Since 2005, the Foundation for Development of Ukraine—also known as the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation after its founder—has played a prominent role in Ukraine. Its work has been especially noticeable in Ukraine’s war-torn eastern region. Since 2014, following Russia’s invasion of the Crimean, the Donbas region (which incorporates the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in southeastern Ukraine) has been riven by fighting between separatist and government forces. This has led to a breakdown of general services that the Foundation has worked to alleviate, especially from 2014 to 2017 through the Rinat Akhmetov Humanitarian Center, which assisted civilians with food and medical aid before its work was interrupted by fighting in the region.
The philanthropic work that Akhmetov has made a vital aspect of his business career has grown out of his commercial successes. He is the founder of what is now one of Ukraine’s largest companies, System Capital Management Group (SCM). After being established in 2000, SCM has grown into a conglomerate that encompasses a wide array of business sectors. Its core holdings are in industrial steel production and energy, but it now also has major stakes in communications, real estate, and finance. Its crown jewel is one of Europe’s premier soccer clubs, Shakhtar Donetsk, which Akhmetov took over in 1996.
A native of the industrial city that is now home to his soccer club, Akhmetov was born in what was then the U.S.S.R. to a coal miner father and retail clerk mother. These humble beginnings are certainly part of why he has built his Foundation into a force that serves the people of Ukraine—and especially his native Donbas. The Targeted Assistance initiative for the region has aided over 20,000 people with emergency treatment and long-term rehabilitation support.
Taking On Disease
One of the principal focuses of the Foundation is the healthcare field, where it has built platforms that target specific maladies and created distribution networks that counteract more general health issues, including the fallout from armed conflict.
A Sudden Emergency
The vital work of the Foundation became even more apparent over the past year as the COVID pandemic put new pressures on Ukraine’s medical infrastructure. A nation already embroiled in civil strife and political intrigue struggled with reacting to this new threat that put the entire world on its heels.
“No country in the world was prepared for an epidemic of this magnitude. And we can cope with it only together, by combining the efforts of the central and regional authorities, the business, and every Ukrainian citizen,” Akhmetov said in a May 2020 interview with Radio Svoboda. “We help hospitals and our doctors—we purchase ventilators and other equipment. This includes test kits, personal protective equipment for medical staff, and many other things. We buy what is required by a specific region—we work in close cooperation with the Ministry of Health and regional anti-crisis centers.”
Over the past year, the Akhmetov Foundation has helped set up online sessions for over 800 Ukrainian doctors to share the best practices in treatment from around the world; provided additional training for the healthcare professionals responsible for operating ventilators; delivered state-of-the-art coronavirus testing equipment to major medical facilities around Ukraine; and distributed 20,000 rapid tests for frontline medical workers to regional emergency medical care centers, 25,000 to medical facilities in the Kyiv area, 15,000 to medical institutions in Kryvyi Rih, 30,000 to the Dnipropetrovsk region, and 50,000 to the Donetsk region. In total, over 320,000 rapid tests have been distributed by the Foundation, along with ventilators from a Swedish supplier, personal protective equipment, and infrared thermometers.
“At this point, I am amazed at the heroism of everyone on the ground. We all have teamed up for the sake of one goal. The round-the-clock work by local authorities and other services deserve great respect,” Akhmetov stated when talking about his foundation’s work on COVID-19. “Last but not least, the acts of heroism by doctors astound. They risk their lives to save people.”
The Foundation set up a medical advisory board early in the crisis to ensure that support was provided where it was needed. This has guided ongoing efforts. Speaking in October of 2020, a member of the board, Natalia Yemchenko, said: “Western Ukraine is at high risk. First and foremost, this is confirmed by official statistics because the region shares borders with countries where the coronavirus appeared earlier than in our country. Therefore, the need for rapid tests when patients for COVID-19 can be checked in 15 minutes is particularly high here.”
The Foundation’s efforts were able to get up and running quickly due to the staff’s experience and the broad foundation that SCM’s operations provide throughout Ukraine.
“The situation is difficult for everybody in the world, including our country. It is affecting small, medium-sized, and big businesses alike. I have mentioned before and will say again that a ‘light cough’ for certain countries is ‘pneumonia’ for us. For that reason, at the very beginning of the epidemic and the lockdown we urged everyone to join efforts to save the Ukrainian economy,” Akhmetov explained in the Radio Svoboda interview. “As for our assistance, we are helping the entire country. SCM businesses operate in almost every region. Therefore, we must help every city and every region, to help Kyiv and the whole country. SCM businesses have been always providing help and we are certainly not going to stand on the sidelines now.”
The kind of aggressive effort the Akhmetov Foundation was able to carry out in response to COVID built upon already established programs targeting other illnesses.
