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In the crossfire of Ukraine-Russia conflict, an industrial plant fights to survive

A conflict between Ukraine and Russia since 2014 has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced 2 million and put businesses on the border, like the Metinvest plant in Eastern Ukraine, in the crossfire. Metinvest is the largest plant in Europe turning coal into a fuel to produce steel and it is constantly under attack. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Christopher Livesay reports.

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  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    It's the largest facility of its kind in all of Europe. The Metinvest plant in eastern Ukraine processes coal into coke, a high-grade fuel essential to manufacturing steel. This massive plant, essential to Ukraine's economy, is notable not only for its size, but that it continues to function under repeated attack in a war zone. It's survival due in part to the U.S.

  • MUSA MAGOMEDOV:

    The fact that we continue to work here looks more and more like a miracle.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    To help understand the danger for ourselves, we arranged to tour the plant one foggy morning. We were first briefed about its more "TYPICAL" hazards: high temperatures, gas, high-pressure pipes, and heavy machinery.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    "Feels like the end of the world up here."

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    The best way to stay out of the way in some cases was to let it roll right over me. We were taken to one of eight furnaces.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    It's really toasty up here. Each burning at more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. The furnaces have to keep burning at all times. If they fall below 1600 degrees for more than a few days, the furnaces which cost 150 million dollars each will collapse. And that's a real possibility. The Ukrainian army has been fighting well-armed rebels for the past four years and this plant is located in a strategic position between them.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    We're really just a couple of miles from the front line here. It's made this plant a big target in the war. Since the war started the plant has been hit more than 300 times by heavy weapons.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    The heaviest bombardments have been deadly, says the plant's Director General Musa Magomedov.

  • MUSA MAGOMEDOV:

    I've lost 12 people and more than 60 were wounded.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Were they killed here or at the factory?

  • MUSA MAGOMEDOV:

    Here in the factory and on the way from factory to home.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    What was your worst day?

  • MUSA MAGOMEDOV:

    There have been a lot of bad days here. The worst was when we were attacked by a series of rockets. I was standing near the window here when I saw them landing in the factory one-by-one. I was so shocked that I couldn't hide and was hit by the shockwave. Everything was on fire and smoking, people died that day. The factory work stopped and we didn't know if it was possible to start again.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    They did manage to restart, keeping the furnace fires going just enough to prevent a crippling shutdown and production continued. Today, workers take the more occasional shelling in stride.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Is it scary to be working in an area where there is fighting going on nearby?

  • MAXIM BUTOVSKIY:

    You get used to it or you have some immunity. Sometimes you don't realize there is shooting around. It blends in with all of the mechanical sounds.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Do you know anybody that has been hurt in this conflict, friends or family?

  • MAXIM BUTOVSKIY:

    Some have suffered mentally. Some of my friends families were broken because of this war. Because the husband was here and his wife and children moved away. As a result the family collapsed.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    But this coke plant is still standing, just one example of how people in Eastern Ukraine are trying to hold out until the war comes to an end. The war has made it harder to get the coal crucial to running the plant. Russia used to be a big supplier, but it's backing the rebels, that is, the people who are shelling the plant. So Ukraine has looked for other sources, including America.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    So this coal is from Pennsylvania?

  • WORKER:

    Yes.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Before the war the plant received 20% of its coal from the U.S. Now it's more like 50 percent. 250,000 tons of American coal arrive here every month. The coal is a lifeline for the plant and the strategic town of Avdiivka. The plant supplies heat to the town and jobs. Four thousand of Avdiivka's twenty thousand residents work here. For Musa Magomedov, it's simple. Without the plant there is no town. Losing another town is the beginning of the end of his country.

  • MUSA MAGOMEDOV:

    It's a domino principle. If we leave this place, the coke will not reach metallurgy works, the metal price will be less competitive, and people will leave those factories. We will lose a lot economy wise and we can lose the country in the end. That's why it's our contribution to keep the country alive.

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