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McDonald's fast food chain closes doors in annexed Crimean peninsula

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea -- Crimeans discovered to their chagrin Friday that they would have to live without Big Macs for a while after McDonald's suspended operations on the Ukrainian peninsula due to its annexation by Russia.

The omnipresent U.S. fast food chain said in a statement posted on its Ukrainian website and taped to the front doors of its shuttered restaurants that the decision was taken “for manufacturing reasons beyond the company's control.”

The news hit 21-year-old Lilia especially hard because she had been happily employed at McDonald's until Thursday and had no suspicion that she was about to be out of work.

“They told us that we would be closing because Kiev was no longer sending us any ingredients,” she said as a blonde girl next to her pulled at the restaurant's locked door in vain.

“Some people laughed. Others cried,” said Lilia. “It came as a surprise.”

Yet the move out of Crimea by the world's biggest hamburger maker reflects a much broader uncertainty among Western firms about their positions in Russia following the Kremlin's military intervention in Ukraine.

Washington and the European Union have both imposed targeted punitive measures against Moscow officials and threatened broader economic sanctions that could affect the operations of McDonald's and other companies with a broad Russian presence.

Ukraine's postal service has also asked the U.N. agency in charge of coordinating global mail to halt service to Crimea because the region's seizure had created “difficulties delivering postal items.”

Germany's Deutsche Post — the world's largest courier company — confirmed Friday that it had stopped delivering “letters and parcels (to Crimea) weighing up to 2,000 grams.”

It added that larger parcels still found their way to the scenic region that is especially popular with Russian and Ukrainian tourists because these were being carried out for the German giant by a local firm.

McDonald's insisted that it would like to reopen the stores in Crimea's main city of Simferopol and the ports of Sevastopol as Yalta “as soon as there is an opportunity.”

It also promised jobs for its Crimean employees at the chain's Ukrainian outlets and to relocate their family members to the mainland at its own expense.

But Lilia said only a handful of McDonald's 200 to 300 Crimean employees were likely to take up the offer.

Good Riddance!

McDonald's — famous for its red-haired clown and food that claims to taste the same no matter in which corner of the world you happen to hanker for a burger — has long served as a lightning rod for political criticism and anger at U.S. policies.

Friday's announcement was thus cheered by some top politicians in Russia who have been waging an increasingly vitriolic war of words with the West since last month's start of the Crimean campaign.

“It's very good that McDonald's is closing its branches in Crimea. Let them close their branches over here too,” said nationalist Russian lawmaker and former presidential contender Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

“As a form of sanctions, they have agreed not to poison Crimeans in Crimea,” he remarked. “And we are supposed to be offended that we're not going to eat their poisonous food!”

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