The furniture store's Face from the Cover contest offered members of the public the opportunity to visit a store anywhere in Russia and pose in front of a professional photographer. Participants could then upload their picture to the Swedish chain's website where other people voted for their favourite.
The winning photograph will become the cover of the next Ikea Russia catalogue, the brand said, and the winners will get undisclosed "Ikea prizes".
According to the Ikea website a “creative approach and good humour will increase your chances of winning", but actually it was a campaign by young people on Russian social media site VK that helped Lev Polyakov and his boyfriend, who posed together at the Khimki store in Moscow, secure more than 7,600 votes - over 7,500 more than the runner up.
According to Gay Star News the group ‘Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality’ urged their 20,000 followers to vote for the same-sex couple, propelling them towards victory.
The story attracted international media attention, particularly since a law recently introduced in Russia prohibits any publication from promoting a “distorted understanding” of gay and heterosexual relations as “socially equivalent”.
In 2015, Ikea ceased publishing an online magazine in the country amid concerns it was violating the 'gay propaganda' law.
In March, the store released a statement saying they would "observe the legislation of the countries where we work", and therefore had decided to stop producing the magazine which showed same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples enjoying the company's products.
However, on this occasion an Ikea Russia spokesman told Gay Star News on Wednesday they would not censor the entry.
The spokesman said: “‘We at Ikea are for the many. We welcome anybody regardless of their age, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical ability, ethnicity, race, nationality, religion, marital or family status, or any other dimension of their identity.
“This principal permeates every aspect of Ikea, be it employment, or any event organised by Ikea. In the contest, as in any activities promoted by Ikea, the very same non-discriminating principles apply.”
But on Thursday, the couple's photograph had been removed. Ikea told The Independent: "The picture was removed from the contest Face from the Cover at the request of the owner."
They added: "This contest is intended to create engagement for inspiring home furnishing. It’s not for us at Ikea to decide sexual orientation or anything else of a participant’s identity."
It was not possible to contact Mr Polyakov or his boyfriend to verify the claim they had asked for the picture to be removed.
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