Canada

Ontario's liquor retailer pulls vodka brand after Ukrainians complain name refers to Stalin

Ontario's provincially owned liquor retailer is no longer selling a Russian vodka brand due to complaints from the Ukrainian community that the name evokes memories of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. 

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) was selling Stalinskaya Silver Vodka online and in its stores. 

The vodka company's website says the name was inspired by the Russian word "stal" — meaning steel. Stalinskaya, it says, means strength. 

But for Ukrainians, the memories dredged up by the use of the name are anything but positive. 

"Our first reaction was one of shock and disappointment," said Nick Krawetz, one of many in the province's Ukrainian community who contacted the LCBO to demand the brand be taken off its shelves.

"It's definitely offensive just given the history."

Joseph Stalin ruled from 1927 until his death in 1954, sending around a million citizens to labour camps and executing about 700,000 people. His campaign to collectivize agriculture resulted in a famine in the early 1930s that killed millions of people in Ukraine and other parts of the Soviet Union.

Krawetz was browsing the LCBO website when he stumbled upon the brand of vodka. 

"It definitely caught my attention. [It] just seems so odd that such a product would even be on that website. And so it caught me by surprise," he said. 

"I felt inclined to reach out and voice my concerns because I don't think that product has a place in Ontario or any province or territory in our country."

Ukrainian community voice their concerns

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) sent a letter to the LCBO urging the vodka brand be removed. 

"I think anything that makes reference to Stalin needs to be put in the context of him being now very much recognized as a murderous dictator who used his communist regime to kill millions of people in Ukraine and in other parts of the Soviet Union," said Ihor Michalchyshyn, the CEO and director of the UCC.

The LCBO responded to the concerns, saying it has stopped selling Stalinskaya online and in its stores. 

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (Josif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, 1879 - 1953). (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

"Following feedback from a number of our customers, the LCBO further reviewed Stalinskaya Silver Vodka and found it does not meet the LCBO's name and labelling standards and is no longer available for sale through the LCBO," the statement read. 

CBC Toronto has reached out to Stalinskaya but has not received a response. 

Using Soviet symbols 'very inappropriate,' UCC says

The UCC says it wants all businesses to be mindful when using symbols or names associated with the Soviet Union.

"Unfortunately, we've seen that people, various companies or individuals try to use the Soviet Union, the USSR, as a hip or cool or ironic branding," said Michalchyshyn.

"For us and for many other communities who suffered because of the Soviet Union, we don't see it that way. We see it [as] very inappropriate."

The UCC wants to review the LCBO's community and product standards to make sure nothing like this happens again. 

"Our job is to educate people about Stalin, about the impact of his terror on the Soviet Union, on the people of Ukraine, and, quite frankly, on the descendents in Canada." Michalchyshyn said.

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