Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Don't be a miner in the Ukraine. That's the best advice I can give right now.

President Victor Yushchenko ordered the suspension of operations at the Zasyadko coal-mine in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine after a third, and fatal, explosion in the mine on Sunday. His political rival, Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich, has also issued a public call for suspending mine operations.

Better late then never I suppose...unless you're already dead.

Mineweb reports a videotape, prepared and posted on the internet by the miners, following the November 18 explosion, shows that dangerous concentrations of methane gas were chronic in the mine at the 8% level. (Methane is potentially explosive at concentrations of between 5 and 15%). The miners also say that gas detection and equipment shutoff systems had been disabled, in order to facilitate what the miners call an extreme mining production plan, impossible to fulfill.

A local mining source told Mineweb: "They have very old, almost non-operational methane detection equipment, and workers are pushed by [company director Yefim Zvyagilsky] to work without enough security. The problem is that the country needs coking coal for steel making."

Miners say the mine's chairman and apparent proprietor, Yefim Zvagilsky, is to blame for unsafe working conditions at the mine, and for imposing steep shift production quotas that led to the suppression of methane detection and shut-off systems.

Zvagilsky is the chairman of the mine company's board of directors. He is well-known as an entrepreneur in the Ukraine, a parliamentary deputy, and for five days in September 1993, Zvagilsky was prime minister. He also appears to be the controlling shareholder of the company, though the circumstances in which the state transferred its control of the mine are unclear. Yuri Zayets, head of the Zasyadko coal mine's trade union, told Mineweb "the owner of the mine is the Ukrainian government. But it landed on to the staff of the mine for operations." This is disputed by Donetskugol, the state enterprise which used to own Zasyadko. A source there told Mineweb: "The Zasyadko mine is no longer on the books of our enterprise" The source claimed he was unable to say when it was sold, or to whom.

Mineweb has repeatedly requested that Zvagilsky respond to questions. A secretary at his office said she would attempt to pass questions to him, but Zvagilsky has refused to reply.

The following is from the web site of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions.

String of Blasts Hit Ukraine’s Zasyadko Coal Mine, Killing 5 More, Injuring 44 Workers

Thirteen days after an explosion inside an eastern Ukrainian coal mine killed 101 workers, a second methane blast at privately-held Zasyadko’s mine near Donetsk sent 44 miners to the hospital. This second explosion happened at 05h00 on Saturday, 1 December.

And then on Sunday, 2 December, a third blast inside the stricken mine killed five rescue workers. Thirty-three rescue workers and 33 other miners were injured in this third blast. Many of the hospitalised are in serious condition.

The explosions follow the worst Ukrainian coal disaster in recent years. The death count from the 18 November explosion, deep inside several shafts of Zasyadko’s Donbass region mine, reached 101 on 29 November, when a worker died in a Donetsk hospital. Ten miners remain unaccounted for from that methane explosion, which occurred 1,000 metres below ground. Another 40 miners remain hospitalised.

The ICEM had sent its condolences to both the Ukrainian Coal Industry Workers’ Union (PRUP) and the Independent Miners’ Union of Ukraine.

The cause of the 18 November explosion is believed to be defect electrical equipment. Reportedly, sensors did not show a build-up of methane gas. The mine was privatised by state-run Donetskugol and assets transferred to prominent Ukrainian politician Efim Zvyagilsky. Igor Gryaznov serves as director of the enterprise. It yields 10,000 tons per day, and is one of Ukraine’s larger collieries.

The Zasyadjo mine has a history of tragedies. One worker died in February 2007, while in September 2006, 13 miners were killed due to a methane blast. In 2002, 20 miners were killed in the same manner, a tragedy which brought criminal charges to six managers of the mine for violation of safety procedures. Other tragedies happened at Zasyadjo in 2001, when 55 lives were lost, and in 1999, when 50 miners perished.

Also in Ukraine, on 25 November, two miners were killed and one seriously injured when a rock slide caused a shaft to collapse. That occurred at the Arbis coal mine, also eastern Ukraine, but in the Lugansk region. The same day, a fire occurred inside a shaft in the Belorechenskaya mine in the same region. There were no fatalities there

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