How Ukraine’s biggest luxury store adapted to war

It has a history with war. Built in 1939 on the central and posh street of Khreshchatyk, Tsum stands for Tsentralʹnyy Universalʹnyy Magazyn, or Central Universal Department Store. (It is not associated with Moscow’s famous Tsum.) During World War II, the street, including the City Hall, the Stock Exchange, and the famous 12-story “skyscraper” of Ginzburg House, were destroyed. Tsum, though damaged, remained and its rationalist exterior served as a model for rebuilding the street. During the Cold War, Soviet VIPs would come to the fifth floor to buy Western luxuries forbidden to most citizens of the USSR. Today, the fifth floor contains household items, gifts, and children’s items.

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

Tsum’s Facebook page is now campaigning for “Support Your Locals”, posting notices of Ukrainian labels resuming sales and production, some having temporarily moved to other countries, and others reopening showrooms and deliveries on a limited basis. Many donate to the war effort.

Chaika left her office on Khreshchatyk Street on the evening of Wednesday, February 23, hoping to return to the store as usual the next morning, so she did not bring any work materials with her. Two weeks ago, a colleague fetched Chaika’s computer, allowing her to work from the first floor of her house, where she and her husband have moved because upstairs bedrooms are more exposed to bombardment. They sleep on the sofas in the living room. “It’s super uncomfortable and we always sleep fully clothed,” she says.

Chaika prefers not to say his son’s whereabouts, other than with his academy, confirming that they are able to speak on a regular basis. Her husband joined the regional civil guard. He works night shifts to patrol their neighborhood, which is suddenly full of strangers – many of whom are probably refugees, but who knows? “It’s not safe,” she said.

Recently, Chaika took a one-hour break at noon to walk around her neighborhood. She’s vigilant, but being outside helps me “clear my head,” she says. “It’s already spring now.”

The day we first spoke Chaika and her husband packed their bags which are always ready to go. “It’s a war. I don’t even have plans for the week. I live day by day. For the first time in my life, I understand the meaning of ‘living for the moment’,” says Chaika.

She wants to be a witness. “I want to remember everything. If we remember history, we should learn lessons. We have forgotten the Second World War. We don’t appreciate what we had — not just Ukrainians, the whole world. Peace is so fragile.

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