Retailers voice solidarity with Ukraine amid war

By Luke Barras-hill |

Poland has warmly welcomed Ukrainians that have been forced to flee across the border. Source: UNHCR/Chris Melzer.

Leaders at Lagardère Travel Retail and Gebr. Heinemann have offered their comments on the rapidly unfolding crisis in Ukraine and the humanitarian shockwaves the invasion is causing across Europe and globe.

Speaking to TRBusiness last week during the opening of Aelia Duty Free’s new eco-responsible store at Geneva International Airport, Frédéric Chevalier, Regional COO and Member of the Executive Committee at Lagardère Travel Retail said: “Our first reaction goes to the people of the Ukraine immensely affected by a situation that is catastrophic.

“There is no word to qualify what is happening there. We have some Ukrainian employees, including in Geneva, coming from Ukraine and other countries and our thoughts go to them and their families.

“From a business standpoint, we are not in Russia or Ukraine so not that much exposed. We are exposed to the Russian and Ukrainian traffic… even with the Covid situation, we don’t believe it [the Ukraine invasion] will be a massive impact for us. However – and there is a big question mark – subject to the way the overall situation evolves. Obviously, nobody can tell.

“There will be some impacts, but I don’t see that much impact across the supply chain side. Rather, I think we will see more difficulties in flight planning from airlines and organising flights and we’ve seen this with airlines cancelling or rerouting. That is going to create an additional layer of difficulty on top of the Covid situation. My guess is it will come more from that side in the weeks to come.”

UNHCR: MILLIONS MORE COULD FLEE

As reported, travel retail stakeholders including Gebr. Heinemann and JV partner BF&GH operating at Kyiv’s Boryspil International Airport, Kyiv Zhuliany and Lviv Airports, had issued immediate reaction to TRBusiness in the wake of the invasion late last month.

In a carefully worded follow-up statement issued via LinkedIn last week, Gebr. Heinemann Chief Executive Officer Max Heinemann said the Hamburg-headquartered travel retailer was ‘stunned and saddened’ by the war flaring up in Europe.

He stated: “We are following the situation in Ukraine with deep dismay. We as Gebr. Heinemann have long-standing and very close relations with #Ukraine as well as Russia. We are Europeans with all our hearts. War cannot create anything but pointless misery and cruelty.

Frédéric Chevalier, Regional COO at Lagardère Travel Retail, shared his comments on the crisis during last week’s opening of Aelia Duty Free’s new eco store in Geneva.

“We have employees in both countries and we are deeply concerned about our staff and their families in Ukraine. Many employees in neighbouring countries have offered humanitarian support and are trying their best to help their colleagues in Ukraine. We are touched by this family spirit and strongly support these actions.

“Wherever our Ukrainian employees in need of help arrive in a country or a city where we as Heinemann operate, we will welcome and support them with transportation and accommodation.

“We will help our colleagues directly and personally. We will welcome them into our local community, take care of them and help them with all administrative procedures. A big thank you for this also to our colleagues in Hungary, Austria, Germany, Denmark and Lithuania.”

As the conflict nears the end of its second week, more than one million refugees have been forced to flee Ukraine where they are seeking sanctuary in nearby countries, including Poland and Moldova which border Ukraine.

Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency), said in a statement on 3 March: “I have worked in refugee emergencies for almost 40 years, and rarely have I seen an exodus as rapid as this one.

“Hour by hour, minute by minute, more people are fleeing the terrifying reality of violence. Countless have been displaced inside the country. And unless there is an immediate end to the conflict, millions more are likely to be forced to flee Ukraine.”

The UNHCR’s staff and others continue to work in perilous conditions to support the cause.

Despite the extraordinary speed and scale of the challenge, the organisation praised the response of governments and local communities in receiving more than one million refugees as ‘remarkable’.

“UNHCR staff have already moved in throughout the region and are scaling up our protection and assistance programmes for refugees, in support of host governments,” added the Commissioner.

“International solidarity has been heartwarming. But nothing – nothing – can replace the need for the guns to be silenced; for dialogue and diplomacy to succeed. Peace is the only way to halt this tragedy.”

TRAVEL & TOURISM RECOVERY STALLED

In a statement issued last week, the European Travel Commission (ETC) that represents the interests of national tourism organisations in the region, condemned the Russian Federation’s military aggression and expressed solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

It called the invasion ‘a violation of international law’ ‘in direct opposition to the fundamental values of the European project and should stop immediately’.

“ETC stands ready to support the Ukrainian people fleeing conflict,” read the statement. “We praise the ongoing efforts of our members and industry partners to provide transportation, shelter and food to Ukrainian refugees.

“There are countless examples of the outpouring of support including our colleagues in Lithuania who launched a webpage and a hotline service for Ukrainian citizens in need of advice about relocating to Vilnius.

“Meanwhile, ETC’s associate member Airbnb is offering free accommodation for up to 100,000 Ukrainians displaced by the war. Another inspiring example is train operators from many European countries who expressed solidarity and offered free travel to Ukrainian refugees. We will continue working with the travel community to develop and further promote initiatives across Europe to help the people of Ukraine.

“Our thoughts are with our travel and tourism colleagues in Ukraine, whose livelihoods have been needlessly destroyed. ETC is also mindful that this conflict will negatively impact the travel and tourism sectors of neighbouring countries, which were slowly recovering from the Covid-19 crisis. ETC is working together with the European Commission, and other European stakeholders, to mitigate the short and medium-term consequences and support affected colleagues.”

Main image: The border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova at Palanca, dated 4 March. Source: UNHCR/Marin Bogonovschi

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