Accessibility links

Ukraine Tycoon's Workforce Protests Against Pro-Russians

  • Patrick Wells

For the second day in a row, employees of the Ukrainian steel magnate Rinat Akhmetov staged small demonstrations against separatists in Donetsk and other cities across eastern Ukraine.

They came down from the glistening steel and marble office tower that dominates the skyline of Donetsk for a lunchtime demonstration.

These rather well-dressed political activists are senior employees of Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man.

He recently called on his 300,000 strong workforce to demonstrate every day at 12 p.m. against the pro-Russian separatist movement that has swept through this region.

Akhmetov initially remained quiet about the uprising here, but in a statement on Monday he said that people were tired of living in fear and called the separatists’ actions “a genocide” of the Donbas region.

Critics have said that Akhmetov has only weighed in now because the rebellion has started to have an affect on his business interests.

Rebels recently seized industrial railway lines. And, it has become clear that if eastern Ukraine were to secede, very few countries would recognize it, meaning vital export markets in Europe and elsewhere would be closed off.

Ilyena Dimitrova said secession would be an economic disaster.

“It will be a disaster, because all the coal mines across the border in Rostov in Russia used to be subsidized and have been closed, and all the coal mines here are subsidized. The only way to keep the mines is through free economics without corruption," said Dimitrova.

Nearby, pro-Russian separatists, some of whom were carrying hammers and clubs, tried to stop cars that were honking their horns in support of the protest. The police looked confused, perhaps unsure of who to arrest. Their inaction caused anger among some of the protesters.

“What the hell are you doing? Why is one man allowed to make such a big problem blocking the road? Do they want to make up their own rules everywhere in Donetsk? Just look, he has a knife on his belt," shouted a pro - Russian woman.

Lev, who also works in Akhmetov’s nearby office, insisted he had not been ordered to attend the protest.

“You cannot say that public opinion is just like this or like that, no, it varies. But here, what they are doing is not normal. Most people think that already. Just running through the city with guns and trying to stop traffic or crash cars, that’s not okay," said Lev.

Later, at the occupied regional administration building, separatists called for Akhmetov to get out of Donetsk. They have now scheduled an anti-Akhmetov rally for Thursday morning.