Who Is Ukranian Billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky?

While many eyes are focused on Russian aggression in Ukraine, only a few are aware of how deeply Russian, Ukrainian, and Western forces are interconnected in this conflict. Many players are a part of this battle, fighting for power, influence, and natural resources in the area and in the world.

Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky is a typical oligarch, making his business ruthlessly and without regulations. Building his empire on privatised state companies at the time of the collapse of Soviet Union, he did what many others did around the world. By usurping natural resources, transport, and media in Ukraine, he created a monopoly which could only extend further beyond the borders of Ukraine. Reaching as far as the U.S., Kolomoisky managed to gain shares in steel, ore, and different energy companies. Through PrivatBank, the first private Ukrainian bank, he appropriated billions of dollars, further investing them in key industries. He hates Russian president Vladimir Putin and is a strong supporter (and financer) of Volodymyr Zelensky, whilst his corrupt business aspirations led the U.S. authorities to forbid him and his family from entering the United States. 

His personality could be easily described with an impression reported by Haaretz – during his time as governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, Kolomoisky kept a shark tank in his office, so he could feed the sharks during his meetings, while observing horrified visitors react to the underwater carnage. This is the story of Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky.

He is one of the most influential people in Ukraine

Ihor Kolomoisky is one of those businessmen who created their empire on the ruins that remained after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The perfect representative of the new oligarch class system, he — often forcefully — privatized numerous previously state-owned companies, buying them for nothing, creating billions, and leaving the companies financially exhausted in the end.

According to numerous people who work with him, his main advantage is his ruthlessness and cruel performance: "He is like a man with Tourette's. Even if he likes you, he will curse you and your mother throughout the entire conversation. He can kick you out of the room without hesitation. He enjoys showing everyone that all the money and the power haven't changed or smoothed him," reports Haaretz.

He started his business path as a worker in trade cooperative Fianit. In 1991, when Ukraine opened its borders to capitalism, he and his partners founded Sentosa Ltd., an import company which sold Russian goods in Dnipropetrovsk. They continued with petroleum and metallurgy products, fuel, and manganese ore. A year later, in 1992, they founded PrivatBank, the first commercial bank in Ukraine. When Ukrainian people started to trade voucher certificates they'd received as shareholders in the former communist regime, the bank invested them in different companies in Ukraine, gradually gaining their power in every area and key industry. Making ties with politics along the way, Kolomoisky's influence grew and grew to unprecedented levels (via The Page).

He is a passionate supporter of Jewish community

Ihor Kolomoisky was born into a Ukrainian-Jewish family, similar to the one of President Volodymyr Zelensky. He is a strong supporter of Jewish community, active in several national and international organizations. In 2010, Kolomoisky visited the European Council of Jewish Communities in Berlin and started to make close ties with the organization. Deciding he would donate at least $14 million over the span of five years, he bonded with the president of the organization, Jonathan Joseph, convincing him to name Kolomoisky as the new president, reports the Jewish Community Voice. This sudden takeover was met with defiance from the existing members: "This is not a democratic process. It took place like a Soviet-style takeover," an EJCJ board member Arturo Tedeschi said. Some members resigned, including the Italian national Jewish community.

Operating in Ukraine as well, Kolomoisky built the biggest Jewish community center in the world, Menorah, in central Dnipropetrovsk — a cluster of a synagogue, event halls, a library, shops, and restaurants. He is the president of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine. In the past, Kolomoisky has invested in the Jewish JH1 cable news station, explains Haaretz.

Kolomoisky's money was heavily invested in U.S. Jewish communities as well, mostly through Mordechai Korf and Uri Laber, who channeled some of this money to Jewish Educational Media and Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, both based in New York, along side buying different properties around the U.S. (via the New York Post).

He founded the biggest bank in Ukraine

Soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, Ihor Kolomoisky and Gennadiy Boholyubov founded Ukraine's first private bank, Privat Bank. The bank attracted millions of customers but got in trouble during the financial crisis of 2008. The Ukrainian government under President Poroshenko nationalized the bank in 2015 as they found the bank in a horrible state, exhausted of $5.5 billion. The bank was bailed out with public money and the help of the International Money Fund, but the government took measures against the two oligarchs, claiming they stole millions from the bank. In 2017, the bank took the case to the London High Court, since Boholyubov lived in London and had several companies registered there, explains Kyiv Post. The court ordered Kolomoisky and Boholyubov's assets frozen, but after a court battle, the decision was overturned in 2018, with the argument that England is not the right country for the trial.

Both oligarchs denied any misconduct, with Kolomoisky stating there were no illegal activities and the bank was never defrauded — according to him, the Ukrainian government intentionally misrepresented the condition of the bank to international institutions and the public (via Reuters).

He is the second richest person in Ukraine

As per Kyiv Post, Ihor Kolomoisky was the second richest person in Ukraine in 2010. He has investments and shares in different local and international industries, such as banks, media, energy, and others. He partly or completely owns Ukrainian TV channels 1+1, City, Kino, and TET, has a quarter share in British oil and gas company JKX, and a controlling stake in Georgian ski resort Gudauri.

