An upscale Russian supermarket chain has issued a public apology after posting an ad featuring a lesbian couple shopping at their store.
VkusVill’s decision to remove the ad prompted an angry backlash from Moscow liberals and other Russian LGBTQ allies, who criticized the supermarket chain’s “cowardice” and said they would boycott the store.
The channel was apparently more concerned with a conservative backlash for offering a modest portrayal of queer life in Russia. The announcement was seen as a challenge to Russia’s “gay propaganda” law which prohibits the “promotion of non-traditional sex with minors”.
A representative for VkusVill declined to answer questions from the Guardian about whether the supermarket chain had been pressed to remove the ad.
On Sunday, VkusVill apologized for its “hurtful” photoshoot of a lesbian couple, Yuma and Zhenya, and their children, Mila and Alina, who said they enjoyed the onigiri rice balls with mushrooms from the supermarket and that their favorite product was hummus.
“We believe it would be disingenuous not to introduce the families of our real clients,” read the original post, which contained an 18+ warning to comply with local law.
A few days later, the ad was gone. In its place, the channel issued an apology highlighting photographs of heterosexual couples and appearing to blame for the announcement on a small group of its staff.
“This space featured an article that hurt a lot of our customers, as well as employees,” read a follow-up Instagram post, adding that the goal of the supermarket was to offer fresh produce and not to present “political or social opinions”.
“We are sorry that this happened and see the publication as our mistake, a manifestation of the unprofessional nature of some employees. It was signed by senior executives of the company, including its founder Andrey Krivenko.
The original announcement was seized by conservative Russian figures, including notoriously anti-gay St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov.