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Who’s up and who’s down – POLITICO

Who’s up and who’s down – POLITICO

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KYIV — Russia’s war against Ukraine has created some unexpected victims: the country’s oligarchs.

Ukraine has long been considered one of the most corrupt countries on Earth and the couple of dozen businessmen who controlled a vast proportion of its wealth, as well as TV stations, mines, banks, shops, farms, real estate and more are seen as key contributors.

One of their number — chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko — even served as president from 2014 to 2019.

But Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has played havoc with their fortunes. The vast metalworks in Mariupol owned by Rinat Akhmetov have been turned into smoking ruins, farmland stands idle and is pocked with landmines, factories aren’t working because of power cuts and seaborne exports have shriveled.

The political influence of the super-rich has also taken a tumble.  

Even before the war, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promoted a de-oligarchization law aimed at limiting their political influence. 

The war has strengthened that effort. Zelenskyy no longer needs the political and financial backing of oligarchs, and the searing experience of defending the country against Russian aggression is likely to make Ukrainians less keen to again kowtow to the mega-wealthy. Cutting corruption and strengthening the rule of law is also a condition for much of the aid pouring into Ukraine.

Here’s a look at how the war with Russia has changed the financial and political fortunes of five major Ukrainian businessmen.

Rinat Akhmetov

Rinat Akhmetov | Daniel Naupold/EPA

Ukraine’s richest man, Akhmetov is paying a high price for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The backbone of his business empire — the metallurgical conglomerate Metinvest — lost two of its major plants in southern Ukraine. Azovstal steelworks and the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works were turned into piles of rubble by Russian forces during the assault on Mariupol.

In June, he filed a lawsuit against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights.

Since the start of the war, his other assets — including power plants, banks, farms, mining and processing plants — have been either damaged or seized by Russian forces. 

Akhmetov’s companies have been stumping up cash and resources to help in the war effort, providing more than $100 million in body armor and helmets, materials for fortifications, vehicles for the military, food kits and medicines for civilians.

According to Akhmetov’s spokesperson, he returned to Ukraine the day before Russia’s invasion. 

“He met the beginning of the war at home, in Kyiv. Since then, he has not left Ukraine for a day,” the spokesperson said.

According to the Ukrainian edition of Forbes, Akhmetov’s fortune shrank from almost $14 billion in January to $4.3 billion in December, but he’s still Ukraine’s wealthiest person.

“Because intense military action and rocket attacks in Ukraine unfortunately continue on an almost daily basis, no accurate and full calculation of losses is possible at this stage, and estimates may be incorrect and inconclusive,” the spokesperson said.

In 2021, Zelenskyy accused him of trying to stage a coup, a charge Akhmetov strongly denied. Since the invasion, he’s handed over his media licenses (to praise from Zelenskyy) and his full-throated support of the war effort is buying him some support.

Oligarch ranking:

Viktor Pinchuk

Viktor Pinchuk | Natalia Slipchuk/AFP via Getty Images

Since the start of Russia’s invasion, Viktor Pinchuk has actively urged Western nations to beef up their military support and criticized some countries, like Germany, for foot dragging.

By late September, the oligarch had spent more than $45 million on support for Ukraine’s army and civilians, according to his charitable foundation.

In the first weeks of the war, when Russian troops were nearing Kyiv, paramedics were stationed in Pinchuk’s luxurious mansion in the suburbs of the Ukrainian capital. 

The oligarch’s business empire — built around pipe and railway wheel manufacturer Interpipe — suffered less than other oligarchs’ businesses. 

“The holding company’s financial situation has worsened, but you can’t say it’s a disaster,” said Alexander Paraschiy, head of research at Ukrainian consultancy Concorde Capital. 

“They were more affected not so much by the hostilities as by the hikes in energy prices and problems with logistics,” he explained as the war has cut Interpipe’s ability to export by sea.

His wealth has fallen from $2.6 billion to $2 billion, according to Forbes.

Pinchuk’s media office did not reply to a request for comment.

Oligarch ranking:

Petro Poroshenko

Former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko | Pierre Crom/Getty Images

Before the war, Poroshenko was fighting for his political life, facing accusations of high treason and abetting terrorism. According to state prosecutors, Poroshenko allegedly favored supplies of coal from rebel-controlled areas of the Donbas region instead of coal produced in South Africa. 

Despite his protestations of innocence, some of his assets and property were seized by a Kyiv court. 

But after the invasion, TV stations controlled by Poroshenko toned down their criticism of Zelenskyy. 

“On the first day of the Russian aggression, February 24, I came to Zelenskyy and said: ‘I’m not the opposition leader anymore. Both you and I are soldiers. Until our victory, I will not criticize anybody,’” he said in an interview with VOA. 

Poroshenko, who favored nationalistic policies when he was president, also donned military garb and organized groups of volunteers to help in the war — although Zelenskyy’s office has accused him of unnecessary PR.

Poroshenko’s companies spent more than $46 million to support the armed forces, said his spokesperson. He’s delivered armored vehicles purchased in Italy and Britain, four-wheel drive pickups, bulletproof vests, helmets, fuel and more.

Forbes says his fortune has fallen from $1.6 billion to $700 million.

Poroshenko’s media office refused to comment on the loss of his businesses and personal fortune caused by the war.

Oligarch ranking:

Ihor Kolomoisky

Ihor Kolomoyskyi | WikiCommons

Kolomoisky was seen as Zelenskyy’s key original backer — using his powerful TV stations to promote the popular actor and comedian during the 2019 presidential election. 

However, close links to the new leader didn’t save Kolomoisky from problems.

In January, the U.S. Department of Justice alleged Kolomoisky and an associate had laundered funds in the U.S. His lawyers reject any wrongdoing.

His main financial asset, Privatbank, was seized by Ukrainian authorities seven years ago after regulators found a $5 billion hole in its books, and Kolomoisky is still fighting for its return. 

“Kolomoisky has a very little chance of getting anything back through court,” said Paraschiy from Concorde Capital.

In July, Zelenskyy reportedly took steps to strip Kolomoisky of his Ukrainian citizenship because he also has Israeli and Cypriot passports. Kolomoisky is fighting the decision.

In November, the Ukrainian government invoked wartime laws to take control of stakes in the nation’s leading energy company Ukrnafta, partially controlled by Kolomoisky.

Kolomoisky did not respond to a request for comment.

Oligarch ranking:

Viktor Medvedchuk

Viktor Medvedchuk | Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Viktor Medvedchuk, worth $620 million before the war, was the most influential pro-Russian oligarch in Ukraine; Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly his daughter’s godfather.

His coziness with the Kremlin backfired.

Before Russia’s full-scale invasion, Medvedchuk was under arrest and facing investigation over possible high treason on accusations of cooperating with Russia over illegal gas extraction in the Black Sea, as well as coal supplies from rebel-controlled territories of the Donbas region.

Medvedchuk escaped from house arrest after the invasion but was recaptured while trying to leave the country disguised as a military volunteer.

In September, he was swapped for Ukrainian prisoners of war held by the Russians. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Croatia also seized his $200 million superyacht, the Royal Romance, which will be auctioned off to benefit Ukraine.

Oligarch ranking:

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