For many combat veterans and military personnel, the struggle with their experience of conflict can last long after the fighting itself has ended. Many countries have dedicated services for veteran’s affairs, but some fall short of properly combating the scale of the problem.
Drinkin’ Bros. Ukraine is a meet-up held twice a month since November 2017 that aims to alleviate this suffering, held at Pizza Veterano, a military-style pizza place in Kyiv, Ukraine. Drinkin’ Bros. Ukraine follows in the US tradition of “buddy care” among former soldiers, where the gap left by a lack of sufficient government programmes to assist veterans and military personnel in coping with their experiences is filled by helping them band together.
“At Drinkin’ Bros., one can always count on support, advice, a joke, and the empathetic shoulder of a brother-in-arms who understands your situation perfectly and is able to help you psychologically better than a doctor,” According to Leonid Ostaltsev, a Ukrainian army veteran and the founder of Pizza Veterano.
Though primarily held for military personnel and veterans, anyone is welcome and free to participate. As such the project has so far attracted dozens of civilians, including foreigners with a military past, living in Kyiv. Despite the name, the community is not centred solely around drinking, focusing more around a collective openness and providing an easy-going sense of camaraderie. In addition, the group maintains a large Facebook group of over 97,000 subscribers to raise awareness of the issue.
“We have this one rule, and that rule is — if you do drink, never drink alone. Whether it’s alcohol or non-alcohol, it doesn’t matter, the goal is the same. The idea is if you have something to talk about, it’s better to think about it, speak about it,” says Drinkin’ Bros. Ukraine organiser David Plaster, “We now have guests from all parts of the world, guys that served in the Ukrainian military, or for Belarus, the Scandinavian countries, and even France and The Netherlands.”
Addressing the hidden scars of demobilised veterans is complex, requiring programmes to provide social adaptation, employment, and psychological help. If not properly addressed, veterans may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, unemployment, drug and alcohol issues, or family troubles. The Drinkin’ Bros. Ukraine group provides a sociable way to fight this issue, allowing veterans and military personnel to help each other and their community whilst also helping themselves.
Of note at every gathering is a small table, in one corner of the room, that is left empty. A white candle burns in a glass next to a one-person dining set and a red rose, a monument to all fallen soldiers.