 AM

SHELBURNE FALLS — When the war in Ukraine broke out and the Lviv-based craft brewery Pravda released its formerly undisclosed recipes to the world, Floodwater Brewing Co. owner Zack Livingston felt connected to his brewing counterparts in the war-torn country.

Since the release of the recipes, Livingston has been donating 3% of all sales proceeds to Ukrainian relief efforts and created a Pravda beer that is available at Floodwater. Motivated by empathy, Livingston also embarked on a journey to directly support Pravda by traveling to Lviv.

“When you’re distanced from a situation, you question if it’s a noble cause,” Livingston said. “However, when I met the head brewer, their friends and their family, it was an overwhelming experience for me. It removed all doubts, and I realized these are people engaged in a sustained struggle for their rights.”

Before his trip to Ukraine, Livingston had been researching regional breweries and beer styles during a visit to eastern Europe. Although a visit to Ukraine was always part of his itinerary, it remained uncertain until he booked a ride from Zamosc, Poland on the morning of his departure through the online hitchhiking website BlaBlaCar.

“Deep down, I always knew I would visit, but I never really shared my plans with anyone,” he said. “I didn’t want anyone to worry, and I thought my parents would try to dissuade me. There was also a concern that people might misinterpret the purpose of the trip if I were to announce it, making it about myself.”

On the first day of his unannounced four-day trip, Livingston arrived at Pravda unsure of what to expect. He was warmly welcomed by the owner, Yuri Zastavny, who gave him a tour and introduced him to his family, with whom he stayed.

Although Lviv is far from the Russian border and therefore removed from the front lines of the war, it is not immune to the daily realities the country faces. Livingston explained the city is filled with people who were displaced from their homes due to the war and are eager to share their stories with an outside audience. Whenever people discovered Livingston was American, he was approached while sitting at cafes or other public spaces.

“I met an older woman who lost her husband in Kharkiv, a teacher who lost her house and all her possessions in the Severodonetsk region, which is now under Russian control, and two children without their parents,” Livingston said. “Most of them didn’t ask for anything; they simply wanted to share their stories. They wanted someone to listen.”

During the trip, air raid alarms went off on several occasions, something Livingston explained had become normalized and largely ignored by residents. While staying in a hostel, he went to the basement bomb shelter when the sirens went off and was surprised to be the only one who paused his daily activities.

On another occasion, while attending a traditional street festival in Lviv, a siren went off, and he joined Zastavny’s family in a pop-up location where they continued to enjoy themselves, waiting out the threat of bombs.

“At one point, we were huddled with his friends and family, drinking beers at one of the brewery’s locations while waiting out an air raid. ... Yuri’s kids were there. One attendee had just received his draft notice a few hours earlier. The whole experience was surreal. When you’re seven time zones away, it’s easy to view the situation from a macro level. Without that personal connection, it’s easy to lose sight of what is really at stake: innocent human lives,” Livingston remarked.

On the other hand, he mentioned his experience revealed several silver linings. He learned that since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been heavily influenced by Russian culture. This war has provided the country with an opportunity to develop its own culture and has allowed its people to draw inspiration from sources beyond their western neighbors.

He also observed that people have become increasingly friendly and caring toward one another as they unite in a common cause. Livingston compared the camaraderie he witnessed to the spirit seen in America after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Shelburne Falls support

Over the past year, Floodwater has donated more than $4,000 to various organizations in Ukraine, including World Central Kitchen, Kyiv School of Economics, United24 and Pravda Brewery. In May 2022, Floodwater released its first beer, Frau Ribbentrop, using Pravda’s Belgian Witbier recipe. Livingston also plans to release a lavender thyme ale, which is inspired by another one of Pravda’s beers, in the near future.

Those who wish to donate can visit Additionally, a QR code link and checkout option is available at the brewery for customers. Floodwater’s hours are Wednesday through Friday from 4 to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 1 to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 6 p.m.

“I plan to continue my support for as long as necessary,” Livingston said.

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or


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