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    Tuesday, February 20, 2024

    Ukrainian Steel Giant Metinvest's CEO Warns Russian Advance "Alarming"

    The head of Ukraine's steel giant Metinvest has called Russia's advance in eastern Ukraine, where its has some of its biggest operations, "alarming" and urged the United States to urgently approve a stalled military aid package.

    Russia's capture of Avdiivka saw it claim full control of Metinvest's vast Soviet-era coking coal plant on Monday, marking the loss of another of the company's facilities after the Azovstal steel plant that became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the early days of the war.

    The frontline now lies within 40 kilometres (24.85 miles) of Pokrovsk, where Metinvest runs Ukraine's largest coal mine, and its biggest steel plant in Zaporizhzhia further to the south.

    "The (Russian) advances we have seen in the last week are quite alarming," Yuriy Ryzhenkov, Metinvest's chief executive, told Reuters on Monday in the firm's first reaction to Avdiivka's fall.

    Asked whether Metinvest was now preparing for Pokrovsk and Zaporizhzhia to come under attack, he said the huge scale of the infrastructure meant little could be done other than basic evacuation plans.

    "You don't really prepare for something like that," he said. "You do as much as possible to avoid that."

    Getting weapons and support to the army was the urgent need, he stressed.

    While the European Union has just approved a 50 billion euro ($54 billion) support programme, a $60 billion U.S. package has been delayed for months by clashes between Democrats and Republicans over domestic immigration issues.

    After a weekend meeting with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Munich, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris denounced the delays as "political gamesmanship".

    Donald Trump, frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, has meanwhile said he would ask European allies to reimburse the United States for around $200 billion worth of ammunition.

    "We are concerned with how the situation develops on the ground but we are also very concerned with the lack of commitment of some of our allies," Ryzhenkov said, referring to the U.S. delays. "The message is pretty clear," he added. "Please don't let us down, it is simple as that".


    The iron and steel sector employed around 600,000 people and contributed around 10% of Ukraine's GDP before the war.

    That plunged in 2022 as Russia captured key ports but the reopening of some sea routes over the last six months has driven a rebound.

    "The capacity utilisation of the ports...is pretty close to pre-invasion levels now," Ryzhenkov said, adding that Metinvest's iron ore plants would hopefully recover to 75% of capacity this year and steel plants to about 65%.

    However, an estimated 9,000-10,000 workers are already conscripted to the army and a plan to increase conscription numbers is working its way through parliament.

    "We (already) don't have enough people to operate at full capacity," Ryzhenkov said. "We are hiring people, we are training them and then they are getting drafted before they even start working." -Reuters 

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