KIEV, April 30 Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, said on Wednesday he had no plans to sell his businesses in the country's industrial east and his faith was unshaken in a region increasingly in the hands of pro-Russian separatists.
The 47-year-old tycoon said he would continue to invest in Ukraine, which must find a way to unite again as rebels seized more buildings across the Donbass coal and steel belt around the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk.
Most of Akhmetov's Ukrainian business empire, which runs from steel and metals to media and telecoms, is based in the Donbass area, where members of the self-declared "People's Republic of Donetsk" have called for a referendum on independence on May 11.
"I am not selling my business nor am I going to leave Ukraine. Today I am in Donbass," he said in a statement, referring to the region that encompasses much of eastern Ukraine.
"My position is firm - our country must be united. And I will be doing everything I can to ensure that Donbass and Ukraine are together. With belief in Donbass and in Ukraine I am investing and will continue to invest in my country."
Akhmetov, a Donetsk native, has tried to help negotiate an end to the stand-off in eastern Ukraine, talking to the rebels - even sympathising with some of their demands - while urging law-enforcement agencies to stay their hand in using force.
Commentators say Akhmetov, whose fortune is estimated by Forbes magazine at $11.4 billion, is trying to use the crisis to re-position himself and protect his huge business concerns after ally President Viktor Yanukovich was toppled in February. (reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Giles Elgood)