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One of Europe’s biggest iron and steel plants was damaged during Russia’s Mariupol siege

Smoke billows from chimneys against a bright sky at a steel mill in Ukraine.
Reuters/Gleb Garanich
Ukraine’s steel industry is in the crosshairs of Russia’s invasion.
By Courtney Vinopal
Published Last updated

Officials said yesterday (March 20) the Azovstal plant, which is owned by Ukrainian steel and mining group Metinvest, was badly damaged by Russian shelling in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

Metinvest temporarily suspended production at Azovstal when Russia first invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24; the last time it halted operations was in 1941.

Metinvest is Ukraine’s largest steel producer

Ukraine is the 12th largest steel producer in the world and Metinvest accounted for 45% of the country’s crude steel output last year. In just the first five days of Russia’s war, Ukraine lost 0.7% of its annual steel production, according to steelmaking analytics firm GMK Center.

Metinvest employs about 40,000 people at Azovstal and its other Mariupol plant, Ilyich. Just last month, the company—which is owned by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man—announced plans to invest $1 billion in modernizing and producing new facilities. Ukrainian lawmaker Lesia Vasylenko said the damage to Azovstal could have “huge” economic consequences.

Italy was the Azovstal plant’s biggest market in 2020, accounting for 46% of its sales volume, according to GMK.

Metinvest staff are living in bomb shelters

When Metinvest’s steel plants were hit by artillery fire from Russian-backed separatists back in 2015, the company built bomb shelters for its employees. More than 4,000 Metinvest staff and family members are now living in those shelters, Bloomberg reported on March 12, with access to food, water, and satellite phones.

“First they were looking for safety, and now lots of houses in Mariupol have been destroyed,” said Metinvest CEO Yuriy Ryzhenkov.

Even before the war, Mariupol’s residents lived in one of the most polluted cities in Ukraine due to the presence of iron and steel plants. Metinvest’s general director Enver Tskitishvili said the company had taken steps in recent weeks to reduce the potential of environmental damage if one of its factories was hit by shelling.

In a Telegram message following the shelling of Azovstal, he pledged to “return to the city, rebuild the enterprise and revive it.”

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