Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mining: Ukraine's Miners face mounting dangers

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reports that as the country marks three days of mourning, Ukraine buriedthe first victims of a coal mine blast that so far has claimed 89 lives. Another 11 miners are still missing since the November 18 explosion and are feared dead.

Deadly methane blasts are not rare in Ukraine, which is the world's second-deadliest country for miners after China. But the disaster at the Zasyadko mine, located near the eastern city of Donetsk at the heart of the country's coal industry, is the worst of its kind since Ukraine's independence.

Miners and their families are pinning the blame squarely on the government, which they say has done little to improve miners' safety in its drive for greater productivity.

"An accident like this could have been prevented if the state had carried out its responsibilities properly and controlled the situation in the industry," says Mykhaylo Volynets, the chairman of Ukraine's independent trade union for miners.

The country's coal industry, Volynets claims, is riddled with "corruption and irresponsible behavior" at the managerial level.

Dangerous Labor

Ukraine's run-down coal pits are among the most hazardous in the world. The Zasyadko mine, despite being one of the country's largest and best-equipped, has still been plagued by a string of disasters: 125 miners died there between 1999 and 2002.

A number of miners said they intended to quit their jobs at the Zasyadko mine after the deadly blast. But the mine's leadership is likely to find quick replacements. In economically depressed eastern Ukraine, coal mining for many remains the only source of income.

Mykola Surhai, who served as a Ukrainian coal minister during the Soviet era, says mining safety has deteriorated since the 1991 breakup of the USSR.

"New mines have to be built, equipment should be upgraded, funds should be allocated for protection and new security equipment," says Surhai. "There used to be a law controlling work in the mining sector and other industries. All controlling organs were guided by this legislation and security rules. These were compulsory for all."

Volynets agrees, claiming the number of mining deaths in relation to the volume of coal produced has tripled in Ukraine since the country gained independence.