Rinat Akhmetov's package of businesses includes many companies. However, it is his steel and mining facilities run by Metinvest that are threatened the most by the Russian invasion. Among other assets, Metinvest owns the Azovstal steelmaking plant. 2,000 Ukrainian fighters, including members of the Azov battalion accused by Moscow of being "neo-Nazis", as well as hundreds of civilians, are still holed up in bunkers under the factory. Rinat Akhmetov answered Le Temps' questions in writing.
– On Thursday 21 April, Vladimir Putin claimed the "liberation" of Marioupol. He said that Russian forces are in full control of the city, with the exception of your Azovstal plant. Is that your assessment too?
– No, this is absolutely not the case. Mariupol has always been and will be a Ukrainian city. Ukrainians fiercely defend every inch of Ukrainian soil. I am proud that Azovstal is our bastion of resistance. I believe that our soldiers will be able to defend the city and that the citizens of Mariupol will be evacuated. I also believe that the Russian soldiers will be punished for all the crimes they have committed in Ukraine and in Mariupol. The situation in the city is a horrifying tragedy and disaster that cannot be forgiven.
– In an interview with Reuters, you said that you were in daily contact with the managers of your Azovstal and Illich Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol. What is the situation there?
– The Russian army continues to destroy Mariupol and its two factories. Illich Iron and Steel Works and Azovstal are constantly bombed and shelled. We have stopped production and will only resume it after our victory.
– How many Metinvest workers are still in the shelters in Azovstal?
– This is about people's lives and safety. I can't disclose this information.
– What is the history and purpose of the underground shelters?
– The bomb shelters were built at the same time as the factory, in 1933. According to civil and industrial standards, all defensive constructions must be in the direct vicinity of the employees' workplaces.
– How long can the occupants of these shelters last and what do you recommend to solve this situation?
– Both civilians and our soldiers are in inhuman conditions. Every minute of delay can cost them their lives. We have to stop this right now and evacuate people. The only way to do this is to agree on humanitarian corridors with the involvement of UN representatives and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). However, all attempts to organise safe passage for the people of Mariupol have been interrupted by the Russian attacks.
– What is the extent of the damage to the Azovstal plant?
– The pre-war capitalisation of our two plants - Azovstal and Illich Iron and Steel Works - was at least $10 billion. We are preparing legal actions to demand compensation from Russia for all losses inflicted on our companies.
– What makes you hope that Mariupol will return to Ukrainian control, so that your company can work there again?
– Confidence in Ukraine, the heroism and courage of our soldiers, the unity of the Ukrainian nation and the unprecedented support given to our country by the whole free and civilised world. I am very grateful to them.
– Your companies have lost many assets due to the war. Is that why you chose the side of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky?
– I made my choice a long time ago. As a native of the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, I became the largest private investor in our country. In 2014, I bitterly condemned separatism and declared that Donbas could only be happy in a united Ukraine. In 2022, as war broke out, I called Putin a war criminal. Today, Ukraine is united as never before, because we have the will to win. As President of the country, Volodymyr Zelensky is showing true dignity in fulfilling his constitutional duty to defend Ukraine. Every Ukrainian, including myself, is doing everything in his or her power to help Ukraine achieve victory.
– How important is Switzerland to your business?
– We are an international company. For us, Switzerland is both the location of our companies - Metinvest International SA, D Trading SA and D Trading International SA, which have been operating here for more than two decades - and a country with a very high business culture and standards that drive us to continually develop and improve.
– What are your personal links to Switzerland, we recently reported that your son had bought two properties in Geneva. Do you visit often?
– My sons were born in Donetsk and studied in Switzerland. It was in Switzerland that my eldest son Damir met his future wife Diana. They went to school together. Today, their whole family and my grandchildren live in Switzerland. I often visit my family in your beautiful country.
– Do you think Switzerland could do more for Ukraine?
– Your country's decision to support Ukraine and impose unprecedented sanctions against Russia deserves great respect. I am grateful to Switzerland and to the whole free world. We are fighting for our freedom and the freedom of Europe. We have the strength and the will to fight. I am convinced that we will win this war.
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