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World’s biggest burger chain signals its return to war-torn Ukraine

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McDonald’s Corp says it plans on reopening its restaurants in Ukraine over the next few months in an early sign of western businesses returning to the country, even as the conflict with Russia continues.

The world’s biggest burger chain closed all its restaurants in Ukraine and Russia in March, following Moscow’s invasion of the eastern European country.

McDonald’s had 109 restaurants in Ukraine, but did not specify how many it planned to reopen. It sold most of its 850 restaurants in Russia to one of its local licensees in May.

The decision to reopen came after “extensive consultation and discussion with Ukrainian officials, suppliers, and security specialists, and in consideration of our employees’ request to return to work,” Paul Pomroy, McDonald’s head of international operated markets, said in a message to employees on Thursday.

McDonald’s said it was working with suppliers to get products to restaurants and bring employees back on site with enhanced safety protocols.

The burger chain will begin restaurant reopenings in Kyiv and western Ukraine, areas which have been more shielded from the conflict.

Earlier this year, Ukraine’s government started a program to relocate businesses westwards from war-ravaged areas looking to prevent further damage to its economy.

KFC and Pizza Hut owner Yum Brands Inc said earlier this month nearly all of its stores in the country had reopened.

The move comes as heavy fighting still raged in Ukraine, especially in Donbas where Russia is pressing its campaign to seize the entire region.

Ukraine also accused Russia of firing rockets from around a captured nuclear power plant, killing at least 13 people and wounding 10, in the knowledge it would be risky for Ukraine to return fire.

There was no immediate comment from Russia, which has accused Ukraine of shelling the plant, something Kyiv denies.

Meanwhile two US newspapers cited unnamed Ukrainian officials as saying Ukrainian special forces had carried out an attack on Tuesday on an air base on the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula, destroying military aircraft.

Satellite pictures show devastation at a Russian air base in Crimea, hit days earlier in an attack that suggests Kyiv may have obtained new long-range strike capability.

The base, on the southwest coast of Crimea, had suffered extensive fire damage with the burnt-out husks of at least eight destroyed warplanes clearly visible.

Russia has denied aircraft were damaged and said explosions seen at the base on Tuesday were accidental.

Ukraine has not publicly claimed responsibility for the attack or said exactly how it was carried out.

“Officially, we are not confirming or denying anything; there are numerous scenarios for what might have happened … bearing in mind that there were several epicentres of explosions at exactly the same time,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters in a message.

Western military experts said the scale of the damage and the apparent precision of the strike suggested a powerful new capability with potentially important implications.

Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014, uses the peninsula as the base for its Black Sea fleet and as the main supply route for its invasion forces occupying southern Ukraine, where Kyiv is planning a counter-offensive in coming weeks.

“I’m not an intel analyst, but it doesn’t look good,” Mark Hertling, a former commander of US ground forces in Europe, wrote on Twitter, linking to an image of the devastation at the Russian base.

“I am. It’s very good,” replied his fellow retired four-star American general, Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and National Security Agency.

Exactly how the attack was carried out remains a mystery. Some Ukrainian officials have been quoted suggesting it may have been sabotage by infiltrators.

But the near identical impact craters and simultaneous explosions appear to indicate it was hit by a volley of new long-range weapons, capable of evading Russian defences.

The base is well beyond the range of advanced rockets that Western countries acknowledge sending to Ukraine so far, but within the range of more powerful versions that Kyiv has sought.

Ukraine also has its own surface-to-ship missiles which could theoretically be used to hit targets on land.

Although there have been few major advances on either side in recent weeks intense skirmishes are still under way.

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