Ukraine's richest man vows to rebuild besieged Mariupol

Rinat Akhmetov, owner of Ukraine's biggest steelmaker Metinvest, vowed to "rebuild the entire Ukraine."

 Graves of civilians killed during Ukraine-Russia conflict are seen next to apartment buildings in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 10, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)
Graves of civilians killed during Ukraine-Russia conflict are seen next to apartment buildings in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 10, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

Ukraine's richest man has pledged to help rebuild the besieged city of Mariupol, a place close to his heart where he owns two vast steelworks that he says will once again compete globally.

Rinat Akhmetov has seen his business empire shattered by eight years of fighting in Ukraine's east but remains defiant, sure that what he calls "our brave soldiers" will defend the Sea of Azov city reduced to a wasteland by seven weeks of bombardment.

For now, though, his Metinvest company, Ukraine's biggest steelmaker, has announced it cannot deliver its supply contracts and while his financial and industrial SCM Group is servicing its debt obligations, his private power producer DTEK "has optimized payment of its debts" in an agreement with creditors.

"Mariupol is a global tragedy and a global example of heroism. For me, Mariupol has been and will always be a Ukrainian city," Akhmetov said in written answers to questions from Reuters.

"I believe that our brave soldiers will defend the city, though I understand how difficult and hard it is for them," he said, adding he was in daily contact with the Metinvest managers who run the Azovstal and Illich Iron and Steel Works plants in Mariupol.

A view shows the Illich Steel and Iron Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, April 15, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/PAVEL KLIMOV)A view shows the Illich Steel and Iron Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, April 15, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/PAVEL KLIMOV)

On Friday, Metinvest said it would never operate under Russian occupation and that the Mariupol siege had disabled more than a third of Ukraine's metallurgy production capacity. 

Akhmetov praised President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's "passion and professionalism" during the war, seemingly smoothing relations after the Ukrainian leader last year said plotters hoping to overthrow his government had tried to involve the businessman.

Akhmetov called the allegation "an absolute lie" at the time.

"And the war is certainly not the time to be at odds... We will rebuild the entire Ukraine," he said, adding that he returned to the country on February 23 and had been there ever since.