Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday urged French companies established in Russia to stop supporting the Russian "war machine" and to leave the country, citing Renault, Auchan and Leroy Merlin.
"French companies must leave the Russian market. Renault, Auchan, Leroy Merlin and others, they must stop being sponsors of Russia's war machine", he declared in a speech broadcast by video conference before French deputies and senators.
"They must stop funding the murder of children and women, rape," he said. "Everyone will remember that values are worth more than profits," he warned.
Renault followed up on Wednesday evening to announce it was suspending activities at its factory in Moscow immediately, and would evaluate options concerning its participation in its Russian subsidiary AvtoVAZ.
The French carmaker said it was "acting responsibly towards its 45,000 employees in Russia".
Earlier in the evening, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted to call for a global boycott of Renault.
Russia is Renault's second largest market in the world behind Europe. The AvtoVAZ subsidiary halted part of its production in mid-March due to a shortage of components linked to Western sanctions imposed on Russia.
Renault's presence in Russia is all the more high profile due to its association with the public conglomerate Rostec, whose CEO Sergey Chemezov is an ally of Vladimir Putin.
The DIY brand Leroy Merlin, for whom the Russian market is second behind France, employs 36,000 people in the country, in 107 hypermarkets and 62 cities.
Employees of the group's Ukrainian branch asked management on Monday to stop operating in Russia after a Leroy Merlin store in Kyiv was bombed.
The Auchan supermarket chain also has a strong presence across Russia, where it runs 231 stores for a turnover of €3.2 billion, more than 10% of its overall activity.
The French group TotalEnergies, also criticised for its presence in Russia, announced on Tuesday that it would stop buying Russian oil or oil products, by the end of the year at the latest.
Mariupol 'like the ruins of Verdun'
Zelenskyy compared the Russian destruction in his country to the Battle of Verdun in World War One.
"Mariupol and other cities remind us of Verdun," Volodymyr Zelenskyy said by video link.
'The Russian army does not distinguish between the objects they target, they destroy everything: residential districts, hospitals, schools, universities, everything," he said. "They've brought terror to Ukrainian territory."
The Ukrainian president thanked his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron for his “true leadership” over the war. But he called on France for more assistance.
He said he expected France to help Ukraine put an end to this "war against freedom, equality and fraternity" and eventually adhere to the European Union. "We expect from France, from your leadership (...), that you help restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine," Zelenskyy said.
The president, who received a standing ovation, was continuing his campaign for Western countries to impose tougher sanctions on Russia.
Zelenskyy addressed Italian MPs on Tuesday, saying the death of more than a hundred children in Ukraine was the "price of the procrastination on pressuring Russia to stop this war”.
Wednesday's address takes place at a significant moment in French politics, with the first round of the country's presidential election a mere 18 days away.