The Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol is making bracelets to support Ukraine’s armed forces. The plant is owned by Metinvest Group, which operates the mining assets of Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov. United24, Ukraine’s fundraising platform, announced the plan on October 6, 2022, which involves making bracelets from the last batch of steel produced by the Azovstal plant before the war.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov stated that each bracelet will cost about $40, which will be used to buy drones for the army. He added that the Azovstal plant represents the country’s courage and spirit, as it was Ukraine’s last military stronghold in Mariupol before that city was completely occupied by Russian forces in May 2022. This city is located in Donetsk Oblast, which has been the scene of intense fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Russia has started releasing prisoners of war (POWs) since then, including a group of 215 POWs on September 21. This group included 108 members of the Ukrainian National Guard’s Azov Regiment.
Akhmetov was the richest person in Ukraine when the Russian invasion began on February 22. His estimated worth was almost $14 billion at that time, but it dropped to less than $6 billion within two weeks. That value is likely much less now, as many of Akhmetov’s assets were located in Mariupol. This port city had a population of almost half a million people, but less than 100,000 remained by May due to the large-scale evacuation of the civilian population. Despite these losses, Akhmetov has stated that he will continue to make investments in Ukraine.
Akhmetov is no stranger to financial setbacks due to Russian military action. Russia previously invaded the Donetsk region of Ukraine in 2014, in which many of his assets became worthless overnight as those territories were seized. These assets included real estate, gas stations and the home stadium of Shakhtar Donetsk, a successful soccer team that Akhmetov also owns.
Akhmetov began preparing for the worst in February 2022, as another Russian invasion grew more likely. He instructed the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation to provide aid such as evacuation and medicine, especially in Mariupol. Russian attacks have left 1,200 dead in that city, which included an air strike on a maternity hospital. Mariupol was almost completely cut off from the rest of Ukraine by May, making it very difficult to continue humanitarian efforts. Food and water became quite scarce, with snow serving as the main source of drinking water for many civilians still living there.
Akhmetov’s two steel plants in Mariupol employed a total of 40,000 people before the war. They had largely suspended operations by March, although System Capital Management (SCM), Akhmetov’s holding company, had continued to pay their full salaries as they were forced to leave their homes. This slowdown has further disrupted commodities in Europe, which were already tightening before the war. So far, Metinvest has been able to make its loan payments in full and on time. Furthermore, SCM remains a highly influential company in Ukraine, with investments in over 450 companies.
SCM and the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation are also assisting with evacuations from Mariupol and supporting the Ukrainian army by using resources from the steel plants. In addition, Metinvest pledged to buy body armor worth about $11.2 million, while Shakhtar has already provided Ukrainian forces with clothing. DTEK, a Ukrainian power company owned by Akhmetov, is supplying electricity to military and medical facilities at no charge.
Akhmetov has consistently stated his intentions to recover compensation from Russia at some point, saying “SCM Group will definitely lodge a claim against the Russian Federation, demanding to compensate all the damages caused by the Russian military aggression.” However, he adds that his focus for the time being will remain on helping Ukraine win the war and alleviate the pain and suffering of its people.