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By Clement Rossignol and Christian Levaux
LEUVEN, Belgium (Reuters) - The world's largest brewer launched production of a popular Ukrainian beer in Belgium on Friday and said all profits made from its global sales would go to humanitarian relief in Ukraine following Russia's invasion.
Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) has halted production of the Chernigivske lager and other beers at its three breweries in Ukraine because of the war, which began after Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
Ukraine's ambassador to Belgium, Oleg Shamshur, attended the roll-out of the first cans at AB InBev's large brewery in Leuven on Friday and welcomed the launch as a way of showcasing Ukrainian products to the world.
"Maybe even more importantly it would have a symbolic meaning in the sense that people who are drinking Chernigivske will think of Chernihiv, the city which was attacked by the Russians and which resisted the Russian invasion," he told Reuters TV.
The beer originates in Chernihiv, a city in the north of Ukraine that suffered heavy shelling and missile strikes earlier in the war before Russian forces shifted their focus towards eastern and southern Ukraine.
The idea for the relief initiative came from Ukraine's marketing director. The beer is already on sale in Britain.
"This initiative is now going global," AB InBev's European chief Jason Warner "You'll be able to enjoy a Chernigivske in Canada, a Chernigivske in the United States, also in Colombia, Brazil and through Latin America as well as across Europe."
He added that the cans, which bear the blue and yellow colours of the national flag, should be in shops within two to three weeks.
Despite suspending production in Ukraine, AB InBev has said it will continue to pay its 1,812 staff there this year, as well as helping their families with food and accommodation.
The Belgium-based brewer operates in Ukraine in a joint venture with Turkish brewer Anadolu Efes, which has a large presence in Russia.
AB InBev has said it will exit Russia by selling its non-controlling interest in the venture, most likely to partner Efes. It is not clear whether it plans to maintain a presence in Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced more than 11 million and flattened towns and villages.
Russia calls its actions a "special operation" to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Kyiv and its Western backers say this is a false pretext to wage an unprovoked war of aggression against a sovereign democratic state.
(Writing by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Gareth Jones)