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The Lifecell signboard is visible on the facade of the building on Dec. 15, 2023 in Lviv, Ukraine. (Mykola Tys/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
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The following is the April 9, 2024 edition of our Ukraine Business Roundup weekly newsletter. To get the biggest news in business and tech from Ukraine directly in your inbox, subscribe here.

French billionaire Xavier Niel’s investment company NJJ Capital announced that it would be acquiring and merging two major telecom companies in Ukraine in what is set to be one of the largest acquisitions in the country’s history, bringing with it investment at a time when the country desperately needs it.

In a joint press release on April 8, NJJ said it had received regulatory approval in March from Ukraine's antitrust regulator to acquire one of Ukraine’s largest fixed telecom and pay-TV providers Datagroup-Volia. Following regulatory approval, the company is expected to acquire Turkish-owned Lifecell, Ukraine’s third-largest mobile operator, the press release said.

Once the acquisitions are complete, Niel’s NJJ plans to merge Datagroup-Volia together with Lifecell to form a combined Datagroup-Volia-Lifecell entity, according to the press release.

The total value of the acquisition, including the purchase price and investment, is expected to be over $1 billion, a source involved in the deal told the Kyiv Independent. The final value of the deal will be announced at the close.

The acquisitions are the first major investments in Ukraine by a new market player since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion and one of the most significant investments into the country's telecommunications sector by a Western investor.

As Russia’s war against Ukraine rages on and foreign investment trickles in, the merger is both a positive market signal for would-be private-sector investors and a marked step toward further integration with European markets.

The purchase is also one of the largest acquisitions in independent Ukraine’s 33-year history since Indian Mittal Steel purchased the Kryvorizhstal complex for $4.8 billion in 2005 before merging with Arcelor a year later, and becoming ArcelorMittal.

Read the full article here.

The online gambling company Favbet’s logo is seen during the second match of the Favbet-League semi-final playoff hockey series on March 3, 2024 in Kyiv, Ukraine.(Yurii Yuriev/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

Ukraine’s gambling problem

Over the last week, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that the government is preparing to tighten control over the online gambling industry in Ukraine after a petition demanding restrictions passed the threshold for presidential consideration within a few hours on March 29.

The author of the petition, soldier Pavlo Petrychenko, asked to introduce a bill that would ban gambling and access to online casinos for military personnel during martial law. He also called to ban gambling advertising that uses symbols of the Armed Forces or mentions charitable assistance to the military by gambling market participants.

"For many of them (military personnel), gambling becomes the only way to cope with stress, and therefore quickly causes dopamine addiction and weakens their self-control," Petrychenko wrote.

Gambling was legalized in Ukraine in 2020 after being banned in 2009. In the first two months of 2024, the industry paid Hr 2.2 billion ($55.6 million) in taxes, and Hr 10.4 billion ($263.3 million) in 2023, according to Danylo Hetmantsev, the chairman of the parliamentary Finance Committee.

Meanwhile, gambling business leaders in Ukraine multiplied their fortunes by 28 times in 2023, earning around $1.4 billion last year, according to Opendatabot.

Despite these numbers, many gambling companies still find lots of ways to pay less taxes, such as through the use of miscoding, or entering incorrect category details when inputting the payment into banking systems to conceal the true source of the payment.

Senior economist at the Kyiv-based Center for Economic Strategy Yuri Gaidai doubts the feasibility of banning gambling outright for members of the military. One solution according to Gaidai could be the introduction of an online monitoring system with reliable verification of the player's identity, although it could increase security risks for the military.

Gaidai also said that it is, however, crucial that the government find a way to “systematically restrict gambling advertising and effectively prosecute violations to reduce the spread of addiction.”

A committee in Ukraine’s parliament approved on April 4 a draft law to eliminate the scandal-ridden and ineffective Gambling and Lotteries Regulatory Commission (known in Ukraine as KRAIL) and strengthen control over the gambling business.

The Forbes logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)


Eleven Ukrainians made it onto the Forbes 30 under 30 Europe list while five Ukrainians made it onto Forbes's “World’s Billionaires List 2024,” both released over the last week.

Forbes 30 Under 30 features 30 notable people under 30 years old in various industries and is issued annually by Forbes magazine and some of its regional editions.

The ninth edition of the Forbes 30 under 30 Europe list included four Ukrainian founders in the tech category, two Ukrainians in the media and marketing category, one in the social impact category, two in the sports category, and two in the finance category. Read the full list here.

Meanwhile, five Ukrainians made it onto Forbes’s billionaires list in 2024, which is one less than last year. The unlucky contestant? Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky who has been behind bars since September 2023 on charges of money laundering and fraud. In 2023, Kolomoisky was 2,540th on the Forbes billionaires list with a net worth of $1 billion.

Those who did make it onto the list this year include Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, who took 785th place in Forbes’s ranking with a net worth of $4 billion, which is $1.7 billion less than last year.

The four others on the list are oligarch and Interpipe Group owner Victor Pinchuk who was 1,623rd on the list with a net worth of $2 billion; Smart Holding owner Vadym Novinsky who was 2,410th on the list with $1.2 billion; Ferrexpo shareholder Kostyantyn Zhevago also in 2,410th place with $1.2 billion; and Hennadiy Boholyubov, co-owner of Privat Group and business partner of Kolomoisky who came in 2,692nd place with $1 billion.