He has 94.5% of the shares of the Dniproavia airline, bought directly from the State Property Fund of Ukraine in 2009. He also had shares in Aerosvit airline (which went bankrupt) and is an owner of Windrose — out of these companies, Kolomoisky and his partners created The Ukrainian Aviation Group (UAG), owning 48.5% of the Ukrainian air transportation market. He has owned 66.7% of the Danish airline Cimber Sterling since 2011 (via Latifundist.com).

Forbes' analysis of Kolomoisky's wealth shows his worth was slowly falling from $2.4 billion in 2013, to $1 billion in 2022. Still, Ukrainian media network NV positioned Kolomoisky as the ninth richest person in the list of the "Top 100 Wealthiest People of Ukraine" in 2021, listing Kolomoisky as an agribusinessman, reports Latifundist.com.

He and his family are based abroad

Ihor Kolomoisky is married to Iryna Kolomoiska, stating that he met her at a pioneer camp (a socialist youth camp) when they were only 15. Iryna does not live in Ukraine but resides in Switzerland instead. They have two children together, Angelika and Gregory. It was Angelika who led her family to Switzerland, when she chose College du Leman as her place of study when she was 16. She was accompanied by Larisa Chertok, Ihor's sister, and soon the entire Kolomoisky family moved to Switzerland. Kolomoisky's son, Gregory, studied at Cleveland University in the U.S. and is now living in Miami.

One of the most interesting family members of the oligarch is his sister Larisa, who often conducts business in the name of her brother. She signed as a witness in the multimillion-dollar deal with Central European Media Enterprises Ltd. and founded Gehold SA, a Swiss company that helped Kolomoisky to get control over Ukrainian ore mines in Sukha Balka. Chertok has another Ukrmining company in Ukraine, providing engineering, geodesy, and mediation in the raw materials business (via The Page).

Kolomoisky himself is in possession of three different passports: one from Ukraine, another from Israel and the third one from Cyprus. When asked if this isn't a breach of Ukrainian law, which prohibits dual nationalities, Kolomoisky replied: "Yes, but it does not say anything about triple nationality!" (via Tablet Mag).

He got into a fight with Ukraine's former president Petro Poroshenko

As the governor of Dnipropetrovsk, one of the most important industrial regions in Ukraine, Ihor Kolomoisky invested a lot in fighting against pro-Russian separatists in the Eastern part of the country, directly financially supporting Ukrainian battalions in Donetsk and Luhansk. But after getting involved in conflict with the Ukrainian government in 2015, Kolomoisky lost his governor position. The core of the conflict was Ukrnafta, an oil and gas company owned by the state, though Kolomoisky has a 42% share. After the government's decision to change the law about state-owned companies, which would lessen Kolomoisky's impact in the region, Kolomoisky sent a group of armed men, employees of a private security company, to seize the Ukrnafta and UkrTransNafta headquarters. After some tense moments, they were removed, but Kolomoisky lost his position as the governor soon after (via BBC).

As reported by Olena Goncharova and Oleg Sukhov for Kyiv Post, Kolomoisky stated that he and his armed men defended the company from Ihor Kononenko, Petro Poroshenko's lawyer, who organized the takeover with the help of "Russian saboteurs." When asked the reason for his visit by Serhiy Andrushko, Radio Liberty Ukraine journalist, Kolomoisky replied: "Why don't you ask about the corporate raid at Ukrtransnafta? Or how Russian saboteurs got here, huh? Or you are just sitting here with your f**king Radio Liberty and waiting to see Kolomoisky? Why are you sitting here like a wench waiting for her unfaithful husband?"

He is connected to Volodymyr Zelensky

Alongside Ihor Kolomoisky's many conflicts with politicians and other businessmen, he is always on the lookout for allies. On that front, Kolomoisky is already closely connected to Volodymyr Zelensky through different positions and favors.

In 2019, the deputy of Verkhovna Rada, Volodymyr Ariev, accused Kolomoisky of millions being transferred to Kvartal 95 Studio (a production company owned by Zelensky) through Kolomoisky's PrivatBank: "Some $41 million of PrivatBank depositors' funds were transferred to the comedian's Kvartal 95 Studio through lending to Kolomoisky-related companies," claimed Ariev (via Interfax-Ukraine). To make matters worse, all of that came on the heels of already-shady business practices regarding the banks — a scandal which Kolomoisky was also at the center of.

Zelensky did, in fact, appoint Andriy Bogdan, Kolomoisky's personal lawyer, as a chief of staff, just a few days after starting as the Ukrainian president. Bogdan had already served as a member of the government under President Viktor Yanukovych, a famous supporter of Russia who had been removed from office. After his removal, Ukrainian law states that no one who served in Yanukovych's administration could occupy top positions in the country ever again, which means Zelensky broke the law with this particular appointment, reports AFP (via The Times of Israel).

