Ukraine’s largest steel plant is slowly resuming work, despite advancing Russian troops right next door in the south of the country.
ArcelorMittal Kryvyi Rih, located in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih, sits just around 60 km (37.2 miles) from territory occupied by Russian troops. Despite shutting down all four of its functioning furnaces at the start of the war, the plant restarted one of its blast furnaces on April 9, and has further plans to restart a second by May if the situation remains stable, according to CEO Mauro Longobardo.
Nevertheless, the plant does not remain invulnerable to Russian attacks.
“Sixty kilometres (37.2 miles) from here there are these (Russian) troops, so we don’t know what is going to happen today or tomorrow, and we hope that the Ukrainian army will be able to push them back,” Longobardo told Reuters on Wednesday (April 27).
“But of course we recognise the risk, and need to be realistic, because the plant cannot be hit only by the land troops, but it can be also hit by rockets,” he added.
The plant and nearby mines operated by ArcelorMittal are now functioning with around 94% of its original staff, as some of the original workforce have been called into military service or evacuated to western Ukraine.
According to staff, the last time the over-80-year-old plant shut down all blast furnaces was during World War Two–when the plant was destroyed.
Longobardo said that before the current war 80% of the plant’s output was for export, and although shipping routes via the Black Sea have now been shut, they now rely almost exclusively on railway.
“Of course if the railway routes are damaged somehow, we will suffer,” said Longobardo, referencing Russian forces recently targetting railway infrastructure across the country.
Ukraine’s military command said on Monday (April 25) that Russia was trying to bomb Ukraine’s rail infrastructure in order to disrupt arms supplies from foreign countries.
Since the conflict began on February 24, Russia has said it is carrying out a special military operation in Ukraine aimed at demilitarising and “denazifying” the country.