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Monday, 8 July, 2002, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Ukraine mine death toll rises
Ukrainian soldiers carry the body of one of the 35 miners
Ukraine's ageing coal pits have a bad safety record
The death toll at a fire-gutted mine in the eastern Donetsk region in Ukraine has risen to 35 people, after rescuers found two more bodies hundreds of metres below the ground.

Officials said 114 miners were underground when the fire broke out early on Sunday, nearly 600 metres below ground at the Ukraina pit in the town of Ukrainsk.

Rescue crews - who managed to bring 79 workers to safety - found almost all of the bodies in a trolley that was going down to the pit.

They are believed to have died from smoke inhalation. Four bodies were so badly burned they were unidentifiable.

The cause of the accident is not known, but Ukraine's ageing coal pits have a bad safety record, and have been described by the World Bank as the world's most dangerous mines.

Funding cuts since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 made the situation worse. An average 300 miners die each year in the industry.

Accusations

The rescue workers began bringing out the bodies from the mine at dusk on Sunday, as the relatives of the dead waited near the entrance to the mine.

A relative of one of the dead miners is treated by medical staff
One woman collapsed when the bodies were brought to the surface

Many were screaming and weeping and one woman collapsed on the ground, as the bodies - covered with white sheeting - were being placed into the back of the lorry.

Some of the relatives accused the mine's management of sending the miners for the morning shift after the fire had broken out.

"People are saying that they knew there was a fire but they still sent people down there," Olga, whose son died, told the Reuters news agency.

"Those who came out to change shifts said there was a fire, and they still sent down our children".

Government probe

A special government commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Dubyna and Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun flew to Donetsk to investigate the accident.

The local prosecutor's office has opened a criminal case.

In another mine accident on Saturday, a fire broke out at a coalmine near the town of Kryvyi Rih, in the southeastern Ukraine.

The Emergencies Ministry said all 60 miners were safely brought to the surface and the blaze was extinguished.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"Ukraine's coal mines have become notorious for their lax safety standards"
See also:

20 Aug 01 | Europe
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07 Jun 02 | Country profiles
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