How Ukraine’s top luxury department store adapted to war

It has a history with wartime. Built in 1939 on the chic central Khreshchatyk Street, Tsum stands for Tsentralʹnyy Universalʹnyy Magazyn, or Central Universal Department Store. (It is not associated with the famous Tsum in Moscow.) During World War II, the street, including the city hall, stock exchange and famous Ginzburg House 12-storey “skyscraper”, were destroyed. Tsum, though damaged, remained and its rationalist exterior was used as a model for rebuilding the street. During the Cold War, Soviet VIPS came to its fifth floor to buy luxury goods from the West that were forbidden to most USSR citizens. Today, the fifth floor holds homewares, gifts and children’s goods.

The store has in recent years played a role in growing Ukraine’s fashion design community, selling Ukrainian brands such as Anna October, Katerina Kvit, Ksenia Schnaider and Frolov, among many others. Forbes, last December, reported that Tsum sold 150 Ukrainian design brands, with sales of those labels quadrupling from 2018 to 2021.

Tsum’s Facebook page has now been campaigning for “Support Your Locals”, posting notices of Ukrainian labels that are returning to sales and production, some having moved temporarily to other countries, and others re-opening showrooms and deliveries on a limited basis. Many are donating proceeds to the war effort.

Chaika left her Khreshchatyk Street office on the evening of Wednesday 23 February expecting to return to the store as usual the next morning, so she brought no work materials with her. Two weeks ago, a colleague fetched Chaika’s computer, enabling her to work from the first floor of her home, where she and her husband relocated because the upstairs bedrooms are more exposed to shelling. They sleep on the living room sofas. “It’s super uncomfortable and we always sleep fully clothed,” she says.

Chaika prefers not to say where her son is, other than with his educational academy, confirming that they are able to speak regularly. Her husband has joined the regional civil guard. He works night shifts to patrol their neighborhood, which is suddenly brimming with strangers — many of them probably refugees, but who knows? “It’s not safe,” she says.

Lately, Chaika has been taking a midday hour-long break to walk through her neighborhood. She’s watchful, but being outside helps “to clear my head,” she says. “It’s already spring now.”

The day we first spoke, Chaika and her husband packed suitcases that still sit ready to go. “It’s a war. I don’t even have plans for the week. I live for the day. For the first time in my life, I understand the meaning of ‘live for the moment’,” Chaika says.

She wants to be a witness. “I want to remember everything. If we remember history, we should make lessons. We forgot about the Second World War. We didn’t appreciate what we had — not just Ukrainians, the whole world. The peace, it’s so fragile.”

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