war crimes in Ukraine

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Miners protesting over pay arrears arrested and tortured in Russian-controlled Luhansk ‘republic’

Halya Coynash
At least 14 people are reported to have been seized by Russian-controlled ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ militants over a strike by miners demanding pay arrears

On 13 June miners in the occupied city of Antratsyt ended a seven-day underground protest after the ‘authorities’ in the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ [LPR] paid part of their pay arrears and promised to pay the rest within a week.  As many as 14 of those involved, or just suspected of involvement, in the strike are reportedly still imprisoned by the so-called ‘LPR ministry of state security’, and have almost certainly been subjected to torture. 

This was the second strike in a month and Russia and its proxy ‘republic’ were clearly intent on doing everything to try to conceal all information. Immediately after the strike at the Komsomolska Mine in Antratsyt began on 5 June, the militants blocked all telephone communications and virtually the entire Internet.  Checkpoints effectively cordoned off the city with these manned by militants from other areas, presumably to prevent them cooperating with local residents.   The militants claimed that all the restrictions were linked with the pandemic, however they clearly coincided with the strike. 

In fact, information did seep out, partly thanks to the ‘Independent Union of Donbas Miners’ who were able to contact miners via WhatsApp and to circulate information.

It takes some courage in militant-controlled Donbas to hold any kind of protest, but the Komsomolska miners had not been paid for two months. According to Donbas.Realii, another reason for the strike was the threat issued that men who resigned would not be paid the arrears.  The reason for resigning was brutally simple -  it made more sense to stay home and grow things in their garden than to pay to get to jobs for which they were not being paid.

Although Alexander Vaskovsky, from the Independent Union of Donbas Miners, spoke of fears that ‘provocation’ would be tried to force the men out of the mine, it seems that this was understood as being far too dangerous.  Any attempts to turn off electricity and ventilation, for example, could cause a major explosion underground.   On 12 June, around 100 residents held a meeting in the central square of Antratsyt in solidarity with the striking miners.  

It was Pavlo Lisyansky, the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Representative in Donbas, who reported on 13 June that the miners had emerged, after agreement that some of the arrears would be paid immediately, and the rest from the beginning of the following week.  He believes that the Russian occupation administrations were clearly worried both about the protests spreading and about the publicity they were receiving from international trade union organizations.

The men may now receive their pay, at least for the moment, but as many as 14 people may still be held in the basements of the so-called ‘LPR ministry of state security’. On 10 June, Vaskovsky reported that 21 people had been seized, with seven later released.  In an interview posted by Ukrainian journalist Denis Kazansky, Vaskovsky says that the men were subjected to torture to extract information about others, and “the workers’ movement”.   It is not clear where he has his information from, but this certainly corresponds with all accounts from former hostages of the methods used by these so-called ‘security men’.  ‘Arrests’ of those supporting the miners reportedly began on 7 June, with people seized in Krasnodon; Rovenki; Krasny Luch and Belorechensk.  A further five men and two women, one of whom is pregnant, were taken prisoner during the night from 7-8 June.  It is not clear who was among the seven people released on 9 June.

Only three of the militants’ prisoners have been named: two brothers, both electricians, Ihor and Vitaly Yefanov and miner Yevhen Mykhailichenko.

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