Red Square Euro Bistro and Vodka Bar has been a Writer’s Square destination for meaty cabbage rolls, ruby red borsch, and a laundry list of vodkas for nearly 20 years. But since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, the restaurant—which is known for its Russian fare—has become a different sort of target.
“We have our fair share of trolling,” co-owner Max Ionikh says. “Most of it is nasty phone calls and emails and posts on social media. They don’t know us. They’re trolling—everyone is brave behind their computer screen.”
Ionikh notes that what he’s experienced hasn’t risen to the level of some of the anti-Russian discrimination happening in other parts of the country and world right now. Across Europe and in larger American cities, some businesses have changed their names to distance themselves from their Russian identities. Ionikh doesn’t have any plans to change the name of Red Square (a nod to the largest and oldest squares in Moscow); and he hopes that people understand that just because someone might be Russian, that doesn’t mean they support the war.
“It’s not a Russian war against Ukraine; it’s Putin’s war against Ukraine. It’s one insane individual waging an atrocious war against an innocent country. That’s where I stand,” he says. “I can’t think of any sane person that would be for this war…I have family in Russia still, and they’re not for it.”
A spokesperson for the Denver Police Department said that they haven’t heard of any bias-motivated reports regarding harassment of Russian-owned businesses or Russian individuals in general. But the department encourages anyone feeling like they’ve been a victim of such crimes to alert the police.
At the Ukrainian-owned Wake & Take coffee shop in Aurora, owner Dmytro Sokulskyi says it’s been business as usual at the nine-month-old cafe since the invasion. In March, Governor Jared Polis participated in a roundtable discussion with members of the Ukrainian community about the war at the business. Sokulskyi stresses the interconnectedness of many Russians and Ukrainians, noting that his own family has roots in both countries.
“After the war started, nothing has changed. The same amount of people come into us. We have a lot of people from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan coming in,” Sokulskyi says. “People need to understand that it’s not a problem with the restaurant [owners like Red Square’s]; it’s a problem with the government.”
Many Russians departed the former Soviet Union to come to the United States to pursue a better life, Sokulskyi says. “People left that country because it was a very bad life over there,” he says. “That’s why they left the country. That’s why we left the country [Ukraine].”
Acting out in discriminatory or hateful ways as a reaction to world events is nothing new. Anti-Asian hate crimes have risen sharply since 2020, and Asian restaurant owners have seen their businesses targeted. Red Square’s Ionikh says it’s hard to gauge how his restaurant’s business has been affected since the invasion began—with the last couple years being so thrown off from COVID, there’s not really any “normal” to compare to—but he notes that Red Square’s long history in Denver and its core of regulars certainly helps.
“We’ve been there for almost 19 years, so we have tons of loyal clientele that know us very well and have been very supportive,” Ionikh says. “They come and check on us.”