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The reopening of McDonald's in Ukraine is serving up a reminder of life before war

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Russia today has announced the mobilization of up to 300,000 reservists for its war in Ukraine. But, as NPR's Julian Hayda reports from Kyiv, many are unfazed by the news and are instead going to McDonald's, which has just reopened in the Ukrainian capital.

JULIAN HAYDA, BYLINE: Every Ukrainian of a certain age remembers when the first McDonald's opened in the Soviet Union in 1990. Even though a meal there cost half a day's salary, hundreds lined up for the American burgers, as shown by this news report from the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: "I thought they wanted to launch nuclear rockets at us, but they gave us McDonald's and peace instead," says a boy, clutching a Coca-Cola. Like blue jeans and chewing gum, the arrival of McDonald's signaled the end of the Soviet Union. It seemed like the newly independent countries left in its wake - Russia and Ukraine especially - might just embrace democracy and Western culture. But Russia took a different path, becoming increasingly authoritarian under President Vladimir Putin. As for Ukraine, it was caught between Russia and the West. Then, this winter, Russia invaded. Like the Soviet Union, the Kremlin is once again isolated, and Western sanctions imposed because of the war meant McDonald's pulled out of the country.

YAROSLAV HOLOVATENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: "I hope McDonald's never goes back to Russia. They would deserve it," says Yaroslav Holovatenko as he clutches his own Quarter Pounder in a cold and rainy park. He's holding that burger really tight because McDonald's also left Ukraine when the war began, though he doesn't blame foreign companies for not wanting to put their employees at risk in a war zone. On Tuesday, three branches reopened for delivery in Kyiv, a sign that the danger seems to have passed here. Dozens of people are camping out in front of the restaurants, having delivery drivers carry out their orders for them. A gaggle of boys have been refreshing their iPhones for a chance to get...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: ...Three Big Mac combo meals, a Quarter Pounder, four McFlurries, worth about 30 bucks, or about two days' pay in Ukraine. Some waited up to 3 hours for their food. I asked Holovatenko if he feels the same way people did when McDonald's first opened in these parts three decades ago.

HOLOVATENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: "We weren't even alive then," he says. "But we all know about it, and this must be what it felt like." He and his friends schlepped all the way across town to the branches that have reopened. It's a reminder of life before the war and what they could still lose if Russia wins. Julian Hayda, NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julian Hayda