Businessman Rynat Akhmetov, who rarely communicates with the press, gave an interview The Washington Post. He recalled his formation on the way to the status of the richest Ukrainian, the first days of the war and shared his expectations for the future, considering that a significant part of his fortune was destroyed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
According to the publication, he refused a personal conversation with the journalist, but answered written questions via WhatsApp.
The Washington Post, citing Forbes, notes that since the start of the full-scale invasion, Akhmetov’s fortune has dropped from $7.6 billion to $4.3 billion. In 2012, before Russia annexed Crimea and unleashed hostilities in Donbas, where Akhmetov also had numerous assets, Akhmetov’s fortune was estimated at $16 billion.
In just the past few months, Russian forces have destroyed or occupied networks of power plants, steel plants, mines and other enterprises owned by his business empire.
One of the biggest losses was the two metallurgical giants in Mariupol, including Azovstal, which were virtually destroyed during the capture of the city by the Russians. Because of these losses, Akhmetov filed a lawsuit against Russia to the European Court of Human Rights for the amount of 20 billion dollars.
The first fortune in cards and connections with crime
In an interview with The Washington Post, Akhmetov, who was born in Donetsk in 1966 in the family of a miner, recalls that his family was actually poor.
“We had a house of 20 square meters where the four of us lived and slept on the floor. There was a coal stove, which we used in the morning, and the toilet was outside,” Akhmetov said.
His friend Serhii Taruta, another one of the richest businessmen in Ukraine, says that Akhmetov earned his first capital playing cards.
“He was one of the five or six best card players in the Soviet Union and traveled to tournaments,” Taruta said.
Akhmetov says that Taruta is exaggerating, but admits that in his twenties he did play a popular game called “The Tricky Fool.”
“I’ll tell you honestly, I earned my first capital playing cards,” he says. – And here’s the thing: cards are tactics and strategy, an analytical mindset, a practical approach and the ability to win.”
At the same time, Akhmetov once again emphasized that even in the 1990s, when banditry flourished in Ukraine, he was not involved in crime.
“I have never belonged to any criminal organizations, I have never been under investigation and no criminal charges have been brought against me,” he told the newspaper.
Taruta, who is also from Donetsk, says Akhmetov was just a smart, tough kid who grew up in a harsh place.
“He was not a member of a criminal group, but he knew and was friends with people who were,” he says.
Akhmetov told The Washington Post that he was in bed when his assistant burst into the room with the words: “Wake up, the war has begun.”
The businessman claims that he has not left Ukraine since the Russian invasion and lives in Kyiv. According to him, he financed military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine for more than 100 million dollars – from drones to food.
He commented on the criticism directed at him that he apparently personally contributed to the fact that Russia managed to easily destabilize the situation in Donbas in 2014, and in addition that he seems to have too much influence on Ukrainian politics and the media, due to which he is often called an oligarch.
“I am not an oligarch,” he told the newspaper. – I have never been and am not going to be an oligarch. I am the largest private investor, employer and taxpayer in Ukraine.”
In his opinion, he does enough to support Ukraine.
“My business suffered the most. Maybe it’s not very modest on my part, but I help much more than anyone else, and I’m not going to stop,” Akhmetov said.
Speaking about the future of Ukraine, he called on the West to create a “new Marshall Plan” for the country in post-war times with hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, so that Ukraine would develop according to the model of the West, and not according to the model of Russia.
“The goal is to build a new, strong and European Ukraine, a member [Європейського Союзу]with strong institutions, the rule of law, clear anti-corruption rules, a democratic political system and fair treatment of citizens,” said Akhmetov.