28th May 2024

Rinat Akhmetov’s Steel Front Offers Housing and Hope to Mariupol’s Valiant War Veterans and their Families

Mstyslav Chernov’s “20 Days in Mariupol” follows a team of Ukrainian AP journalists caught in the line of fire who capture the brutal opening salvo of Russia’s unforgivable attack on Ukraine.

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Rinat Akhmetov’s Steel Front Offers Housing and Hope to Mariupol’s Valiant War Veterans and their Families

The unflinching look at war’s stark realities took home the Oscar in the Best Documentary Feature Film category at this year’s Academy Awards. While the gut-wrenching images of a city under siege brought the atrocities of an unprovoked criminal assault to a world stage, in Mariupol, the brave defenders of the city were left behind to pick up the pieces. Fortunately, for many who lost their homes to the ravages of Russian bombardment, Rinat Akhmetov’s Steel Front Foundation has been there from the beginning to help them rebuild.

Supporting Defenders From the Front Lines to the Home Front

The Heart of Azovstal’s At Home program was created by the Steel Front to provide new homes as well as renewed hope to Mariupol’s valiant war veterans and their families. Funded by billionaire philanthropist Rinat Akhmetov’s portfolio of global corporations, including steel and mining giant Metinvest, Steel Front is an umbrella initiative offering both practical and humanitarian aid on the front lines of the war as well as on the homefront to Ukraine’s stalwart military defenders.

Housing for the Heart of Azovstal’s At Home program was specifically designed with thoughtful modifications that maximize comfort and increase accessibility to accommodate the unique needs of disabled veterans. In addition to the military men and women who suffered grievous bodily harm in the defense of Mariupol, local families displaced by the hostilities were also eligible to apply for housing assistance through the program.

The pilot phase of the At Home project, completed in Jan. 2024, saw 15 Mariupol defenders and their families receive keys to their new homes. “The At Home pilot performed extremely well. We completed the assignment of our founder, Rinat Akhmetov,” noted Heart of Azovstal project manager Ksenia Sukhova. 

Sukhova reported that with their fundamental needs now met, the rehomed Mariupol defenders are looking ahead to the future. “All of them have different stories. Some continue their service, others plan to start their own business, and some want to embark on a new profession,” she said.

According to Sukhova, even though the families are safely resettled, the program will continue its support to the veterans and their families as they navigate their complex ongoing journeys. “The At Home program extends beyond providing a home. Our great goal is that the defenders who [were] disabled while standing their ground [at] Mariupol, [will] have every opportunity to move on, find new meanings, and form new goals,” she explained, adding: “…This pilot project proves we can achieve that goal.”

Twice Wounded Hero Begins Life’s Next Chapters Thanks to Heart of Azovstal

One Mariupol veteran to receive a new lease on life thanks to the At Home project was longtime defender Anatoliy Pluzhnikov. Pluzhnikov’s military record dates back to 2014. Seriously wounded in early skirmishes with the Russian aggressors, he was retired from military service and awaiting his disability status in a Mariupol hospital ward when Vladimir Putin launched the deadly full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Upon hearing the horrific news, in spite of the injuries he’d already sustained, Pluzhnikov got up from his hospital bed and reenlisted… only to be wounded again not long after.

During his subsequent recuperation, Pluzhnikov bore witness as Russian bombs decimated a maternity hospital. On the morning of Mar. 17, he was moved to a military hospital located near the Neptune Swimming Pool. That afternoon, the pool was laid waste by enemy shelling.

As agonizing as it was to experience these horrors, Pluzhnikov’s gravest concern was the fate of his wife and daughter with whom he’d lost contact. Pluzhnikov admitted he feared the worst. While elated once he learned they’d survived the assaults on Mariupol, the family home was lost. That’s when the Heart of Azovstal stepped in with an offer of new housing.

Now living in Odessa, a coastal town that reminds Pluzhnikov and his family of their native Mariupol, the twice-wounded hero is finally beginning to feel truly hopeful. “The At Home program has blessed us with a new home,” said Pluzhnikov. “For two years we have been moving from one rented apartment to another, which is very hard. I am grateful to Rinat Akhmetov for taking care of the defenders. It is beyond my wildest dreams. Now my daughter’s wish has come true; she has her own room.”

Seaside Odessa Becomes Home Away from Home for Mariupol Veteran

When the full-scale Russian invasion began, Oleksiy Kobelkov signed on with a marine guard detachment to fight the oppressors. In the course of treacherous street-to-street combat in defense of Azovstal, he was hit in the face by shrapnel and lost an eye.

Forced to surrender in May, Kobelkov spent 10 months in enemy captivity before being able to return to Ukraine. After being repatriated, Kobelkov underwent physical and psychological rehabilitation at a Heart of Azovstal-run recreation facility administered by Rinat Akhmentov’s Steel Front foundation, and was then helped on his way to Odessa where a new home awaited.

Like Pluzhnikov, Odessa reminds Kobelkov of his portside home in Mariupol. “It’s like a Christmas miracle for me. I have not yet fully realized it. I am very happy to have been granted an apartment in Odessa because I feel comfortable here. I have lived in Mariupol all my life and Odessa reminds me most of my home because it is by the sea,” he explained.

While he dreams of the day when the war is over and he can return to Mariupol, Kobelkov is doing his best to adapt to the changes in his circumstances and make the most of the opportunities he’s been offered. He’s grateful to the Heart of Azovstal’s At Home program for all they’ve done and continue to do to ease his transition.

“The At Home program was initiated personally by Rinat Akhmetov, founder of the Heart of Azovstal, to take care of our defenders and their future,” noted Sukhova. “Our key objective is to provide fundamental assistance and meet [the defenders’] most urgent needs. When they have their own housing, they can think about their future. It is crucial for us to guide [Kobelkov] and [others like him] along this path, help them decide on a new profession, and realize their potential. Indeed, all Heart of Azovstal programs are designed to help our hard-as-steel defenders on the way from rehabilitation to self-fulfillment.”

What Dreams May Come: The End of War and the Resurrection of Mariupol

Perhaps one day in the future, Mstyslav Chernov will return to create a follow-up to “20 Days in Mariupol.” Perhaps this new documentary will reveal scenes of families returning to their homes and of a city being reborn. The new film will serve as a testament to the determination and fierce loyalty of the citizens who gave everything they had to defend their beloved hometown against the evil made manifest by Vladamir Putin’s illegal and unholy war. It will send a powerful message to the world stage proclaiming Ukraine cannot and will not be broken by the tyranny of a criminal usurper’s barbaric machinations. Such are the hopes and dreams of Mariupol’s displaced families and veterans — hopes and dreams that every day, Rinat Akhmetov and his Heart of Azovstal program are working to see come true.

Categories: Articles, European Business News

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