Moscow Shutters 4 McDonalds for Poor Sanitation, But You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

Ronald McDonald would probably be horrified at this dysfunctional bathroom at a Russian hospital. Images mixed by author.

Ronald McDonald would probably be horrified at this dysfunctional bathroom at a Russian hospital. Images mixed by author.

Russia has closed four McDonald's locations in Moscow for “sanitary violations” in what some say is just another stage of the sanctions war. The RuNet exploded with disbelief—and photos of Russian bathrooms.

The average Westerner might not think of a McDonald's restaurant as a clean and inviting space. The food is nothing to write home about, and the restrooms are usually gross. Not so in Russia, where most of the McDonald's locations are spotless and attract a crowd, not least due to free bathroom access. Public restrooms are still scarce in Russia, and even in major cities citizens continue to be grateful to places like McDonald's for “years of free WCs.” So when the Russian consumer watchdog inspected and promptly shut down four of the brand's restaurants in Moscow, including the oldest Russian McDonald's, Russians took to social media to complain.

The parody account Fake_MIDRF reminded readers that the first McDonald's was opened in Moscow in 1990, when the USSR was still (mostly) intact:

We closed down the first McDonalds—we'll rebuild the USSR too!

While there were plenty of jokes about the quality of the food and the sanctions (TJournal has a nice collection, in Russian), some of the discussions took a darker turn. As netizens expressed their disbelief at the usually spotless McDonald's being forced to close for “sanitary violations,” some started posting images of bathrooms and washrooms from their local hospitals. Twitter user @jamchronicle started the trend from Yekaterinburg:

In Moscow 4 McDonald's were shut down for unsanitary conditions. Certainly no match for city hospital #23 in Yekaterinburg.

A trickle soon turned into a flood, as the original tweet gained hundreds of retweets. People started sharing their own stories of horrific hospital conditions in various parts of Russia.

User Алла tweeted a photo from Saint Petersburg:

Or the Filatov hospital in Piter [Saint Petersburg].

Another user, vlad from Saratov, added some more shocking bathroom images:

Or in Saratov.

5strike5 on Twitter added this haunting corridor from a Moscow suburb, Balashikha:

Nor a match for the Dermatology and Venereal Disease Hospital in Balashikha.

It's seriously scary, you can shoot a horror movie there, no props needed:) And this is a suburb close to Moscow…

As netizens shared stories about the awful conditions in hospitals, it seemed no one was shocked. Instead, user Викси reminded others that these hospitals were supposed to be run and maintained from the state budget, funded by the taxes ordinary Russians pay.

Look at this and think: where is the taxpayers’ money going?

That a McDonald's closure escalated to horror stories of dilapidated restrooms, and that these testimonies have become a kind of digital activism tactic is not surprising, for Russia seems to have a history of underfunded hospitals, and the issue remains unaddressed. In March of this year, in a gesture of goodwill to the newly annexed territory, the governor of the Greater Moscow Area pledged 40 million roubles for renovation of a children's hospital in Sudak, Crimea. RuNet users ridiculed the decision and pointed out that the governor probably never bothered to visit hospitals in his own constituency, which were falling apart.

Irina Filippova retweeted a photo from a local hospital near Moscow that needed little comment:

The Greater Moscow Area governor gives 40 million roubles from the regional budget to renovate a Crimean hospital. Has he been to Greater Moscow Area hospitals?

Twitter user Deni88 posted another photo of a roomful of children at a Korolevo hospital whose walls have seen better days:

This photo shows a hospital in Korolevo, in Moscow region. The same region whose governor sent 40m to renovate a hospital in Crimea.

In the end, closing the McDonald's locations might not harm the chain (which has hundreds of other locations in Russia) or its fans (who can go to Burger King). What it has already done, however, is start a necessary conversation about the double standards of Russian authorities when it comes to “sanitary conditions” in state-funded institutions, as well as the pervasive corruption of local government. A free loo at a downtown location is a bonus, but a functioning and clean toilet at a children's hospital is a necessity.

The curious practice of photo witnessing emerges as a common tactic that Russians engage in when their rage with the government's decisions boils over. Might it be that the Kremlin is afraid of exactly these kinds of discussions online when it imposes new restrictions on Internet users? If so, it's in for a difficult time. Because Russians love to vent on social networks.


  • Jake Turk

    We should revive the first Cold War’s jargon for this second Cold War. Back then, the West was the First World and the Soviet bloc was the Second World, leaving developing countries as the Third World. Russia isn’t quite as dire as the Third World (at least not yet), but its First World aspirations are still a long, long way from reality. “Second World” in the non-ideological purely socioeconomic sense describes it perfectly. Pick a hundred of them at random, and you have one billionaire, about twenty or thirty “normal” middle-class people, and scores of peasants looking at these photos and wondering what the uproar is about while simultaneously taking tremendous personal pride in that one billionaire who wouldn’t so much as slow down if his Benz drove over them in the street.

  • So, the purpose of Kevin’s original tweet appears to be to create the misleading impression that the Photoshopped Ronald McDonald was looking at an actual McDonald’s toilet, instead of a toilet in a hospital in Ekaterinburg. Many people never get beyond a tweet and a re-tweet. Kevin’s mixology FTW!

    Then, continuing on, the effect of this article seems to be to put a lot of dirty Russian toilets that have always existed next to the brand name “McDonalds”. Mission accomplished!

    • Efrem

      Ronald the Clown looked at an actual McDo toilet and was so shocked that he had to be sent to a hospital for psychological treatment; that’s why the image shows him in the hospital’s toilet.

      • Actually, what happened, as I saw on Twitter yesterday, is that the propagandists were told to make a giant effigy of a toilet and dump McDonald’s products into it. So there were some pictures of that scene on cue. The message was clear: “Associate McDonald’s with a toilet.”

        As usual, Kevin got even more creative. Mission accomplished!

        • Tetyana Lokot

          Catherine, Kevin did not write this story and did not make the image. I did. The story is about Russians complaining of awful bathrooms in state hospitals, not associating McDonald’s with a toilet.

          • That’s great that you’re doing the mash-ups just like Kevin, then.

            The point is that in his tweet, with this image, he has indeed associated Ronald McDonald and the McDonald’s story with a toilet. Most people do not go beyond a tweet, they even re-tweet without clicking on links.

            Just like the tweet of the toilet effigy.

            If authentic Russians also authentically tweeted about terrible toilets, gosh, that’s great, makes it all so much more…authentic.

          • Kevin Rothrock

            The Fitzpatrick seal of authenticity! Yes!

          • No, it’s not my seal of authenticity, just yours.

  • […] Last month, when the government closed McDonald's iconic locations in Moscow, RuNet users were quick to irony, sharing photos of filthy hospitals, where sanitation inspectors, it seems, don't bother to […]

  • […] McDonald's-filialen in Moskou en het duurde niet lang of de gebruikers van RuNet reageerden ironisch [en] met foto's van smerige ziekenhuizen waar de inspectie van volksgezondheid blijkbaar nooit […]

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