Russian vodka bottles linked to genocide pulled from Alberta shelves

Albertans will no longer be able to buy the Russian vodka Hammer + Sickle in the province after complaints linked the brand's logo to the genocide of millions of Ukrainians.

'For us, the image is an abhorrent symbol that represents the genocide of millions'

A Russian vodka has been pulled from Alberta's shelves because the logo is a hammer and sickle symbol. (Hammer + Sickle)

Hammer + Sickle brand Russian vodka will no longer be sold in Alberta liquor stores, after complaints linked the logo to the genocide of millions of Ukrainians.

The logo on the otherwise clear bottle is a red hammer and sickle, which to Ukrainians represents the oppression of human rights, said Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz, chapter president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alberta.

"We wouldn't put out a cognac with a swastika on it, would we?" said Luciw-Andryjowycz. "I mean, people would be outraged."

Her group asked the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission to pull the product in January due to the "offensive nature of the labelling." Initially, she said, the group was told it wasn't possible because liquor stores are private businesses.

Luciw-Andryjowycz said she was particularly disturbed to learn the vodka was being sold in the Calgary airport.

"That was more disturbing," she said. "Because here it was at an international airport showing to the rest of the world — saying, look what Alberta's doing, you know, we're selling a vodka with a symbol that is so oppressive."

Alberta Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous and MLA Jessica Littlewood wrote to the commission on June 21.

They noted the province is home to more than 365,000 Ukrainian-Albertans, many of whom fled persecution at the hands of the Soviets. Victims spent decades fighting to have the atrocity known as Holodomor, or the great famine, recognized, they said.

"For us, the image is an abhorrent symbol that represents the genocide of millions," the letter said.

In a statement, the AGLC said it "recognizes the Holodomor was a horrific period in Ukrainian history."

"The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission has heard from Albertans and is working directly and in collaboration with the liquor agency on this matter, ensuring that, effective immediately, this product (Hammer + Sickle vodka) will no longer be brought into Alberta," the email said.

Luciew-Andryjowycz said she's "thrilled" by the commission's decision but her organization will continue to fight to have the product removed in Quebec, the only other province where it is imported.

CBC has requested comment from Hammer + Sickle.