British Columbia

Eastern European businesses in B.C. feel impact of Russia-Ukraine conflict

Owners of businesses perceived to support Russia say they have received threats, while others — seen to support Ukraine — are flourishing.

Russian-owned businesses in Vancouver say they have received threats since the invasion began

The Russian Spoon bakery in downtown Vancouver has been the recipient of verbal threats and harassment after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, despite supporting the Ukrainian cause. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Some Eastern European businesses in British Columbia are feeling the impact of the conflict in Ukraine as some customers threaten those seen to support the Russian invasion.

Armed conflict in Ukraine has now stretched for nearly a week, and the ripple effects from the war have reached businesses with ties to the region.

One of those businesses is Russian Spoon, a bakery at Vancouver's Harbour Centre run by Natalia Mitrofanova, a Canadian citizen of Russian heritage.

Mitrofanova's shop serves Eastern European food, and she says her staff come from various countries in the region — including Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Russia.

And though she says "30 per cent" of the food she serves is Ukrainian, and she publicly supports Ukraine amid the current invasion, the shop has received threatening calls from people due to her bakery's name.

"It is now a very difficult time for Russian businesses. Because of these tensions around war with Russia, and our name is Russian Spoon … we have difficulties, we have phone calls when people say, 'Please close business,'" she said.

"Some people swear … I will not hide. We don't communicate with them. We can't explain [to] people who just start a conversation, 'Are you still open [and] swear, swear, swear words,' right?"

Russian Spoon is promising to donate a portion of its sales to charities helping Ukrainian refugees. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Russian Spoon now features artwork showing they support Ukraine's efforts against the invasion, and the bakery is donating some proceeds from sales to charity efforts supporting refugees.

And even though she has a base of loyal customers, and security to protect her bakery, Mitrofanova says she is apprehensive things might escalate.

"We have customers everyday that come to us," she said. "But still … we worry, we worry everyday about what the next day brings us."

Another Vancouver business, Russian World on Main Street, declined an interview with CBC News, but said they had received threats since the invasion began.

Ukrainian business blossoming

Meanwhile, some businesses seen to support Ukraine are flourishing.

Paul Servos, who runs The Flag Shop in Victoria, says his shop had sold out of Ukrainian flags "almost instantaneously" on Feb. 24 when Russian forces began the invasion.

"There was a lot of very emotional people [who] came in to pick up flags in order to show their pride," he said. "Our phones have been ringing like crazy [with] people wanting Ukrainian flags."

Servos' wife, Maggie Rennick, has family ties to Ukraine. She says her grandparents left the country in the early 1900s and immigrated to Saskatchewan.

Maggie Rennick, right, is seen helping to make a Ukrainian flag in The Flag Shop in downtown Victoria. (Submitted by Paul Servos)

Servos says Rennick normally stays away from the shop since she is retired, but after the invasion, she had been at the shop all week making flags.

"It's horrific … I was very shocked," Rennick says about the invasion. "I'm very saddened and I cry every day."

Servos says he hopes the support shown for the Ukrainian cause eventually leads to a big difference.

"We're a little store … if everybody can do a little bit, we can get the millstone rolling," he said.

With files from Jon Hernandez