Cancer Can Be Cured
The only broad-based national effort to curtail cancer in Ukraine, the Cancer Can Be Cured initiative was established to improve treatment in Ukraine and bring the level of care to something closer to what is found in other developed nations. The program has helped install modern equipment in many partner hospitals and has been part of treating over 75,000 Ukrainians (including hundreds of children).
“In Western Europe and the US people changed their attitudes to cancer a long time ago: the word ‘cancer’ is no longer synonymous with ‘death’ but with ‘treatment’—a long, expensive, and complicated cure that finally leads to full recovery … To launch the system of early cancer detection, Rinat Akhmetov’s charitable foundation, Development of Ukraine, has donated $315 million for the purchase of expensive PET (positron emission tomography) scanners that diagnose diseases very precisely. Ukraine has never had such computerized devices before, but they are commonly used in Western Europe and the US,” stated a September 9, 2008, article in the Ukrainian paper The Day. “Rinat Akhmetov has been in contact with doctors, so he is very aware of the problem. He says that the worst thing is not so much the number of patients as inadequate diagnosis of diseases. This is why Ukraine badly needs PET scanners, a type of equipment that doctors have never even dreamed of using. PET is the gold standard not only in diagnosing cancer but also in monitoring the course of this disease as well as cardiovascular and neurological ailments.”
Stop TB in Ukraine
According to the World Health Organization: “Until the year 2000, TB prevalence in Ukraine grew annually by 15% to 20% as a result of the more and more difficult economic and social situation. This year , for the first time, the trend was reversed. ‘The main reason for this success lies in the introduction of an internationally recommended TB treatment strategy, called DOTS,’ says Dr. Oleg Karatajev, Chief Health Administrator for Donetsk and the surrounding region.”
Part of this success is due to another of the Foundation’s flagship programs, which was launched in response to the alarming rise in tuberculosis that plagued Ukraine. Stop TB in Ukraine helped bring the high-quality diagnostic services and treatment that have gotten the situation under control over the past decade, during which a drastic reduction in both the incidence rate and death rate has been recorded in Ukraine, especially in the Donetsk area.
The Rehabilitation of Injured Children Project
One of the tragedies common to any combat zone is that innocent civilians—most especially children—get caught in the crossfire. Scars both physical and mental can be the result. This is why the Akhmetov Foundation established a coordinated effort to provide psychological and medical support to people injured in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Efforts began early in the conflict when the Humanitarian Center provided training to over 250 Ukrainian psychologists on how to better deal with war trauma in their patients, with experts from around the world helping prep them in the common emotional maladies that armed conflict leaves in its wake. The effort including bringing two psychologists on staff at the Humanitarian Center to better coordinate continued training of health care providers and rehabilitation programs for victims, which were established in a wide range of schools, hospitals, shelters, and specialized facilities.
The project also supported physical therapy and rehabilitation efforts that covered limb and eye prostheses, joint reconstruction and replacement, adaptive rehabilitation, and other treatments common when dealing with war injuries. This, sadly, is an ongoing reality in Ukraine.
Given that over 24,000 people have been injured (and over 10,000 killed) in eastern Ukraine since hostilities began, the unfortunate fact is that the need for care for victims will be a long-term project. Landmines have been used extensively in the Donbas and will continue to be a threat even if the conflict recedes.
“The children risk being wounded or killed every day, by land mine blasts or shells. They study in buildings with bullet holes in the walls and windows with sandbags, where bomb shelters are equipped in the basements, and fragments of shells lie in the schoolyards,” explained Natalia Yemchenko, who is a member of the Akhmetov Foundation’s board, at the 2018 Annual Conference of the European Foundations Centre (EFC).
Targeted Medical Assistance
Along with broad programs targeting specific diseases and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the Foundation also provides more general programming that seeks to bring better healthcare outcomes to people throughout the county.
Such efforts have included distributing medical kits that can be used in the field when access to medical facilities is not possible, cardiac care units, targeted distribution of medicines for children, and birth kits to new mothers for the postnatal recovery period.
The distribution of nutritional packages has also been part of these efforts, with two distinct sets of rations being provided. One is for infants up to age 11 months that supplements nursing and the other for babies 1 to 3 years that helps with the transition to solid foods.
Such programs, which do not gain the notoriety of some more high-profile ones, are all part of a systematic approach to tackling societal ills. These efforts are well known in Ukraine and to those who are familiar with the challenges the country faces.
For example, the Deputy Head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Mission to Ukraine Alexander Hugh said in 2018: “I want to pay tribute to those organizations that help civilians on both sides of the line of contact. Such as the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, whose support will make life easier for those in need. I am glad that assistance continues to be provided.”