“Don’t sponsor war”, or: The cat food is still Russian. An update on the boycott of Russian goods in Frankivsk.

In a previous post I wrote about the experience of one shopkeeper in implementing a boycott of Russian goods in his small chain of grocery stores.

Some of the problems he noted was that it was not always possible to establish the provenance of goods owing to various tricks with barcodes or companies purporting to be British (with tea, for example) were merely holding company fronts for Russian-owned companies. Some goods, meanwhile, are impossible to replace with non-Russian goods currently, with chewing gum and pet food particularly problematic. Thus, as I spoke to him again recently, his stores still stock Russian-made and Russian-barcoded goods, the profits from which ultimately go to multinational conglomerates. EU-made goods, he explained, are still subject to import duty – whereas Ukraine can export more goods now without duty into the EU – thus EU-made cat food or gum would be prohibitively expensive. Frankivsk cats thus remain fed but with Russian-made cat food.

In a more recent development, one of the stores involved in the boycott was the setting for a nationwide advertising campaign, “Don’t sponsor war”. I have posted the advert below this piece, or you can link to it here. It has been shown on public television here, while also attracting significant online attention. Frankivsk was thus recognised as the leading centre of consumer-based resistance to Russia. I have not travelled far outside the city within Ukraine in recent times in order to judge how effective or widespread the boycott is.

There were some comedy moments attached to filming which took several hours. As well as featuring a real-life checkout operator who struggled to remain smile-free during filming, the actor playing the Russian soldier (or “little green man”) was mistaken by some passers-by and shoppers as a real fighter. Rumours thus spread that the shop was facing problems with the Maidan Self-Defence (Samoobrona), who have since March taken action against certain businesses.

The crew, meanwhile, had to import their own Russian products into the shop which had been cleared of any goods made there (aside from pet food and chewing gum). With filming taking several hours, there were fears that another locally-viral internet campaign might start trying to discredit the stores promoting the boycott.

Aside from the boycott, which has improved sales, the shopkeeper reports that running the business is, for now, easier than under the Yanukovych government as there are no more spot-checks or inspections by numerous institutions and state organs whose aim had been to extract bribes and payments, rather than improve or maintain standards.

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