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DonMak, Burger Impersonator

Would you like a side of fries to go with your geopolitical turmoil?

Alex Swerdloff

Photo by Aleksey Filippov/ Stringer for Getty Images

This story appeared in the March issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

If you live in Donetsk, Ukraine—an industrial city of almost 1 million, now under the de facto control of the Donetsk People's Republic, a group of pro-Russian separatists who declared independence in 2014—you probably haven't had much fast food of late.

The war-torn city sat on the front line of the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, and its people faced starvation during the conflict. Western sanctions soon followed, along with the shuttering of its McDonald's outlets. Fast food became a point of contention and an emblem of Western decadence throughout lands backed and controlled by Russia. Sergei Aksyonov, the prime minister of nearby Crimea, expressed the pro-Russian view when he said, back in 2014, "We will be healthier" without it.

But life moves on, and now some tenacious entrepreneurs are intent on filling the gap in the market. They are retrofitting abandoned McDonald's restaurants throughout the city of Donetsk and rebranding them DonMaks.

Golden arches? Check. Happy Meals? Of course. It's McDonald's, but Russian-backed-separatist
style.

In a promotional video for the newly rebranded chain, an unnamed pitchman says, "As you may remember, kids loved that fast food. They used to have a special meal for kids with toys. Now it's gonna be called… well, 'kids' meal.' As simple as that. These cool, colorful packages are made in the DPR. They've been printed in the publishing facility near Donetsk."

The packaging is in Cyrillic, the ingredients are purported to be local, and the landlord of the DonMak locations is the Donetsk People's Republic Property Fund, which declared the properties "abandoned" by their previous owner.

McDonald's, which ignored our repeated requests for comment, has seen its share of alleged trademark violations and rip-offs worldwide. Throughout Russia, the chain is facing a politically driven love-hate relationship with Western-style fast food, but in Donetsk, it is all playing out under the sign of a big golden M.

Anna, a manager of one of the DonMak outlets in Donetsk, told us that the three locations there are all doing well. She said the chain hasn't received any correspondence from McDonald's or threats of litigation. Anna explained that the mission of DonMak is to reestablish the comforts of fast food for the locals and provide something of an escape, "so the people of Donetsk don't feel how deeply they are cut out from the rest of the world."

Her take on DonMak's success? "We are beyond any politics," she said.