Human Rights in Ukraine. Website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Social and economic rights

The Price of Zasyadko’s “gold” or Money above life


In any country of the world a mine with such a bitter harvest of deaths would be shut down (regardless of the value of its coal) until safe technology was created for its extraction. Yet here avarice overrides commonsense and love for ones fellow man.. For those who value money more than human life it’s simpler later to pay a tiny part of their bloodied mega-profit by building a chapel and paying for funerals.

As this article is being written, the death toll stands at 72, with the fate of another 28 miners unknown following a methane explosion at the Zasyadko Mine in Donetsk. According to a representative of the mine’s trade union, there is almost no hope of saving them.  Another 28 miners are being treated for injuries of varying degrees of seriousness.  This catastrophe may prove to be the worst in the entire history of the coal industry in independent Ukraine.

Up till now the largest accident was that on 11 March 2000 at the Barakov Mine in the Luhansk region which claimed 80 lives, with another seven injured. 63 miners died and 51 were injured on 4 April 1998 at the Skochynsky Mine in the Donetsk region. The same number died, with 37 injured in an explosion at the “East Sukhodolskaya” Mine in the Luhansk region on 9 June 1991.

However the most “bloodthirsty” mine remains Zasyadko.  Yesterday’s disaster is the fifth since the others on:

24 May 1999 50 men died and 49 were injured;

19 August 2000 55 men died and 33 were injured

31 July 2002 – 20 men died;

20 September 2006 – 13 men died and 62 were injured;

And now 18 November 2007 –

In less than nine years 208 men have died in serious accidents with a further 177 receiving injuries. And this is not counting the 28 miners still not found.  And terrible as it is to think of it, with every moment, there is an ever greater chance of the toll rising.

Zasyadko produces around 4 million tonnes of coal a year. 210 deaths over nine years come to 23 men each year. That means that at most each 174 thousand tonnes of “black gold” is at the expense of one miner’s life. Or the other way around – the life of a miner is estimated by the State at 174 thousand tonnes of coal.

The State price of Ukrainian coal is presently 355 UAH per tonne. 174 thousand tonnes of coal comes to 61 million 770 thousand UAH. The average wages of a Donetsk miner are around 2 thousand UAH (a month). It’s true that at Zasyadko the main categories of workers earn on average around five thousand a month, however the risk to life is much higher than in other mines.

Experts say that the reason for constant disasters at this enterprise lies in the high level of methane release. Even with the Zasyadko mine supposedly having the most powerful safety system of the mines, no technology as can be seen is able to prevent constant accidents.

According to the State Committee on Industrial Safety and Labour Protection, 6751 industrial accidents were recorded last year in coalmining enterprises, with 168 of them resulting in a fatality.  The Committee reports that accidents in the coal industry make up 15.6% of fatalities in all spheres of industry, meaning that every sixth person who dies in an industrial accident is a miner.

The main problem areas in the coal industry are the depths at which the coal is extracted (in some cases more than a kilometre), the lack of degassing for the mines, technology being run down or the rules for its use not being followed.

Ukrainian mines lead in terms of level of danger for the men who work in them. 75% of them have a high risk of methane gas blasts; 60% - of carbon dust emissions; 35% and 25% of methane or carbon dust respectively igniting, with this usually leading to explosions.

All of this raises the question of why, if there is still no technology in Ukraine to ensure the safety of the miners in the Zasyadko mine, the management of the enterprise and all State supervisory organizations send men down at such risk. After all, when the Prime Minister or other officials state that all work which resulted in the explosion were carried out according to the norms, then perhaps one must ask whether these norms are safe.

Incidentally it remains unclear to the wider public where the real head and owner of the mine National Deputy Yefim Zyagylsky is at present. Deputy Prime Minister Klyuev states that he is working within the State Commission, while other sources maintain that he is in hospital. If Klyuev is right, then Mr Zyagylsky is working virtually without a break since no journalist at the mine has seen him during these days. And if he is in fact ill, what’s the point of hiding the fact that he’s not at the mine?

Several years ago a street was named after Yefim Zyagylsky in Donetsk. There are malicious voices heard suggesting that the Shchehlovskoye Cemetery where miners are usually buried is known among the population by the name of the honourable head of the notorious Zasyadko Mine.

Research Centre for Donbas Social Perspectives

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