McDonald’s closes over eight hundred stores in Russia, leaving the country entirely in response to the Russian war in Ukraine.

In 1990, only two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, McDonald’s was the first American restaurant chain to enter the Soviet Union. It opened right in the middle of Moscow, a symbol of both American capitalism and international openness. Since then, that first toe-hold ballooned into 850 locations in Russia. Just over 2 percent of all McDonald’s locations, Russia accounts for about 8 percent of the company’s global revenue.

On March 8, about a week and a half after Russia invaded Ukraine, McDonald’s announced that they would be temporarily closing all of their Russian locations, but would continue to pay the wages of the over 60,000 people who work in them.

“At this juncture,” said McDonald’s in a statement, “it’s impossible to predict when we might be able to reopen our restaurants in Russia.”

For some Russians, the closure is an emotional matter. Vlad Vexler, a Russian emigrant currently living in London waited in line for two hours when he was nine to eat a cheeseburger at that first Moscow McDonald’s, the day it opened.

“That McDonald’s is a sign of optimism that in the end didn’t materialize,” said Vexler. “Now that Russia is entering the period of contraction, isolation and impoverishment, you look back at these openings and think about what might have been.”

Others are taking it less philosophically, like Luka Safronov, who chained himself to the doors of another Russian Golden Arches during its last day before closure, calling the suspended business ‘an act of hostility’ against Russians. Safranov was eventually removed by police.

Whatever the individual feelings about McDonald’s are, the last days before the March 14th closure saw lines wrapping for blocks around every urban location, with waits as long as eight hours and people buying dozens of burgers to freeze for later.

Photo: OlegDoroshin / Shutterstock

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