Inside Russia’s ‘ghost town’ shopping malls where Western brands have closed shop

Western brands have pulled out of Russia leaving shopping malls in Moscow and St Petersburg to become ‘ghost towns’ with high street locations sitting empty.

Brands including Louis Vuitton, Dior and Zara have shut in protest over war in Ukraine which began on February 24.

The changes have been prompted by Western sanctions and a massive, unprecedented pullout of Western businesses that had become entrenched in the landscape of Russia’s daily life over three decades.

Dozens of foreign and international companies have withdrawn from the country, leaving behind half-empty malls and closed doors in places that once buzzed with customers.

Popular clothing brands, both luxurious and affordable, coffee and fast-food chains became unavailable to many Russians.

Few visitors pass inside the GUM department store with lots of boutiques closed due to sanctions in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, June 1, 2022. As Russia’s military operation in Ukraine is entering its 100-day anniversary, life in Moscow and St. Petersburg remains largely normal, even as many Western retailers have left Russia

A woman walks at an almost empty shopping center with many shops closed due to sanctions. Dozens of foreign and international companies have withdrawn from the country, leaving behind half-empty malls and closed doors in places that once buzzed with customers

A woman walks at an almost empty shopping center with many shops closed due to sanctions. Dozens of foreign and international companies have withdrawn from the country, leaving behind half-empty malls and closed doors in places that once buzzed with customers

A woman sits looking at her smartphone in front of shops closed due to sanctions in a mall. Popular clothing brands, both luxurious and affordable, coffee and fast-food chains became unavailable to many Russians

A woman sits looking at her smartphone in front of shops closed due to sanctions in a mall. Popular clothing brands, both luxurious and affordable, coffee and fast-food chains became unavailable to many Russians

A visitor looks at an empty 'Samsonite', suitcases and bags shop closed due to sanctions in a store in St. Petersburg. Luxury brands such as France's Chanel and Louis Vuitton have announced they are suspending operations in Russia, adding to the country's economic isolation imposed by the West in response to the invasion

A visitor looks at an empty ‘Samsonite’, suitcases and bags shop closed due to sanctions in a store in St. Petersburg. Luxury brands such as France’s Chanel and Louis Vuitton have announced they are suspending operations in Russia, adding to the country’s economic isolation imposed by the West in response to the invasion

A food delivery man rides a bicycle along the GUM department store with a Cartier boutique closed due to sanctions in Moscow. Prada, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Fendi were among those to clear their shelves in the luxury shopping malls of the Russian capital

A food delivery man rides a bicycle along the GUM department store with a Cartier boutique closed due to sanctions in Moscow. Prada, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Fendi were among those to clear their shelves in the luxury shopping malls of the Russian capital

Luxury brands such as France’s Chanel and Louis Vuitton have announced they are suspending operations in Russia, adding to the country’s economic isolation imposed by the West in response to the invasion.

The Spanish fashion retailer Inditex, which owns Zara, halted trading in Russia in March, closing its 502 shops and stopping online sales.

Companies that stopped doing business in Russia 

  • McDonald’s
  • KFC
  • Taco Bell
  • Pizza Hut
  • Cocoa-Cola
  • Pepsi
  • Starbucks
  • Uniqlo
  • British American Tobacco
  • Ikea
  • H&M
  • Canada Goose
  • Nestlé
  • Nike
  • TJ Max
  • BP
  • Exxon Mobil
  • Shell
  • Volvo 
  • Siemens
  • Renault
  • Caterpillar
  • Delta Air Lines
  • United Airlines
  • DHL
  • Hilton hotels
  • Hyatt hotels
  • American Airlines
  • Uber
  • Sony
  • Microsoft
  • Apple
  • Netflix
  • Bloomberg
  • Walt Disney
  • Warner Brothers 
  • Imperial Brands

Prada, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Fendi were among those to clear their shelves in the luxury shopping malls of the Russian capital as sanctions begin to bite.

American food and beverage giants including Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Starbucks have paused or closed operations in Russia in the face of western sanctions.

Corporations from British energy giants Shell and BP to French carmaker Renault have pulled out of Russia, taking a hit to their bottom lines as they seek to sell their holdings there.

Yum Brands, which operates the brands KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, The Habit Burger Grill, and WingStreet worldwide, said that it is suspending all investment and development of new restaurants in Russia, and that it will donate all profits from operations in Russia to humanitarian efforts. 

Other major US companies that have recently announced their intention to leave Russia include Nissan, Levi jeans, Visa and Mastercard.

McDonald’s in March closed all of its 850 restaurants in the country – where it says it employs 62,000 people – including its iconic Pushkin Square location, the latest company to pull its business in Russia amid Western sanctions.

