Rinat Akhmetov, the owner of Ukrainian football club Shakhtar Donetsk and System Capital Management, which holds a majority share in Metinvest Group, has launched a $25 million project named Heart of Azovstal that’s been designed to support Mariupol defenders and their families.
In a statement dated Jan. 16 and published on Shakhtar Donetsk’s official website, the billionaire businessman said, “I am allocating the $25 million (1 billion hryvnia) today to help our soldiers, defenders, and their families. The money will be used to cover different needs — from providing medical and prosthetic treatment and psychological support to meeting specific requests.”
The project is named after the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, a metallurgical plant owned by Akhmetov’s Metinvest Group enterprise.
In March 2022, during the siege of Mariupol, Azovstal was badly damaged, with Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Taruta reporting that Russian forces had “practically destroyed” it. By mid-April, it had become the city’s last pocket of organized resistance against invading Russian aggressors.
“Mariupol has always been and will be a Ukrainian city. Ukrainians fiercely defend every inch of Ukrainian soil. I am proud that Azovstal is our bastion of resistance,” Akhmetov said at the time.
Although Ukrainian soldiers fought diligently to fend off Russian oppressors in the weeks that followed, resources began to dwindle. By mid-May, following the evacuation of all women, children, and the elderly who had taken shelter in the plant’s vast network of underground bunkers and tunnels, Azovstal — and Mariupol as a result — were captured.
What Is the Heart of Azovstal Project?
The Heart of Azovstal project has been launched to support the families of fallen Ukrainian soldiers.
The enterprise was conceived following the successful transfer of FC Shakhtar Donetsk left winger Mykhailo Mudryk to English Premier League club Chelsea FC for $78.4 million, when Rinat Akhmetov promised that he would donate one-third of transfer funds to a new charitable initiative.
Akhmetov said that the funding will be used to cover the various needs of soldiers and their families, “from providing medical and prosthetic treatment and psychological support to meeting specific requests.” To ensure transparency, Akhmetov says that the project will have a professional independent team that will act as a point of contact for those eligible to receive support.
A Critical Boost for Shakhtar
The $53.4 million in residual funding, after the $25 million deduction for the Heart of Azovstal project, will undoubtedly be a major boost for Shakhtar, a team that’s faced hardship after hardship since 2014, when it was forced to flee its home of Donetsk.
Since last year, Shakhtar has seen many of its top players suspend their contracts and sign up for other teams. This is a result of modifications to FIFA rules that came after last February’s invasion, which led to a full-scale war in Ukraine. Rinat Akhmetov is currently in an ongoing legal battle with FIFA over the financial losses that the club has suffered because of this.
Despite the club’s hardships, Akhmetov has acknowledged that without Ukraine’s soldiers and actions like those seen at Azovstal, there would be no opportunity for football, period. This is why he decided to launch Heart of Azovstal and allocate such a substantial amount of funding to it directly from the transfer fee.
Rinat Akhmetov: A Top Wartime Donor
This, alongside other key donations made by Rinat Akhmetov and his business assets, makes the billionaire businessman one of Ukraine’s top wartime donors.
This has been officially recognized by a recent investigation by The New Voice of Ukraine, in collaboration with Dragon Capital, which revealed which of Ukraine’s billionaires had donated the most funds to the war relief effort.
The investigation reported that Akhmetov topped their list with donations that, as of September 2022, totalled more than 3 billion hryvnia. This was prior to Mudryk’s transfer to Chelsea FC, meaning that the sum today will be substantially higher.
In a press release that followed, a spokesperson for Metinvest Media, the publicity arm of Akhmetov’s Metinvest Group, said, “All businesses owned by Rinat Akhmetov, the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, and [Akhmetov-owned] FC Shakhtar are doing everything they can to help people, towns, and cities, as well as the state to withstand this war with Russia. The humanitarian efforts are coordinated with the national and local authorities to ensure that aid can reach as many people as possible.”