He is in conflict with Vladimir Putin

As the governor of Dnipropetrovsk, one of the most important industrial regions in Ukraine, Ihor Kolomoisky invested a lot in fighting against pro-Russian separatists in the Eastern part of the country, directly financially supporting Ukrainian battalions in Donetsk and Luhansk. His animosity towards the Russians doesn't exclude President Vladimir Putin; in fact, as per Haaretz, Kolomoisky perceives Putin as "his mortal enemy."

Kolomoisky got his governor position by promising to curb the Russian influence in the Eastern area of Ukraine — after removing pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych from the office through the "EuroMaidan" revolution in 2014, the new government needed someone who would dominate the Dnipropetrovsk region with an iron fist (and paramilitary units), but also with adequate financial support. Kolomoisky, as the owner of many key industries in the country (as well as the bank), could afford that position.

To secure his anti-Russian position, Kolomoisky publicly criticized Putin, calling him a psychopath and a "schizophrenic dwarf." He didn't stop there, saying, "[Putin is] completely inadequate, totally insane. His messianic drive to recreate the Russian empire of 1913 or the USSR of 1991 could plunge the world into catastrophe." Putin didn't stay quiet, declaring Kolomoisky a "unique crook" who deceived another famous Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich. The beef went as far as Interpol, which often receives suggestions for their international wanted list from both the Ukrainian and the Russian side, as per UAWire. The Russians proposed to put Kolomoisky on the list, alongside Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov, and the Chief of Ukraine's General Staff, Viktor Muzhenko. Interpol rejected the suggestions.

He hates the International Monetary Fund

When PrivatBank was nationalized in 2015, it survived mostly due to a hefty loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which implied (per Reuters) one condition for its loan — the bank shall never return to an oligarch's hands. This obviously led to huge resentment from Ihor Kolomoisky, who, after years of fighting against Russian separatists, threatened to change sides in 2019 by taking Russian money instead: "People want peace, a good life, they do not want to fight. And you — America — are forcing us to fight and do not even give us money for it," he said, reports Ukrainian newspaper Pravda. Kolomoisky mostly complained about the anti-corruption conditions that accompanied IMF money loans, which directly affected his business endeavors.

He then took things a step further. When the Ukrainian parliament voted on an IMF-backed land market bill (which opened the pristine fields of Ukraine to the GMO-using Monsanto corporation), Kolomoisky financially supported the All-Ukrainian Agrarian Council and its protests around the country.

He is also publicly attacking and discrediting several government officials, such as ministers, who closely work with the IMF. Due to the IMF's involvement with the National Bank of Ukraine, the latter is often a target of his attacks, through organized protests and other means, reports Pravda (via AntAC).

He has many connections with the USA

Kolomoisky's influence is almost as colossal as his ego, his companies controlled a massive part of manganese and silicomanganese trade, over 40% of all manganese trade in the world and over half of U.S. silicomanganese supplies, reports Kyiv Post. He spread his influence over different continents and countries, from Eastern Europe to Australia, or Ghana to the American Midwest.

As per the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Kolomoisky managed to transfer over $750 million from his PrivatBank to the U.S. business market between 2006 and 2015, with the helping hand of Deutsche Bank. With this money, he bought more than 22 properties, such as a skyscraper in Cleveland, a Motorola factory in Illinois, a Mary Kay Cosmetics building in Dallas, and many others. Buildings and companies he built frequently met disastrous fates, often presenting serious damage to its workers, as in the case of the Warren Steel explosion in Ohio, where serious safety violations caused an explosion. Hundreds of workers in steel industries in Kentucky, New York, and Ohio lost their jobs — some were even robbed out of their pension money. But all this is not only a sign of negligence; it's usually directly connected to money laundering, explains the president of Global Financial Integrity, Tom Cardamone.

Kolomoisky also had a controlling interest in Burisma Holdings, the company which employed Hunter Biden as a board member. He refused to help Rudy Giuliani with Donald Trump's investigation of Hunter Biden and the Burisma company, and it was confirmed in 2019 that Hunter Biden had even received payments from PrivatBank (via The Daily Signal).

He is now forbidden to enter the USA

Ihor Kolomoisky's rampage through the U.S. ended in 2019 when the FBI opened an investigation under suspicion of money laundering, targeting Kolomoisky, his companies, and everyone who was in any way connected with him or his work. His lawyer, Mike Sullivan, stated Kolomoisky "categorically denies" all allegations, with the argument that he is a businessman often subjected to false accusations — such as in the case of PrivatBank, reports The Daily Beast.

In March 2021, the U.S. State Department declared that Kolomoisky cannot enter the U.S. anymore, as a consequence of his significant corruptive actions while he was a governor in Ukraine, explains Reuters. According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, not only Kolomoisky, but also none of his immediate family — including his wife Iryna, daughter Angelika, and son Gregory — can enter the U.S. 

Further, the authorities seized some properties which belonged to Kolomoisky (and fellow oligarch Gennadiy Boholiubov) and filed two civil forfeiture complaints, worth $70 million, on others.