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Ukraine Showcases Investment Opportunities at Port on Edge of War Zone

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 10/29/2019 Daryna Krasnolutska

(Bloomberg) -- Located on the edge of a war zone, Mariupol is one of the hardest cities to reach in Ukraine. To President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, it’s the perfect venue to show investors his nation is open for business.

Attendees of Tuesday’s RE:THINK. Invest in Ukraine conference face a grueling journey.

There’s no functioning airport, while the one in nearby Donetsk was decimated by the five-year conflict with Kremlin-backed fighters that broke out after Russia seized Crimea in 2014.

Journalists covering the event, which includes registered attendees from Airbus SE and Coca-Cola Co, endured an 18-hour train ride from Kyiv. The drive from the closest major airport is four hours.

Upon arrival, it’s hard not to miss the scars of shelling on local-administration buildings. The hostilities, while past a peak that accounted for most of the 13,000 fatalities, begin a mere 20 kilometers (12 miles) away.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine flared most recently last year in the Sea of Azov, where Mariupol is located.

“All Ukrainian regions need investment, but this one in particular,” Iuliia Mendel, Zelenskiy’s spokeswoman, said by phone. “The president wants to turn Mariupol into a show room.”

Zelenskiy will be keen to return to his economic agenda having been sucked into the impeachment inquiry threatening U.S. President Donald Trump. One of the latest people to testify before Congress in the probe, William Taylor, is attending the conference in his current capacity as the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in Kyiv.

The Ukrainian leader is unlikely to be in for an easy ride, nevertheless. He’s almost certain to face questions over his ties to a controversial local billionaire who used to own the country’s biggest bank and whose challenge to its nationalization are causing ripples.

Always the showman, Zelenskiy -- a former TV comic who won elections this year -- is offering some conference participants the chance to pitch ideas to him for two minutes each. It’s a similar stunt to the 16-hour news conference he held last month in Kyiv.

On the eve of Tuesday’s forum, temporary pavilions were hastily being erected in time for the opening, where government officials will tout an improving economy and the potential for billions more in international aid in the coming months.

Not all of the preparations were smooth, however. Reporters who’d braved the long journey to Mariupol complained that conference organizers had scheduled their return trip to Kyiv for before the end of Zelenskiy’s closing speech.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daryna Krasnolutska in Kiev at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrea Dudik at, Andrew Langley, Balazs Penz

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