On February 22, as hundreds took to the streets of Mariupol, Ukraine to protest Russia’s approach, the country’s richest person Rinat Akhmetov reaffirmed his loyalty to his nation and its government. Speaking from the port city of nearly half a million people where his mining conglomerate Metainvest is headquartered, he announced that he would continue to make investments in his businesses and country “no matter what dreadful scenarios we face.”
The son of a coal miner who grew up in Donetsk but has not been back since Russia’s invasion in 2014, Akhmetov knew how bad things could get. He had been hit hard by that earlier attack. Several of his assets—including real estate, dozens of gas stations and the home stadium of Shakhtar Donetsk, one of Ukraine’s most successful soccer teams—became virtually worthless overnight after the territories were seized.
Since then, his fears have come true as Russia’s ruthless attacks have reportedly left 1,200 dead in just Mariupol. On Wednesday, a maternity hospital there was destroyed by a Russian air strike. “I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Mariupol is in a complete blockade in 2022, that people are forced to hide in the workshops of our production plants,” Akhmetov said in written responses to Forbes Ukraine. “It is impossible to hear or talk about it without tears in your eyes that people melt snow and drink meltwater to stay alive. That a 6-year-old girl died of dehydration under rubble at the center of Europe.”
The billionaire, whose fortune has dropped from nearly $14 billion to less than $6 billion in just two weeks and may likely be much less, responded on Wednesday to questions from Forbes from an undisclosed location in Western Ukraine. His complete answers, provided to Forbes Ukraine, are below.
1. What must the West/the world do to stop Putin?
Akhmetov: “We see the united action of the western world on an unprecedented scale. I am deeply grateful to our international partners for that. What else can and must they do? I believe everything that Ukraine, the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian President are asking for.”
2. What would be a ‘victory’ for Ukraine, in your opinion?
Akhmetov: “A total ceasefire, complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, and full restoration of the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine.That includes the Crimea and Donbas.”
3. Why the Russian forces target civilians, shell entire residential areas, and destroy cities? What are they aiming for?
Akhmetov: “What is unfolding here is a war crime and a crime against humanity, against Ukraine and the Ukrainians.This can neither be explained nor justified.”
4. Does this war go beyond Ukraine, is Putin aiming at Europe and the US?
Akhmetov: “Putin is aiming at countries that have democracy, freedom, and independence. So all the free world counties are potential targets. If Ukraine together with you fails to stop him, nobody knows who’s next.”
5. How is your company operating during this time?
Akhmetov: “In wartime, our company operates accordingly. Now our utmost goal is to help Ukrainians survive and withstand.”
6. What are your workers doing? Are they still being paid?
Akhmetov: “Yes, they receive salaries. Today, all our businesses focus all their efforts on helping people. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Mariupol is in a complete blockade in 2022, that people are forced to hide in the workshops of our production plants. It is impossible to hear or talk about it without tears in your eyes that people melt snow and drink meltwater to stay alive. That a 6-year-old girl died of dehydration under rubble at the center of Europe.”
This time he was preparing for the worst. “I have already instructed my foundation to help with evacuation, medicines and everything necessary, if needed. We will do everything to prevent a humanitarian disaster,” he said two days before Russia’s invasion.