VLADYSLAV GOVOLIN AND ANASTASIYA RINGIS
KYIV AND OTTAWA
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
PUBLISHED Sept 2, 2022
Vsevolod Kozhemiako is facing one of the biggest struggles of his life, caught in the crossfire as much of the agricultural land of his grain business in Kharkiv has become a battleground for Ukrainian and Russian troops fighting for control of the region.
“It is our land and we will fight for it,” the 50-year-old businessman said. The multimillionaire, whose US$100-million fortune earned him the 88th spot on the Forbes list of the 100 wealthiest Ukrainians, has started his own battalion, leading 200 volunteers in the war effort. Mr. Kozhemiako is proud of the unit and says he’ll fight until Ukraine emerges victorious.
Ukrainian authorities have provided the volunteers in his battalion with military equipment, but everything else – vehicles, food, medical supplies, even salaries – is funded by Mr. Kozhemiako and his business partners. His associates “cannot fight on their own, but they can help those who are fighting,” said the businessman, who has so far spent about US$1-million of his own money.
Mr. Kozhemiako is among hundreds of Ukrainian businessmen assisting in the war effort. According to a poll by the Union of Ukrainian Entrepreneurs, the country’s largest business lobbying group, 94 per cent of its 800 member companies are providing support to the country’s armed forces in the fight against Russia.
Moreover, according to Ekaterina Glazkova, the organization’s chief executive, only a third of the companies surveyed are operating at prewar levels. “Despite the fact that many businesses have been hit hard, support for the army and civilians does not stop. Some businessmen buy thermal imagers and drones, others supply hot food to territorial defence fighters,” Ms. Glazkova said.
Before the war began on Feb. 24, Ukraine’s Armed Forces had fewer than 250,000 troops. That number had risen to 700,000 by June – a huge increase of military personnel that demanded more funding. The state could not always cover it, so support from Ukrainian businesses has played a vital role.
Andriy Mitchenko, the CEO of Ecosoft, which produces water purification filters, sent about a dozen of the company’s Oasis systems when Mykolaiv’s water supply was disabled by Russian shelling. Each installation can produce 300 litres of potable water per hour, and now the Ukrainian military has ordered 50 of the systems.
But providing any kind of support to the military is becoming more dangerous. On July 31, the Mykolaiv home of Ukrainian businessman Oleksiy Vadaturskyy was hit by three Russian missiles. The 74-year-old entrepreneur died with his wife under the debris of his house.
His firm, Nibulon, is one of Ukraine’s largest grain producers and exporters, and Mr. Vadaturskyy’s fortune was estimated by Forbes to be about US$450-million before his death. He had bought medical supplies and armoured vehicles for the military, and his firm even repaired military equipment.
Moscow admitted that his support for the Ukrainian army was the main reason for his killing. Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of the Russian state-controlled television network RT, wrote on her telegram channel that Mr. Vadaturskyy died because he had allegedly sponsored “punitive battalions” and that a direct strike on his house was “denazification in action.”
“What Russian propaganda said about Mr. Vadaturskyy can be said not just about every Ukrainian businessman but about every adult in the country. We now do not have those who do not help the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We are all now fighting for the existence of our nation,” Mr. Kozhemiako said.
Many businessmen do not want to discuss what they’re doing to help the military. “We do help a lot, but we don’t talk openly about this – otherwise Russian rockets will hit our plant,” explained one of the owners of a large pharmaceutical company, whom The Globe and Mail is not identifying.
Support from entrepreneurs is part of a large-scale effort involving all Ukrainians, regardless of economic status, says famous TV anchor and volunteer Serhiy Pritula. In July, his charitable foundation started a fundraising campaign to purchase Bayraktar unmanned combat aerial vehicles for the Ukrainian army.
Within three days, the campaign raised 600-million hryvnia (almost US$20-million) – four times its original target – and has gone on to collect more than two-billion hryvnia, money that has been used to deliver 2,400 radio sets, more than a thousand drones, 480 cars, 125 buses and thousands of generators to the military.
“We, volunteers, are often much more efficient and flexible than the state. We do not need to go through tender purchases in order to buy the equipment necessary for the army,” Mr. Pritula explained.
Another famous Ukrainian entrepreneur, Vladyslav Chechotkin, the founder of online retailer Rozetka, is ranked at No. 20 in Forbes’s list of the richest Ukrainians, with an estimated net worth of US$470-million. His firm has supplied armoured vehicles, thermal imaging technology and military uniforms. “We also delivered baby food, hygiene and everything that was needed to civilians who were hiding in bomb shelters,” he said.
Valery Yakovenko, the founder of Drone.Ua, which before the invasion supplied drones to the Ukrainian market, said that in the first two days of the war he handed over all his equipment to the Armed Forces. In the first five months of the war, his company spent more than 40-million hryvnia on the purchase of defence equipment.
The company’s staff train operators of reconnaissance drones, and his partner Fevza Ametov serves in the army and is constantly on the front line. “Our drones are used not only for aerial reconnaissance but also for recording war crimes of the Russian army,” Mr. Yakovenko explained, calling the unmanned vehicles “the eyes of the military.”
All of them have strong reasons to support the army. “We have no choice. If Ukraine loses this war, there will be neither Ukraine nor business at all,” Mr. Chechotkin said. “We must help to win the war as soon as possible and return to rebuilding everything that we love and dream about now.”
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