By Joseph Campbell
KRYVYI RIH, Ukraine (Reuters) – A giant steel plant in Ukraine’s central city of Kryvyi Rih is slowly resuming work, although the conflict in the country rages on, and Russian troops are only 60 kilometres (37 miles) away.
ArcelorMittal Kryvyi Rih – not the large steel plant in Mariupol where fighters are holed up – began restarting one of its blast furnaces on April 9, after shutting down all four when the February invasion began.
The plant, one of Ukraine’s largest, has further plans to restart a second furnace by May if the situation remains stable, according to CEO Mauro Longobardo.
“Sixty kilometres 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.
“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 said. Any damage to the country’s railway infrastructure would also affect its ability to export, he said.
The plant and nearby mines operated by ArcelorMittal are functioning with around 94% of their original staff, the company said. Other workers 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.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West says this a false pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression by President Vladimir Putin.
(This story has been refiled to fix a typo in the reporter’s name)
(Reporting by Joseph Campbell, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)