The full-scale war has altered Ukraine’s power structure, delivering a deadly blow to the country’s wealthy and politically-connected elite.
“Today this group [the oligarchs] doesn’t influence politics, the economy or the media anymore,” Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said in a recent interview.
In late 2021, President Volodymyr Zelensky made the colloquial term ‘oligarch’ official by signing an anti-oligarch law, which stated that this moniker refers to a wealthy person with a net worth of over $80 million, who owns or influences both media and politics. Many thought that decreasing the oligarch’s powers would need years. It took only days.
Soon after Russia began bombarding Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the TV stations, some of which are owned by oligarchs, were forcibly merged into a continuous government-run news telethon, which is still airing today. The same day, the National Security and Defence Council imposed martial law, with the president becoming the country’s sole power holder.
Now, many oligarchs are losing their wealth and assets due to Russian attacks and the government’s consolidation of power.
Two major oligarchs, Ihor Kolomoiskyi and Kostyantyn Zhevago, who are facing legal troubles in Ukraine and abroad, were stripped of some of their assets by the authorities last November. This included energy companies Ukrnafta, Ukrtatnafta, and vehicle manufacturer AutoKraz. Prior to that, Kolomoiskyi’s Kremenchuk oil refinery was destroyed by Russian missiles in May. Two months later, the president stripped Kolomoiskyi of his Ukrainian citizenship.
Oligarch Rinat Akhmetov lost most of his pre-war fortune of $7.6 billion after Russia sacked and pillaged his native Donbas, where most of his assets are located. This includes steel mills in Mariupol, which boasted an annual production of 8.6 million tonnes, 90% of his holding company’s steel yield.
In June, Akhmetov closed his media company, the biggest in the country.
According to Forbes Ukraine, the 20 wealthiest people in Ukraine lost $20 billion in 2022. However, it’s too early to draw conclusions on what this means in the long-term, says Oleksandr Lemenov, co-founder of the NGO StateWatch. “The war has only hit the financial interests of certain oligarchs, nothing more,” says Lemenov. “The oligarchy will be ‘killed’ by stable democracy, a strong middle class, and stable political institutions.”