The company said it would seek to have a Russian buyer hire its employees and pay them until the sale closes. It didn’t identify a prospective buyer. McDonald’s said it plans to start removing golden arches and other symbols and signs with its name. 

As part of the exit, McDonald’s expects to record a non-cash charge of about $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion.

‘The humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, and the precipitating unpredictable operating environment, have led McDonald’s to conclude that continued ownership of the business in Russia is no longer tenable,’ it said in a statement.

The first McDonald’s in Russia opened in the middle of Moscow more than three decades ago, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Estee Lauder and IBM also decided to abandon Russia – but major international companies such as Reckitt, Unilever and British American Tobacco are staying put. 

Estee Lauder and IBM also decided to abandon Russia – but major international companies such as Reckitt, Unilever and British American Tobacco are staying put

Other companies have also decided to stay, with some facing blowback.  

HSBC has a small presence in Russia with ‘no plans to change anything at the moment’, while pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca said its role in helping medics deliver essential care was ‘more urgent than ever’. Rival GSK said it will also stay.

Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo will remain in Russia because its boss believes ‘clothing is a necessity of life’, while Stella Artois owner AB InBev said it will continue to operate via a local subsidiary.

And earlier in the year, French automaker Renault announced it had handed over its Russian assets to the government in Moscow, marking the first major nationalization of the economic disentanglement.

Russian authorities said they were ready to nationalize foreign assets – as happened with Renault – and some officials assured Russians that their favorite brands would have domestic alternatives.

Officials in Moscow have sought to downplay the gravity of the Western sanctions, promising that Russia will adapt and take steps to stop the flight of foreign currency and capital.

Visitors walk past a Nespresso shop closed due to sanctions in a shopping mall. Nestle, which owns the Nespresso brand, recently announced that it would cut out supplies to Russia in an official statement on March 11

Visitors walk past a Nespresso shop closed due to sanctions in a shopping mall. Nestle, which owns the Nespresso brand, recently announced that it would cut out supplies to Russia in an official statement on March 11

St. Basil's Cathedral and the Spasskaya Tower are reflected in a window of an almost empty and dark Burberry boutique, closed due to sanctions, inside the GUM department store. Burberry has temporarily shuttered its three stores in Russia

St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Spasskaya Tower are reflected in a window of an almost empty and dark Burberry boutique, closed due to sanctions, inside the GUM department store. Burberry has temporarily shuttered its three stores in Russia

People walk past a Zara shop closed due to sanctions in a shopping mall in St. Petersburg. The Spanish fashion retailer Inditex, which owns Zara, halted trading in Russia in March, closing its 502 shops and stopping online sales

People walk past a Zara shop closed due to sanctions in a shopping mall in St. Petersburg. The Spanish fashion retailer Inditex, which owns Zara, halted trading in Russia in March, closing its 502 shops and stopping online sales

A notice on the glass-door warns that the store is closed due to technical problems. Officials in Moscow have sought to downplay the gravity of the Western sanctions, promising that Russia will adapt and take steps to stop the flight of foreign currency and capital

A notice on the glass-door warns that the store is closed due to technical problems. Officials in Moscow have sought to downplay the gravity of the Western sanctions, promising that Russia will adapt and take steps to stop the flight of foreign currency and capital

A visitor walks inside the GUM department store with a Dior boutique closed due to sanctions in Moscow. Along with Dior, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Fendi were among those to clear their shelves in the luxury shopping malls of the Russian capital as sanctions begin to bite

A visitor walks inside the GUM department store with a Dior boutique closed due to sanctions in Moscow. Along with Dior, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Fendi were among those to clear their shelves in the luxury shopping malls of the Russian capital as sanctions begin to bite

A young man plays guitar as other applicants to the Moscow Art Theatre School wait for their turn at an admission exam gather in front of a closed due to sanctions Starbucks street cafe, closed, in Moscow

A young man plays guitar as other applicants to the Moscow Art Theatre School wait for their turn at an admission exam gather in front of a closed due to sanctions Starbucks street cafe, closed, in Moscow

Pedestrians walking in a street are reflected in a window of the GUM department store with a Louis Vuitton boutique closed due to sanctions in Moscow

Pedestrians walking in a street are reflected in a window of the GUM department store with a Louis Vuitton boutique closed due to sanctions in Moscow

People walk along the coast of the Gulf of Finland in St. Petersburg, Russia, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, with the Business Tower Lakhta Centre, the headquarters of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom in the background

A food delivery man rides a scooter along a Louvre boutique closed due to sanctions in Moscow