The idea for Ukrainian Yevgeniya Grippa's new venture of importing wine into Japan to support an old wine production company in her war-torn homeland came after the collapse of her previous business following Russia's invasion in February 2022.

Grippa, 38, was born in Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine now under Russian occupation. She is hoping to sell sparkling wine produced at the Artwinery wine factory in Bakhmut, near her hometown and a city that has been the scene of some of the ongoing conflict's fiercest fighting.

Ukrainian Yevgeniya Grippa (2nd from R) provides a drink sample at her booth during an international food and beverage exhibition at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center on June 22, 2023. (Kyodo)

Although Grippa's company Umi Group LLC will officially begin conducting sales in October, it decided to take part in an international food and beverage exhibition held at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center in the city's bay area, the largest of its kind in Japan, to promote Artwinery's products.

Artwinery was established in 1950 and is known as one of Eastern Europe's largest wine producers.

Grippa's company showcased a total of seven sparkling wine varieties at the three-day event. It is the first time the products, made from Ukrainian grapes and aged for 36 months using a traditional fermentation method, have been imported into Japan.

"They taste gentle and fruity, and go well with Japanese food," such as "zaru soba," cold buckwheat noodles, and "yakitori," skewered grilled chicken, said Grippa, who was busy providing drink samples to visitors beside the company's bottled wine collection.

"Recently, the image of Ukraine is only war. I wanted people to know that there are also good quality products made in Ukraine, and I'd love to introduce them to the Japanese people."

Before Russia's invasion, Grippa ran a business importing and selling Japanese cosmetics in Ukraine, traveling back and forth between the two countries for roughly seven years. But once the war broke out, cosmetic products were no longer a priority for many Ukrainian women, who instead were in need of basic necessities.

"People stopped buying cosmetics," she said.

As her business crumbled, she donated her remaining stocks to women in Ukraine in the hope of bringing people a little joy amid the intensifying war. Meanwhile, as the conflict raged on, Grippa became stranded in Japan and began to mull over how she may be able to support her homeland from abroad.

"The solution dawned on me during the pandemic, when the consumption of alcohol rose in Japan," Grippa said.

She pivoted her business model and began exploring the possibility of selling Ukrainian goods in Japan, finally choosing to focus on wine, a beverage with global appeal.

Photo taken June 22, 2023, shows sparkling wine produced by the Artwinery wine factory in Bakhmut, which was showcased by Ukrainian Yevgeniya Grippa's company Umi Group LLC at an international food and beverage exhibition at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center. (Kyodo)

Grippa reached out to Artwinery, a company in Ukraine that produces 10 million bottles of wine per year. She had known about it since childhood, but getting started in the wine business was no small feat.

Originally, sales were planned to begin last year, but Artwinery ended up having to relocate millions of bottles to the suburbs of Kyiv in order to save them from the ravages of war.

In addition, the conflict has meant the bulk of Ukrainian ports have been out of commission, meaning the wine must be driven across Europe before being shipped to Japan.

"Without imports (by other countries), this winery with its long history might not survive, and that would be a tragic loss," she said. "I wanted to help them keep doing what they do best."

Grippa has returned to Ukraine three times since the war began. She still remembers the tremors caused by explosions, the unsettling chaos and the sadness of being separated from her family.

Although the war has changed her life and occupation, the experience has also taught her tenacity. Since starting up her new business, she has learned about the importance of not giving up, she said.

"I'm not really suffering," Grippa said. "There are people who are suffering more due to the war, so I want to do the best I can."

Ukrainian Yevgeniya Grippa (C) hears from a visitor at her booth during an international food and beverage exhibition at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center on June 22, 2023. (Kyodo)

But her dream of providing Ukrainian beverages to Japanese restaurants and homes does not stop with wine. Grippa also wants to introduce Japanese spirits to Ukraine and other countries. But the thing she hopes for most of all is an end to the war so that she can reunite with her friends and family.

"Although we are working hard abroad, I believe we need to do more work in Ukraine from now on. We have to rebuild everything for our children," she said.

At the food and beverage expo, restaurateurs, sommeliers and others involved in the wine industry stopped by Grippa's booth.

Hiroki Sakamoto, owner of Pizzeria Da Granza in Tokyo, said he liked the wine's flavorful taste. "Although we only serve Italian wine in my restaurant, we're keen to introduce Ukrainian wine," he said, adding that he also hopes to support the country as it goes through such a difficult period.

Maiko Zama, office manager of the wine company Baron Philippe De Rothschild Orient, asked many questions while drinking the samples. "Being in the wine industry, I'm naturally drawn to wine-related things. But this winery stands out for me, particularly because it's located in Bakhmut, a region heavily affected by the war."

"I really want to offer my support, so I was asking for as much detailed information as possible so that I could help raise awareness in Japan. And in all of this, my hope is for peace to return soon," she said.