A McDonald’s restaurant in central Kyiv on Aug. 12, 2022, the day after the burger giant announced it was reopening some restaurants in Ukraine, which had been shut down after Russia’s full-scale war began. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.
KYIV, Ukraine — McDonald’s announced Thursday, Aug. 11, it would reopen some restaurants in Kyiv and western Ukraine, ending a countrywide shutdown that began on Feb. 24, the day Russia’s full-scale invasion began. The news comes some three months after the war spurred the burger giant to permanently close its 850 restaurants in Russia.
For Ukrainians old enough to remember the Soviet Union’s demise, the opening of the first McDonald’s restaurants in their country in 1997 was a symbolic step away from the Soviet past and toward a more hopeful Western future. Thus, in the eyes of some Ukrainians, Thursday’s reopening announcement further underscores their country’s diverging sociocultural trajectory from Russia.
“Civilized business has no place in the world of barbarians,” said Olexandr Solonko, a public relations expert from Kyiv who is now deployed as a volunteer soldier in Ukraine’s armed forces.
Ukrainian soldier Sergey Velichankskiy patrols in front of a McDonald’s restaurant in Kyiv in March 2022. Photo courtesy Sergey Velichankskiy.
“When the USSR ceased to exist, McDonald's came there, in Russia. Now that the Russians have finally decided to return to their barbaric nature and dictatorship, the company is gone. And McDonald's is returning to Ukraine … there is a certain symbolism in this,” Solonko told Coffee or Die Magazine.
According to a Thursday statement by McDonald's senior vice president Paul Pomroy, the fast-food chain's 109 restaurants in Ukraine employ more than 10,000 people — all of whom have continued to receive paychecks since Feb. 24.
“We've had a lot of interaction with our employees who have expressed a great desire to get back to work and to see our restaurants in Ukraine reopen where they can be done safely and responsibly. In recent months, the belief that this will add a small but important sense of normalcy has grown stronger,” Pomroy said in Thursday's statement, which was posted to the company’s Facebook page.
A view of a closed McDonald's restaurant at a shopping mall in Moscow on March 16, 2022. On Feb. 24, Putin ordered Russian troops to pour into pro-Western Ukraine, triggering unprecedented Western sanctions against Moscow and sparking an exodus of foreign corporations including H&M, McDonald's, and Ikea. Photo by AFP via Getty Images.
Andy Hunder, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, said the Chicago-based fast-food chain’s decision should spur other foreign businesses to follow suit.
“The McDonald’s announcement sends a further compelling signal to international companies — 95% of [American Chamber of Commerce] members are planning to continue working in Ukraine,” Hunder told Coffee or Die. “The mood on the ground is vibrant, with a view that Ukraine can win the war.”
After temporarily suspending operations in Russia in March, McDonald's announced in May it was permanently exiting the country. Some 1,000 US companies have similarly departed Russia since the full-scale war began.
“Business needs to be on the right side of history,” Hunder told Coffee or Die. “There is no future for transparent international business in Russia, and we are telling the 1,000 businesses that have pulled down the shutters on their operations in Russia to start planning, preparing, and budgeting now to invest in Ukraine.”
Natalka Barsuk, 46, an economist who lives in Kyiv, described the re-opening announcement as "undeniably great news," highlighting Ukraine's support from the West.
“And it's not just a chance to finally eat your favorite McFlurry — it's a signal to other foreign corporations that you can do business in Ukraine now, of course, with compliance with safety rules,” Barsuk told Coffee or Die. “Russian aggression aims to bleed Ukrainians, but with the help of our partners from the civilized world, we will definitely win. And such iconic international companies as McDonald's are also part of the support.”
In 1995, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman pitched the theory that countries possessing a McDonald’s franchise “don't like to fight wars. They like to wait in line for burgers."
Called the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention — also known as “McPeace” — the theory has been debunked multiple times over the intervening years. When NATO warplanes bombed Yugoslavia during the 1999 Kosovo War, the country’s capital city of Belgrade was home to seven McDonald’s restaurants.
A McDonald’s restaurant in central Kyiv on Aug. 12, 2022, the day after the burger giant announced it was reopening some restaurants in Ukraine. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.
With McDonald’s restaurants operating in both countries at the time, Russia’s 2014 unconventional invasion of southeastern Ukraine was another blow to McPeace.
The lone McDonald's restaurant in the frontline city of Mariupol shut down at the war's outset — epitomizing the war's interruption of normal life in the eyes of many residents. The restaurant was never reopened.
In his Thursday statement, Pomroy said it would take a “few months” to work out the logistical challenges of the reopening process, such as importing products into Ukraine in wartime, repairing restaurants that have sat empty for nearly six months, and creating new safety plans for customers and employees.
“In the darkest times, the Golden Arches shine brightest,” Pomroy said.
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