Russian companies in the US face the backlash of the war in Ukraine

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Russian companies in the US face the backlash of the war in Ukraine

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NEW YORK (AP) – They are pouring vodka, boycotting Russian restaurants and even leaving threatening voicemail messages to Russian businesses.

Angered by the deadly violence and humanitarian crisis stemming from Russia’s war on Ukraine, some Americans are picking on Russian businesses and brands in the US – or anything that sounds Russian.

Businessmen and experts say it is the most intense anti-Russian sentiment they have ever seen. They also call the behavior irrational and misplaced, especially when so many owners denounce the invasion of Russian President Vladimir Putin and support Ukraine, not to mention that some aren’t even Russians.

Olga Sagan, the owner of the Russian Piroshky Piroshky bakery in Seattle, which has been offering handmade Russian sweets since 1992, described a recent phone call from someone threatening a terrorist attack on her shop.

Ma Sagan emigrated from Russia in 1999 and is an American citizen. Of its 60 staff members, she is the only Russian; another three come from Ukraine.

“People make fun of the Russians: we drink vodka,” Sagan said. “But never, never anything like that. It makes me feel very sad. I understand people’s emotions and how strong they are about the situation, and I really appreciate that because I have strong emotions. But most of the Russians are against (the war). “

To clarify their position and position customers, many entrepreneurs have posted Ukrainian signs on their doors or have turned to social media to pledge their support to Ukraine and condemn Russia’s actions. Some restaurants are removing any Russian references from their menu.

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Ukrainians were also involved in the backlash.

Alan Agichev, 26, opened a restaurant in Manhattan two years ago with his mother, Svetlana “Sveta” Savchitz, born in Kharkiv, Ukraine. They named their restaurant Sveta and advertised it as an Eastern European and Russian restaurant, a description that was meant to help people understand food easily but now attracts unwanted attention.

Agichev, who was born in the United States, said he received emails from people swearing about Russia and telling business owners to “go home”. The owners have since removed references to Russia from the restaurant’s menu.

“His two blood sisters are hiding under a bunker,” Agichev said of his mother’s family. “And then she gets these nasty phone calls telling her, ‘You’re not Ukrainian, you’re Russian.’ It’s terrible.”

Agichev notes that many others supported him and his mother, but it shouldn’t matter even if neither of them were Russian because many of his Russian friends also don’t want this war.

“It’s just a man who wants to do it, and it’s President Putin,” he said. “He is not only about the lives of Ukrainians, but also the lives of the Russians.”

Moscow on the Hudson, a specialty store selling Russian, Ukrainian and other international goods about nine miles north of Sveta, also received calls from people cursing Russia and asking shop owners to ask Putin to stop. war.

“I was like ‘good luck’,” said Gleb Gavrilov, who is Russian, Polish and Greek and runs the shop with his mother. “I just hung up.”

Gavrilov said he was selling Putin magnets and even honeycomb dolls depicting Russian President and former US President Donald Trump, because some Americans liked the products. But he hid them when the war started, thinking they might have more value in the future. He also doesn’t want to be seen as aligned with Putin.

“I’m not really with him,” Gavrilov said. “I only sell the stuff, and it sells well.”

Sarah E. Mendelson, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College in Washington and longtime expert on Russia, said she does not recall that such intense anti-Russian backlash resulted in people protesting against restaurants or products, even after campaigns. of Russia’s bombing of Syria and its invasion of Crimea in 2014.

Mendelson noted that the constant barrage of real-time images of Ukrainians fleeing their war-torn country it has created a wave of emotions, but the boycotts themselves are harming the emigrants who fled Russia and the Ukrainians.

“It’s an emotional response – it’s really not a rational response,” he said. “People should take the time to understand what’s going on.”

Consumer anger has been misdirected in the past. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many Middle Eastern companies suffered when customers turned their hostility on them. In the years since, social media has made it easier for people to protest and organize boycotts via hashtags, but the lack of context also makes it easier to get it wrong.

Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, a New York-based brand loyalty research consultancy, noted that a recent survey of 1,200 U.S. shoppers found 84% on a bipartisan basis indicated that they would boycott Russian brands as a sign of solidarity with Ukraine. However, only 8% of them could name any Russian consumer brand correctly without being assisted.

“It’s a nice feeling, but problematic,” Passikoff said. “The reality is that there aren’t many well-known Russian brands that are easily noticeable in American stores.”

One product that became an easy but misleading target of consumer distress was Stolichnaya, a vodka brand mistakenly linked to Russia. Stoli, the brand’s best known nickname and now official name, is actually manufactured in Latvia and the parent company is based in Luxembourg. Its owner, Russian-born tycoon Yuri Shefler, left Russia in 2002 and hasn’t returned since.

Damian McKinney, CEO of the Stoli Group, was horrified to see people posting videos on social media of bartenders pouring the drink down the drain and shops dropping it. off the shelves. To counter, McKinney said the company let its distributors and retailers know that it was opposed to the invasion of Russia and that it supported Ukraine, as well as pointing out its true roots.

McKinney said global sales took a hit for seven days, but business rebounded to above-normal levels. She is also marketing the vodka bottles with pro-Ukrainian messages.

Whether it’s a Russian brand or not, McKinney said companies have to choose their side.

“We have been tested. As soon as that invasion has occurred, you have to stand up and be counted, “he said.” I have Russians on the team. You have to decide which side to take. “

But some just want to remain neutral, at least publicly.

Tigran Elchyan, chef and owner of Kalinka Russian Cuisine, a restaurant in Glendale, California, said he has received threatening calls a few times a week since the start of the war in Ukraine. Business is down about 20%.

Elchyan is of Armenian descent and his restaurant highlights food not only from Russia but his native country as well as from former Soviet Union countries such as Georgia and Kazakhstan. Most of his staff comes from the Russian region. But Elchyan said he wants to stay out of politics.

“Russians and Ukrainians sit next to each other and eat the food,” he said. “It’s all about the food. It is not political. We are here for peace everywhere ”.

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