Ukraine’s Zaporizhstal steel plant, an operation owned by businessman Rinat Akhmetov’s metallurgical enterprise, Metinvest Group, is all in on helping Ukraine defeat Russian invaders.
“We are trying to protect our country,” said Zaporizhstal’s chief operating officer, Oleksandr Myronenko, explaining how steelworkers have joined the army or doubled as humanitarian volunteers. “If we don’t, we will lose our home. That’s why there is one collective aim now in Ukraine.”
Inside the vast and gloomy complex, protective vests and other military munitions are stacked as high as the eye can see as its towering blast furnace is fed a seemingly endless supply of iron ore and coal and spits out molten metal, which is then poured into casts to make huge, brick-sized iron ingots that will later be used in iron and steel production.
Whenever air raid sirens sound — a daily occurrence as Russian bombardments continue to rain down on the southwestern city of Zaporizhzhia — many workers head to the 16 shelters scattered across the plant’s vast grounds, while the rest continue working to keep this liquid gold moving, and the war machine chugging along.
Zaporizhzhia sits less than 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) from the front line of the ongoing war, and its residential buildings, hospitals, roads, and energy infrastructure are frequent targets of Russian attackers. The impact of such constant attacks has left Metinvest Group’s Zaporizhzhial plant running below capacity, with thousands of workers injured, dead, or otherwise missing.
Indeed, the damage that the war has caused to Ukraine’s world-leading metallurgical industry has crippled what was once a lucrative sector and a key employer in the country. Prior to Russia’s invasion, the sector accounted for more than one-third of all exported goods. It has since been decimated by Russian forces, who have taken control of key industrial areas such as the port city of Mariupol and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Despite this, aside from the embattled soldiers fighting to keep Ukraine free, it is today the country’s most valuable asset — absolutely critical for supporting not just an economy created by war, but also the brave soldiers who risk their lives to fight for the Ukrainian people. The Steel Front of Ukraine, as some call it, has been a driving force behind the country’s resistance.
For Rinat Akhmetov’s Metinvest Group, however, events in Zaporizhzhia are only part of the problem. The metallurgical enterprise lost equipment, facilities, and people as early as 2014 when Russia seized control of the Crimean Peninsula. Then in May 2022, the company lost two major facilities — Ilyich and Azovstal— when Russian forces gained control of Mariupol.
But “the biggest damage we have suffered is the damage caused to the economy of Ukraine,” said Metinvest CEO Yuriy Ryzhenkov in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “When damage is done to the country, the company suffers from it no less than from direct hits of shells.”
Despite its losses, Rinat Akhmetov’s metallurgical enterprise has allocated billions in funding its Steel Front and the various projects created in response to the war. Since the first days of the war, Rinat Akhmetov has channeled all resources into these resistance projects in the hopes of bringing Ukraine’s victory closer.
Metinvest Group has, for example, donated countless pieces of equipment to Ukraine’s forces. Armored vests, drones, thermal imaging systems, anti-tank hedgehogs, ballistic helmets, medical kits, tourniquets, ambulances, military vehicles, and prefabricated shelters are just a few examples of the equipment received by soldiers.
Rinat Akhmetov and Metinvest Group also offer comprehensive support to employees who have been affected by the war, particularly those evacuated from Mariupol. To date, the group has relocated and rehomed more than 6,000 employees and found new roles for them within the company.
The civilian population has received support, too. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have received critical humanitarian aid kits, food parcels, and free energy as part of Metinvest’s efforts. The metallurgical enterprise has also been equipping hospitals and clinics with essential equipment such as diagnostic machines and ventilators.
“Metinvest’s Steel Front is a contribution to our joint victory and the future of Ukraine. The Group’s steel, which features in hundreds of thousands of armor vests, is protecting the lives of our soldiers who are defending Ukraine’s sovereignty. Metinvest’s steel has formed the backbone of tens of thousands of shelters, anti-tank hedgehogs, and fortifications, which help to stop the aggressor,” said Rinat Akhmetov.