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Friday, 2 August, 2002, 22:34 GMT 23:34 UK
A hazardous life in the mines
Ukrainian miners check their equipment while waiting for their turn to enter the mine
Ukraine's mines are among the world's most dangerous

Volodymyr Tytarev, a miner from the Kalinin coal-pit in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, remembers how a teacher of chemistry at his secondary school used to say: "If you don't study, you'll be working in a mine."


Our equipment is bad and dilapidated. People have neither special working uniforms, nor helmets

Volodymyr Tytarev, miner
Volodymyr, 65, became a miner 43 years ago. Not because of his aversion to chemistry, but because he has always wanted to be a miner.

Even now he remembers his very first shift in the pit.

"We went underground, and I saw a man ... reading a newspaper. The miners were just having a rest.

"That newspaper impressed me greatly. I thought, well it's not that scary to work down there after all."

'Lack of financing'

But having spent so many years in the pit, Volodymyr says he is hardly surprised by the string of recent tragedies.

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

"I'll be honest with you - all our troubles are because of the lack of financing.

"Our equipment is bad and dilapidated. People have neither special working uniforms, nor helmets.

"An accumulator in my lamp would only last for half of the shift. That's why we switch off the lights during the pauses.

"Then a safety inspector comes and asks me why I am sitting in darkness.

"But if I switch on the lamp it won't last until the end of my shift. And I simply won't be able to return back."

Extreme conditions

He also blames the carefree attitude of many miners, which he says is due to the laughable salaries in the industry.


Once I was also literally buried by rubble in the pit, but they dug me out. I just swore a lot, went home and simply collapsed in the chair exhausted

Volodymyr Tytarev

He says working conditions are also extreme, as miners in his pit work more than 1,000 metres below ground with temperatures reaching 50C .

"Last month I was paid 450 hryvnas ($85). I live alone and can survive on such money.

"But it's impossible if you have a family and children. So, when miners go underground they don't think about their job or safety regulations.

"They think when and how much they'll be paid and whether it'll be enough to survive for a month with a family and children."

He says this carefree attitude might also explain the latest tragedy at the Zasyadko mine where 20 miners died.

"From what I've read and heard, the blast in the Zasyadko mine happened during the explosive works.

"An engineer should have checked methane levels before that. But I think they just took a risk hoping everything would be all right."

Dream shattered

Volodymyr says he has been in a number of situations, and that no experience can help miners get used to dangers underground.

"Once I was squashed by an elevator box - because I was stupid and not careful. I should not have gone there, but I did. They could see only my legs sticking out of there."

"Another time, there was a fire. But we all escaped alive because our operator warned us and we used breathing masks.

"Once I was also literally buried by rubble in the pit, but they dug me out. I just swore a lot, went home and simply collapsed in the chair exhausted."

Volodymyr says miners usually retire after 20 years of work, and he has always dreamed of saving some money and touring the former Soviet Union on foot.

"Have I known that I would have to stay here for 43 years? For all those years I'm entitled to a pension of 193 hryvnas ($36) - but that's nothing!

"It's enough to pay for my flat and buy some trifles - and the money's gone. So, I have to forget about travelling. I have to work until they get rid of me."

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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