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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Ukraine vows to act after mine blast
Rescue workers put a stretcher with a miner's body on a lorry at the entrance to the Zasiadko mine
Ukraine's mines are among the world's most dangerous
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has promised to close down all unsafe mines following an explosion at a coal-pit which killed 20 people.


All these tragedies in mines are not because of natural cataclysms, but because of irresponsibility and disorder

Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma
"I have instructed the Prosecutor-General's office and security services to check if mines respect security norms. If it is not the case, they will be shut down," Mr Kuchma said.

"We don't need coal at this price," he added, speaking after the third major mining accident in the country in the past few weeks.

The latest blast happened late on Wednesday 1,076 metres (3,530 feet) below ground at the Zasyadko mine in the eastern Donetsk region when about 700 miners were in the pit.

Local officials from the State Department of Labour Safety said that according to the initial reports it was caused by a mixture of methane gas and coal dust during the controlled explosions.


It's almost as if black mourning ribbons have become the third colour of Ukraine's state flag

Valeriy Vasylyev, mine engineer

The officials said the 20 dead miners had been in the explosion area. Another miner working near the area was pulled out alive with some injuries and the rest of the miners escaped unharmed, they added.

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, and about 150 have died so far this year.

Hundreds of miners have recently staged protests in the capital, Kiev, over poor working conditions.

President's headache

Mr Kuchma - who ordered the government to set up an independent committee to monitor safety at mines - blamed irresponsibility and disorder for the string of mining tragedies.

A miner smokes as he watches the rescue works at the Zasyadko mine
Miners are angry over appalling working conditions

"All these tragedies in mines are not because of natural cataclysms, but because of irresponsibility and disorder," Mr Kuchma said in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol.

"Irresponsibility, because over these years not one person has taken responsibility for tragedies. Because as I have told the prime minister that neither Ukraine, nor myself needs coal that much."

The president said that the latest tragedy - only days after the world's worst air show disaster in the western Lviv region - showed that safety at work was of paramount concern.

"The headache for me and for everyone should be the question of technical safety. Today this is important for everyone nationwide, including the armed forces."

'Disaster mine'

The Zasyadko mine - one of Ukraine's largest - has been hit by a series of disasters in the last three years, which have killed more than 100 workers.

Fifty-two men died in an explosion at the mine last August.

Wednesday's blast came less than two weeks after six people died and 18 were injured in a methane gas explosion at a mine in eastern Ukraine.

Two weeks earlier, at least 35 miners were killed in a fire at Ukrainsk mine in the east.

Twelve officials at that mine were sacked for breaching safety rules.

"It's almost as if black mourning ribbons have become the third colour of Ukraine's state flag," Valeriy Vasylyev, engineer at the Zasyadko mine, told the Associated Press news agency.

"There's no protection, no certainty, no other work."

See also:

21 Jul 02 | Europe
07 Jul 02 | Europe
20 Aug 01 | Europe
06 May 01 | Europe
12 Mar 00 | Europe
07 Jun 02 | Country profiles
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