No one knows the ruination — and the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people — better than Yuriy Ryzhenkov, CEO of Metinvest Group, who has helped guide the company, owned by Rinat Akhmetov, through these thoroughly dark times.
Ryzhenkov recently gave an interview to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on what’s happening with his company as the war with Russia drags on. This organization owns steel operations in Ukraine and beyond. Ryzhenkov was frank about Russian theft and the unimaginable toll the war is taking on Metinvest employees.
Metinvest Employees on the Front Lines
Since the start of the war, Yuriy Ryzhenkov has kept a careful watch on his employees. “As of today, over 7,000 employees have been called to duty to the Ukrainian army, which is well above 10% of our remaining labor force after the Mariupol occupation,” he told Corriere della Sera.
“At the moment, we are keeping track of most of them and we try to equip them with protective clothing — bulletproof vests, helmets, and so on. Unfortunately, more than 320 Metinvest employees have been killed in this war — not only military personnel, also civilians killed in our plants when they were bombed by the Russians.”
Leadership, Negotiations, and Perception
Ryzhenkov praised President Volodymyr Zelensky not only for his steadfast commitment to his people, but also for his transparency. He believes that Zelensky is the reason for the support the Ukrainians have received, both at home and abroad. When asked whether he should negotiate more with Russia, Ryzhenkov said Zelensky was taking the right approach. “We already negotiated before. We already had the Minsk agreements in 2014 and 2015. We really tried to talk to Russia again in 2019. It all led to Russia’s building up more forces and becoming stronger than before.”
Ryzhenkov believes that the best time for negotiations will be when Ukraine gets all of its territories back, including Crimea. Until that happens, all of the talks will be thwarted by this continuous conflict. Thankfully, the Ukrainians are in a stronger position than many people realize. He declared, “Four months ago, nobody believed that the Kharkiv region could be liberated. Three months ago, very few people believed that the Kherson region could be liberated. But they have been.
“Too many analysts underestimate the Ukrainian army’s capabilities. So I wouldn’t say that it’s impossible for Ukraine to win militarily on the ground. It’s not. If the supply of weapons continues from our Western allies, Ukraine has all the resources and all the necessary skills to retake all of its territories, including Crimea.” Ryzhenkov expressed his gratitude to Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Australia, though he also expressed concerns that the financial support understandably might not last forever. Russian President Vladimir Putin was counting on the Western world to tire of the war so he could follow through on his plans for domination.
What Lies Ahead
From bad press to the sanctions, Russia has had some very powerful people condemn these actions in more ways than one. Ryzhenkov is hopeful about how new embargoes would affect both the Russian economy and the never-ending denials from the Kremlin.
When asked if the sanctions on Russian goods will make a difference, he said, “I’m pretty sure about it. Otherwise, why would the Russians resist those embargoes so fiercely?” He added that hitting them where it hurts the most — financially — could change the attitudes of Russian leadership.
Rinat Akhmetov has overseen Metinvest Group since 2006, and he’s always been in sync with his executive team. Yuriy Ryzhenkov is carrying out Akhmetov’s larger strategy not just because it’s his job, but also because the two believe that this is the only way to get out of the war. From their lawsuit in Europe to the urging of the EU to come down harder on the Russians, Metinvest Group is determined to take a stand. If the Russians don’t face the consequences of their actions, things will only get worse — and not just for Ukraine.