15 June, 04:26 PM

Ukrainian retail workers talk about challenges of doing business during full-scale invasion

We continue publishing stories of enormously brave Ukrainian men and women who have been staying at their jobs despite Russian rockets and missiles flying in the skies.

Earlier, Ukrainian drivers told us their stories of delivering goods as air sirens blare. Grocery shop workers told about how they had to learn how to bake bread to ensure there was a supply for customers. Postal service workers told us about their extremely tough working hours and risks of working in areas close to combat zones.

This time we hear from retail sectors workers who have gone through the experiences of war and occupation, while some still work close to combat areas. They have not been broken by the challenges. Instead, they are continuing to do their work, and have faith in Ukraine’s ultimate victory.

Sergiy Kobel

Director of a Rozetka delivery point in Kyiv

“At the same time we were sellers, loaders and psychologists”

“Son, wake up! The war has started!” These were the words that I heard when my mom called me at 5 a.m. on Feb. 24. I can still remember them. I don’t think they will ever leave my head.

That day me and my colleagues decided to show up at work. We had to prepare our delivery point for something that we weren’t prepared for ourselves.

Public transportation in Kyiv wasn’t working properly, with all kinds of interruptions, while I have to travel to work almost 50 kilometers. But what can you do? You take your backpack, take your bike and ride – despite cold weather and traffic jams.

Our team opened a separate outlet for serving our clients closer to the metro station, so we could more easily get to the bomb shelter when needed.

Every once in a while people would come over to replenish their food and water supplies, and powerbanks for charging their phones, and other essential goods. The psychological atmosphere was very tense, but we tried to be supportive for our clients.

Staff from different Rozetka outlets joined us at were we worked.

We had 36-hour-long shifts, sometimes working through the night. Each of us was doing all he or she could. For our clients, we were sellers, couriers, loaders, logistics managers, consultants and even psychologists at the same time.

During first days of the war, our company temporarily stopped delivering goods, while all the bridges in Kyiv were shut. This is why we had to use our own vehicles to drive when the air sirens were on, crossing the territorial defense postings to finally get the necessary goods from storages to our shop.

Once there was this elderly lady who came to us to buy food for her cat. We helped her with getting this big bag of food to her house. Then there was this man whose phone needed a recharge – so we let him recharge it in our shop. Each of us felt that it’s not just doing our work, that’s helping people around what matters.

Once, at the beginning of March, right after lunch I heard a massive explosion. I went outside immediately and saw people, who were definitely shocked and kept staring at the skies above.

They showed me a video on a phone where a Ukrainian air-defense system shot down a Russian rocket. I watched this and came to conclusion that this rocket had flown just over our heads, over the heads of all of us who were in the shop that day. I can’t even imagine what would happen to me and my colleagues were it not for the air-defense system doing its job properly.

Right now, me and my team continue to work at a Rozetka delivery point in one of the residential districts in Kyiv. We sell the goods we have and look for more supplies as we get more requests from our clients. Young families mostly ask for more baby food, volunteers ask for gadgets and other things needed for the army, self-defense fighters ask for food and cigarettes. We supply to our clients all they need. And we support them with our faith in victory.

Olena Zheldak

Director of Silpo grocery store in Slavutych

“During the Russian blockade, we became the city’s key bread producing factory.”

I always wake up at 5 a.m. to be on time for the morning shift at our grocery store. On Feb. 24, I followed this algorithm too. When I arrived at the store, my colleagues told me that the war had started. In several hours the first explosions hit area close to Slavutych.

Some people panicked. But I tried to keep myself calm and do the work. Together with some of our colleagues, I was making sure our clients had everything they needed at that moment.

My brother was trying to persuade me to evacuate abroad – together with his wife. I said that I wanted to stay in Slavutych – that’s my principal position. My mother supported my decision. The Russian army came to a village that is close to a place where my mother lives, so I didn’t have any connections with her for a month. Fortunately, she’s alright now.

After Feb. 24, Slavutych was effectively blocked by the Russians. The invaders wouldn’t let any cargo vehicles carrying goods enter the city. The shelves in our store became empty. But the worst thing was that we ran out of bread. That’s why me and my colleagues decided to bake it with our own hands.

The city administration helped us to find flour for this. It wasn’t high-quality flour – it was gray, with these big uncut pieces of grain. But it was something. Later, we put announcements on Slavutych streets asking people to bring any yeast they had. People started bringing the yeast, or sometimes even beer, that you can still use to bake bread.

That’s how our store temporarily became a key bakery in Slavutych. We had cashiers, sellers, cooks, and commercial staff baking bread. None of them was trained as bakers.

We had shifts with 15 people working during each of them. We kept working day and night, producing 2,000 loafs of bread daily. I’m still surprised that our dough mixer, which is a minimalistic 40-liter model, coped with all the workload.

The guys from the local territorial defense paid us regular visits. They brough us food, cooking utensils, and boxes for loading the bread. These guys looked tired, but had high morale and positive moods. A couple of times they took me home really late at night.

In our spare time me and my colleagues went to the street protest against the Russian occupation. The Russians should understand: Slavutych is Ukraine, we won’t give up on our city.

At the end of March, the Russians left Slavutych. For some time we still had worries that they would be back, eventually. But in April the Ukrainian army came to our city.

Then Slavutych started its journey back to normality and our store resumed its usual commercial operations. But I will never forget the occupation days. Fortunately, it’s not only negative emotions that I had during the occupation period. I have really warm memories about how we baked our bread.

Mykola Rozenko

Ditector of EVA pharmacy chain in Mykolayiv Oblast

“After several hours of shelling we got back to work”

I have a habit of waking up early, walking my dog and then starting preparations to go to work. But on Feb. 24 I was still sleeping when my relatives started calling me. Then, our chats where we talk with colleagues went crazy – they were full of messages, which is unusual for this early hour.

I made a decision that I wouldn’t be going anywhere, despite the war, and will keep working. The work of public transportation was interrupted, which is why I had to travel to work on foot. I usually arrived at work at 7.30 a.m.

Our clients looked really worried. They were buying mostly basic hygiene goods, shampoos, detergent and other essentials. Our cashiers were distributing candies for kids.

Since Feb. 24, I’ve been talking to my colleagues daily because I feel I have responsibility for them. Now we’re much more united in what we’re doing than ever before.

After some explosions, shops get their windows and doors broken. We use wooden boards to replace the glass in the windows and resume work in a couple of hours when such a thing happens.

Bomb shelling could sometimes take whole days.

Since the beginning of the war, we have been collecting requests for goods for the needs of the Ukrainian army and territorial defense, but also hospitals, orphanages, and refuges. People come over to our stores and say “Thank you” in person. That inspires us to keep working, to forget about the fears we have.

Many of my colleagues joined the army to be on the frontlines. Our company is supporting them, we talk all the time. Sometimes our soldiers get in really difficult situations, but they don’t lose their positive mood and are full of faith in Ukraine’s victory.

I don’t think I’m a superhero. But I feel that I’m doing something that is my obligation on the one hand, and something essentially needed for Ukrainians on the other hand. I’m proud to be working with people who have been doing their job for four months now, while shelling and explosions are still here almost daily.

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