BazaAr Supermarkets announced that it will cease imports of Russian products on Feb. 28 in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
BazaAr, also known as Baza, is an international chain of supermarkets with stores all throughout Boston, including a Newton location.
“We really, really understand how hard it is and how awful it is,” Sabina Roytman, a co-owner of the chain, said. “Every day, we take a look at the news, [and] we hope that freedom [for Ukrainians] is going to come and that people will be able to rebuild the country.”
For the owners, the decision to stop importing Russian products was neither morally nor financially difficult, Roytman said. Imported Russian goods, such as Russian Standard Vodka, accounted for only three to five percent of the chain’s stock, she said.
The chain also carries goods from other Eastern European countries as well as products made in the US by immigrants from former Soviet Union countries. But Roytman said some customers have struggled to differentiate between these products and Russian products, often asking whether certain goods are Russian—which, since Feb. 28, they are not. Since the invasion, many consumers have made an increased effort to discern which products are Russian and which are not, aligning with national boycotts of Russian products.
“There was a huge wave of emigration … from all the [Soviet] republics and Russia in the ’80s and ’90s,” Roytman said. “This wave came into the US, and a lot of people have settled down in the New York area, and there are factories right now who are producing cold cuts or cheeses or whatever else using the old recipes. … [These products] have never been Russian.”
The BazaAr owners each came to the US as refugees from Soviet-era Moldova and Ukraine, according to Roytman.
Besides ceasing Russian imports, Roytman said the stores are also promoting Ukrainian foods such as borscht and potato dumplings.
The chain, however, foresees difficulties securing future products from Ukraine due to the invasion, she said. The supermarket imports its Ukrainian goods through local wholesalers, who Roytman said the war will likely affect.
“It’s actually very sad that for a certain amount of time, we’re not gonna be able, you know, to offer [more Ukrainian goods],” Roytman said. “We hope that Ukraine wins in this war … and then the products [are] going to come again.”
Aside from refusing Russian imports, the chain has made monetary donations to Ukraine and helped the family members of BazaAr workers escape Ukraine, Roytman said.
“We also have some staff members whose families are struggling right now,” she said. “So we helped them. Some of them we helped, you know, using our connections, and some of them were able to cross the border and they are in Moldova right now.”
The chain employs many people of Eastern European origins, including individuals from both Russian and Ukrainian. Roytman said Russian and Ukrainian staffers continue to get along perfectly fine in the stores, despite stereotypical assumptions that Russian Americans are pro-Kremlin.
Roytman further condemned the rise of stereotypes against Russian Americans, drawing comparisons to the rise of anti-Chinese sentiment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This right now, [this] reminds me of … [when] COVID started,” Roytman said. “Everywhere in the media they told us ‘don’t go to Chinatown,’ or ‘don’t buy Chinese food.’ I personally hated it.”
Roytman said that the owners and many staff members of BazaAr said they stand in unity in support of Ukraine.
“Until the war started, we didn’t even know who was Russian and who was Ukrainian because we were all international,” she said. “We didn’t care. … Therefore, there were no conflicts. We are all in this together, and we all hope that freedom is gonna come to Ukraine.”
Featured Image by Johnathan Ye / Heights Senior Staff