Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for medical oxygen has increased worldwide. Oxygen has become a strategic resource to save people’s lives. Ukraine is no exception. In particular, it is confirmed by assessments of gasworld’s Business Intelligence department, whose research revealed that Ukraine’s medical oxygen demand more than doubled during the pandemic (from 140 - 150 metric tonnes per day to 350 - 380 metric tonnes per day).

The need for oxygen increased especially sharply in October-November 2021, when another outbreak of the coronavirus occurred in Ukraine. According to doctors, a patient with Covid-19 required 5-6 times more oxygen than during previous waves of the disease. In October the situation was also exacerbated by the shutdown for scheduled repairs of the two largest plants producing medical oxygen in Ukraine – Messer Group and Linde. In such conditions, the healthcare system was supported by industrial enterprises, some of which received a license to produce medical oxygen.

In October 2020 there were only six licensed producers of medical oxygen in Ukraine. In October 2021 medical oxygen was produced by 23 enterprises. Another 13 enterprises produced technical oxygen which parameters were similar to medical oxygen. In April 2021 the Ukrainian government has allowed the use of technical oxygen for medical treatment if technical oxygen meets medical requirements. So, in fact, 35 enterprises in Ukraine can produce oxygen for hospitals. The total capacities are around 400 tonnes daily.

In 2021 Metinvest Holding’s plants supplied 7.5 thousand tonnes of medical oxygen, including Zaporizhstal – 4.4 thousand tonnes, Azovstal – 0.5 thousand tonnes, Ilyich Iron and Steel Works – 1.9 thousand tonnes, Kametstal – 0.7 thousand tonnes. Kametstal became part of Metinvest Holding in 2021 and applied for a license to produce medical oxygen. Metinvest plants supplied all oxygen free of charge as part of social programmes. 110 hospitals received oxygen from Metinvest’s plants in 2021.

Another major producer of oxygen is ArcelorMittal Kryvyi Rih. In 2021 it supplied 2.5 thousand tonnes of liquefied oxygen. The plant sold oxygen to specialized gas companies, which supplied this gas to hospitals according to agreements with the Ministry of Health.

In 2022, oxygen supplies from steel plants continue. For example, Metinvest Holding has shipped 880 tonnes of oxygen to hospitals since the beginning of the year. The negative factor is the Russia-Ukraine war, which disrupted the normal operating activity of steel plants. Most of them ceased operations at the beginning of the war, therefore the production and supply of oxygen has also reduced.

People’s lives were endangered not just from shelling, but also from the rising rates of Covid-19. Those affected are staying in shelters where it is impossible to comply with the necessary anti-epidemic standards. Because of the war, we do not have exact figures for the Covid-19 incidence in Ukraine, but there is another outbreak of coronavirus in the world, and it can be assumed that in Ukraine the Covid-19 incidence is also at a high level. In such conditions, Ukraine has lost many domestic sources of medical oxygen.

Despite the war, Ukrainian steelmakers continue to supply oxygen to hospitals, demonstrating a high level of social responsibility. Since the war’s beginning, Kametstal Metinvest has been continuing to work, so 120 tonnes of oxygen was delivered to hospitals during five weeks of the war.

Recently, other steel plants have begun to resume work. Therefore, there are more opportunities for the production of oxygen. In particular, Zaporizhstal Metinvest resumed shipment of oxygen to hospitals on April 12th. ArcelorMittal Kryvyi Rih will be able to supply excess oxygen because the company launched a blast furnace on April 9th. The most difficult situation is at the Mariupol plants (Azovstal and Ilyich Iron and Steel Works), which are located in the war zone. The prospects for the resumption of their production are unclear now.

During the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, steel plants proved their exceptional role in the economy of Ukraine. They do not only represent the base economic sector, which contributes 9.5% to GDP and 32.5% to Ukrainian exports. Ukrainian steelmakers strengthen the healthcare system and save the lives of Ukrainian citizens.

Stanislav Zinchenko is the CEO of GMK Center, a Ukrainian based think-tank with focus on CIS iron&steel sector. GMK Center offers comprehensive consulting services and industrial expertise. GMK Center highlights the main events and trends in steelmaking industry through the web-portal https://gmk.center/en/