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Zara owner Inditex to gradually reopen stores in Ukraine from April 1

People walk past a Zara shop window at Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona

MADRID (Reuters) -Zara owner Inditex said on Friday it planned to gradually reopen stores in Ukraine from April 1, citing "local market circumstances" for the decision.

The world's largest listed fast-fashion company by sales said it planned in a first phase to reopen 20 stores in Ukraine, three of them under the Zara brand and resume online sales. The first stores will be around the Kyiv region.

"The group's priority continues to be the safety of its employees and customers," the company said in a statement, confirming an earlier report from the Financial Times.

Inditex closed its stores in Russia and Ukraine in March 2022 following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 and subsequent Western sanctions.

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The group had 72 stores open in Ukraine and 558 in Russia in 2019, according to its annual report.

The fashion giant agreed to sell its stores in Russia to UAE-based Daher Group later in 2022, though it did not rule out returning to the country if circumstances changed.

In Ukraine, Inditex aims to reopen 50 stores in the coming months, the company added without specifying how long the process would take.

One of Inditex rivals, the Swedish fashion retailer H&M, started reopening its stores in Ukraine in November last year and now has seven stores open in Kyiv and Lviv.

As of November 2021, the H&M group had eight stores in Ukraine.

(Reporting by Corina Pons and Inti Landauro; Additional reporting by Helen Reid in London; Editing by Aislinn Laing, Tomasz Janowski, Charlie Devereux and Alison Williams)