Ukrainian billionaire businessman Rinat Akhmetov, the owner of professional football club FC Shakhtar Donetsk, has donated $25 million to his Heart of Azovstal charitable project supporting the families of fallen soldiers in Ukraine.
The donation follows the completion of a record-breaking $78.4 million transfer of Shakhtar left winger Mykhailo Mudryk to English Premier League club Chelsea FC. The club announced the transfer completion in January, with a contract set to last for eight-and-a-half years.
“A skillful player with plenty of pace, Mudryk has quickly built a reputation as one of the most dangerous attacking players in Europe in one-v-one situations,” reads a recent press release on the Chelsea FC website.
The Heart of Azovstal Project
On Jan. 16, the day following Chelsea’s announcement that the transfer had been completed, Rinat Akhmetov launched the Heart of Azovstal project.
Akhmetov immediately allocated 1 billion hryvnia to the project from Mudryk’s transfer fee. This is the latest in a series of charitable donations made by Akhmetov and his various business enterprises, including his steel and mining conglomerate Metinvest Group and energy company DTEK, which to date total billions of hryvnia.
In a press release published on Shakhtar Donetsk FC’s official website, Rinat Akhmetov said, “I have made a decision to launch the Heart of Azovstal, a project designed to help Mariupol defenders and the families of fallen soldiers. Their acts of bravery are unparalleled in modern history. It is them, their sacrifice and courage, that helped contain the enemy in the first months of the war and let all of us feel the inevitability of the victory of Ukraine now.”
In the announcement, Akhmetov says that the allocated funding will be used to cover the various needs of soldiers and their families, “from providing medical and prosthetic treatment and psychological support to meeting specific requests.” To ensure transparency, Akhmetov says that the project will have a professional independent team that will act as a point of contact for those eligible to receive support.
No Football Without Ukraine’s Soldiers
The transfer fee money is undoubtedly a huge boost for Shakhtar, a team that was forced to flee its home of Donetsk following the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. More recently, Shakhtar has seen many of its top overseas players temporarily suspend their contracts and sign up for other teams after FIFA changed its rules in response to February 2022’s unprovoked invasion, which led to a full-scale war. Rinat Akhmetov is currently locked in a huge legal battle with FIFA due to this rule change and the financial losses it has caused the club.
Despite the significance of the funding boost for Shakhtar, Akhmetov has made it clear that without the sacrifices of his country’s soldiers, there would be no football. And as such, he decided to launch the Heart of Azovstal project and direct almost one-third of the transfer fee to it.
Azovstal is significant because it’s where Ukrainian fighters sustained weeks of Russian bombardment in Akhmetov’s steel plant in Mariupol before the city fell to the invading forces. Since the end of the siege of Mariupol, Azovstal has become a symbol of bravery, endurance, and the undefeated spirit of the Ukrainian people.
As for how Akhmetov feels about Mudryk’s transfer to Chelsea, he admitted that he has mixed feelings. “On the one hand, I am happy for Mykhailo and proud of him. This guy is leading by example, showing that talent and hard work can make the impossible possible … On the other hand, I have never made it a secret that my dream is to win European trophies,” Akhmetov said.
Akhmetov acknowledges that now is not the time for focusing on trophies. “It is impossible now, as Ukraine is fighting the horrendous and unjust war waged against us by the Russian Federation,” he said, adding this is a war he’s confident Ukraine will win.
When the war is over, Akhmetov has expressed his interest in FC Shakhtar playing against Chelsea at Donbas Arena in a friendly match. “One of the things I look forward to most after our victory is Mykhailo returning with his Chelsea team for a friendly match in Donbas Arena in Ukrainian Donetsk. We must do everything we can to bring this day closer. We are forever indebted to our soldiers.”