EU sanctions won’t stop Putin, says boss of Mariupol Azovstal steelworks

Ryzhenkov is no stranger to the UK. Both his children study here and he proudly points out that much of the City of London skyline is constructed with Metinvest steel. Some 60pc of the steel used for the Shard, for example, comes from the company’s factories, he explains.

He travels to the UK roughly once a quarter to visit Metinvest’s Gateshead plant. Although a big football fan, retaining the company’s corporate box at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park has proven a savvy move to ensure clients are wined and dined – not to mention the Magpies’ riding high in the Premier League this season.

He studied in Britain, gaining an MBA from London Business School as back home the Orange Revolution raged in 2004 and 2005 – events that catapulted Ukraine into the British consciousness.

“That was the time that people in the UK found out what Ukraine is,” he said. “It’s not Russia, it’s actually something separate. It was an interesting discovery. And I had an opportunity to watch it [while living in Britain].”

Armed with his experience of living here, Ryzhenkov has still been taken back by the UK’s response to the war in his homeland.

“We never expected this from the UK,” he says. “Somehow it didn’t appear in our minds that the UK could be our closest ally.”

Boris Johnson may have grabbed the headlines as the first Western leader to visit Ukraine since the outbreak of war, but Ryzhenkov believes British politicians are being led rather than being leaders with regards to support for Ukraine.

He says: “They followed the mood of people. They felt that the UK society, the UK people, were supportive of Ukraine. They wanted to step in. And that’s why the UK politicians stepped in.”

As the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine approaches Ryzhenkov is undecided on the country’s fate. Reality has struck in recent days as Russian forces captured the Ukrainian salt-mine town of Soledar, marking a rare piece of good news for supporters of the Kremlin’s offensive.

And the downing of a helicopter with 14 people on board – including interior minister Denys Monastyrsky and his deputy – shines a light on the risks of remaining in Ukraine while publicly attacking Putin’s military campaign.

He does, however, say that a return to the pre-February 2022 borders is not feasible. Ukraine would not be an investable country unless the Minsk Protocol that allowed the annexation of the Crimea is reversed.

“There is one [outcome] that we all want, which is that Ukraine is restored to its 1991 borders. Russia capitulates and agrees to pay reparations. And Ukraine joins Nato.

“That’s the best case scenario, the ideal case scenario. The other scenario is that Ukraine stops fighting and basically gives in, then it’s also investable,” he says, and laughs at the irony. “But only from the other side. But I don’t think there are many of today’s businesses which will stay in Ukraine, they will go out.

“Our shareholder said that he will never work under the Russian occupation.”

“And then there is a scenario for frozen conflict one way or another,” he says. In pure economic terms this could be the worst of all scenarios. “[Because] there isn’t going to be any investment at all,” he explains.

“We had this Minsk [Protocol], which allegedly stopped the war in 2014. And in a way we believed them. Because we’ve invested a lot in Mariupol. We invested billions of dollars during the last eight years and now it’s all been destroyed.

“[From now on] we will not believe any such things like the Minsk Protocol.”

Ever since the morning of Feb 24, Ryzhenkov does not know if things will ever be “fine” again.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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