HALELUYA HADERO and ANNE D’INNOCENZIO
They’re boycotting Russian restaurants, dumping vodka on the floor, and even leaving threatening voicemail messages at Russian businesses.
Russian companies and brands in the U.S. and anything that looks or sounds Russian are making some Americans angry due to the deadly violence and humanitarian crisis caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The anti-Russian sentiment is the strongest they’ve ever seen, according to experts and business owners. In addition, many owners are opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion and supporting Ukraine, despite the fact that some aren’t even Russian. The behavior is thus irrational and misplaced.
Russian bakery Piroshky Piroshky, which has been selling handcrafted Russian pastries in Seattle since 1992, owner Olga Sagan described a recent call from someone threatening a terrorist attack.
However, Sagan immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1999. There are 60 employees in her office, but she is the only Russian; three others are Ukrainian.
Sagan said that people make fun of Russians because they drink vodka. “But this has never happened before.”. That makes me sad. Due to my strong emotions, I truly appreciate people’s emotions and their strong reactions to the situation. But the majority of Russians oppose war.
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Businesses have displayed Ukrainian signs on their doors to clarify their stance and placate customers or have used social media to condemn Russia’s actions and pledge their support for the country. Russian is being stricken from restaurants’ menus.
Even Ukrainians have been caught up in the backlash.
Alan Aguichev, 26, opened a restaurant in Manhattan two years ago with his mother, Svetlana “Sveta” Savchitz, who was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine. They named their restaurant Sveta and advertised it as an Eastern European and Russian eatery — a description that was intended to help people easily understand the food but now draws unwanted attention.
According to Aguichev, who was born in the U.S., he has received emails from people calling the restaurant owners expletives and joking that they should “go back home.” The owners have since removed references to Russia from the menu.
The two blood sisters of his mother are hiding under a bunker, Aguichev said. Her phone keeps ringing saying, ‘You’re not Ukrainian, you’re Russian,’ and she’s terrified.
In his opinion, there is no difference whether his mother is Russian or not because so many of his Russian friends oppose this war too.
The one person who wants to do this is President Putin, he told reporters. In addition to Ukrainians, Russians are also affected.
About nine miles north of Sveta are Moscow on the Hudson specialty stores that sell Russian, Ukrainian and other international products. Store owners have also been contacted by people cursing out Russia and requesting that Putin stop the war.
The store is run by Gleb Gavrilov and his mother, who is Russian, Polish, and Greek. “Last time,” he replied.
Originally, Gavrilov said he sold Putin magnets, and even nesting dolls featuring the Russian president and ex-President President Barack Obama because the products were popular among Americans. When the war began, he thought they might have more value later on. In addition, he does not wish to be associated with Putin.
Gavrilov remarked, “I’m not really with him.”. I don’t do anything but sell the stuff.
Ms. Mendelson, who has studied Russia for many years and is the director of Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College in Washington, said she had never encountered such intense anti-Russian sentiment manifested in protests of restaurants and products, not even after Russia launched bombings in Syria and invaded Crimea in 2014.
In his book, Mendelson explains that while real-time images of fleeing Ukrainians stir emotions, boycotts themselves hurt emigrants fleeing Russia and Ukraine.
A rational response is not what she said, “It’s an emotional response.”. People should think about what is happening.
In the past, anger from consumers was misdirected. Many Middle Eastern businesses suffered after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when their customers turned hostile toward them. Through social media, people have been protesting and organizing boycotts via hashtags, but the lack of context also makes it easier to get things wrong.
Brand Keys is a New York-based firm that conducts brand loyalty research. Robert Passikoff, founder and president, noted that a recent poll of 1,200 Americans found that 84% indicated they would boycott Russian brands as a show of solidarity with Ukraine. Even so, only 8% of the participants were able to correctly name any Russian consumer brand without assistance.
Despite its nice sentiments, Passikoff said, it was problematic. It is true that there aren’t a lot of Russian brands readily available in American stores.”
Stolichnaya, a vodka incorrectly associated with Russia, became a popular target of consumer angst due to its easy – but misguided – appeal. The brand, formerly known as Stoli and now called Stoli, is made in Latvia, and the parent company is based in Luxembourg. Russian tycoon Yuri Shefler, owner of the company, left Russia in 2002 and has not returned.
The CEO of the Stoli Group, Damian McKinney, was horrified to see social media videos of people pouring the drink down the drain and stores removing it from shelves. To counteract, McKinney said the company let its distributors and retailers know that it was against Russia’s invasion and that it supported Ukraine, as well as pointing out its true roots.
McKinney said business has rebounded to higher levels than usual after sales globally took a hit for seven days. A pro-Ukrainian message is also emblazoned on the vodka bottles.
Companies need to choose sides, McKinney said, whether they are Russian or not.
It’s time to choose a side. When that invasion began, I had to stand up and be counted, he said. Russians are on my team. You have to choose a side.”
Many people just want to keep their opinions to themselves – at least publicly.
Since the war in Ukraine began, chef and owner Tigran Elchyan of Kalinka Russian Cuisine, a restaurant in Glendale, California, said he receives threatening calls a few times a week. Approximately 20% of the business is lost.
He serves Armenian cuisine as well as food from Georgia and Kazakhstan, countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. He employs mostly Russians. But Elchyan says he does not want to get involved in politics.
“There are Russians and Ukrainians eating food next to each other,” he noted. “Food is king.” Politics has no place here. There is no war here.