Each one saw a drop in their net worth over the last year as Russia’s ongoing war continues to wreak havoc on Ukraine’s economy, and the country’s tycoons have lost factories and assets to Russian attacks and occupation.

The cargo vessel Captain Leonidas became the largest vessel to enter Ukrainian ports since the start of the full-scale invasion. Photo published on April 6, 2024. (Infrastructure Ministry/Telegram)

Go your own way

Over 36 million metric tons of goods have been shipped through Ukraine's Black Sea corridor since its opening in August 2023, Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on April 6.

According to Kubrakov, Ukraine's corridor has already facilitated shipments of more goods than the Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by Turkey and the U.N. in July 2022.

After Russia pulled out of the initiative, effectively canceling it, in July 2023, Ukraine opened a new corridor the following month. Initially envisioned as a humanitarian corridor to allow the departure of ships stranded there since the start of the full-scale war, it has since grown into a full-blown trade route.

Since August 2023, 1,286 vessels have passed the corridor, exporting 25 million metric tons of agricultural products to Asia, Africa, and Europe, Kubrakov noted.

At the moment, 135 cargo vessels are waiting to enter ports in and around Odesa. They are expected to export 4 million metric tons of cargo.

"The ministry's team is working hard to ensure stable exports by the sea reach pre-war (export levels)," Kubrakov said.

A man walks past the Russian Central Bank headquarters in downtown Moscow on September 6, 2023. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)

Answering your burning questions

With all the news about seizing frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine, it can be hard to follow the ongoing debate in the West over what do to with the money.

Timothy Ash, associate fellow at Chatham House, in an opinion piece for the Kyiv Independent has put together a Q&A neatly laying out the issue.

In it, Ash outlines how much money is currently immobilized in Western jurisdictions, why they haven’t been seized and allocated to Ukraine already, and what happens if Western leaders don’t get their act together and no solution is found.

Give it a read here.

What else is happening

Ukraine's international reserves increase to record $43.8 billion in March. Ukraine's international reserves in March 2024 grew by 18% to $43.76 billion, breaking a new record, the National Bank of Ukraine announced on April 5. The previous record was on Aug. 1, 2023, when reserves reached $41.72 billion. The growth was driven by significant inflows from international partners, which exceeded the NBU's net sales of foreign currency and the country's foreign currency debt payments, according to the NBU. As March’s increase was solely due to large amounts of foreign financing, it’s not a sign of any economic breakthrough but is still welcome news as high amounts of reserves will serve as a safety cushion for Ukraine in the coming months, the Kyiv-based Center for Economic Strategy said in a post on Telegram.

Denmark announces $5.8 million for Ukraine's energy system, signs partnerships in biogas. Denmark's Foreign Ministry on April 8 announced $5.8 million in aid for Ukraine's energy infrastructure. The funds will be directed toward Ukraine's ability to rebuild damaged infrastructure and "develop an energy system that is more resistant to both rough winters and Russian attacks," Danish Energy Minister Lars Aagaard said during his recent visit to Kyiv. Ukraine’s Energy Ministry also signed partnership agreements on cooperation in biogas with Denmark’s Climate Ministry. “There are many Danish companies that are ready to join the cooperation with Ukraine in this area,” Minister of Climate, Energy and Communal Services of Denmark, Lars Ohor said at the signing.

Reuters: UN nuclear watchdog's board to meet on Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant attacks. The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Board of Governors will meet to discuss the recent attacks on the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the city of Enerhodar, Reuters reported on April 9, citing four unnamed diplomats. The plant reportedly suffered at least three direct strikes on April 7, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Russia and Ukraine have traded blame over the attacks, with both sides denying involvement. Russia’s Ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov called for an emergency board meeting on April 8 over the attacks. A date hasn’t been set for the meeting yet, but Russia is likely to use it to blame Ukraine for the attacks, although is unlikely to receive broad backing from the board, which passed a resolution last month calling on Russia to withdraw its troops from the plant, Reuters wrote.

EU to impose restrictions on export of Ukrainian agriculture products, agrees to free trade extension. The European Union announced on April 8 that it had reached a provisional deal with European Parliament representatives to extend the suspension of import duties and quotas on Ukrainian exports to the EU until June 2025, but with new restrictions on agriculture products. If formally adopted, the new restrictions will reintroduce tariff quotas on imports of poultry, eggs, sugar, oats, maize, groats, and honey, if the average volume of exports exceeds those of previous years. According to a press release, the EU seeks to impose restrictions to take "into account any adverse impact on the market of one or several member states (as is the case now)." The agreement still needs to be voted on by European lawmakers.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon: ‘Ukraine's struggle is our struggle.’ Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase’s billionaire CEO, in his 2023 annual shareholder letter that was published on April 8 covered what Dimon sees are the biggest challenges for his company and the world, with a major theme being Russia’s war and the urgent need to help Ukraine win. “Staying on the sidelines during battles of autocracy and democracy, between dictatorship and freedom, is simply not an option for America today. Ukraine is the front line of democracy. If the war goes badly for Ukraine, you may see the splintering of Pax Americana, which would be a disaster for the whole free world,” Dimon's address reads. “Ukraine’s struggle is our struggle, and ensuring their victory is ensuring America first. It is imperative that our national leaders explain to the American people what is at stake and make a powerful case – with energy, consistency, and clarity – for our strong enduring commitment to Ukraine’s survival for as long as it takes (and it could take years),” he wrote.

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