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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Ukraine's slagheap landscape
Slagheaps dominate Donetsk skyline
Many coal mines in Ukraine are being closed

Millions of tonnes of slag from coal mines dot the Ukrainian Donbass region - they are a part of everyday life, but also an environmental hazard.
When all tickets are sold out at the stadium of the Donetsk football team, Shakhtar, experienced fans do not despair.

Map of Ukraine
After all, they have a stand where there are always plenty of free seats, and the entrance is free of charge.

They call it the fifth stand - it's the slagheap of the Gorky mine, situated next to the stadium - and several generations of football supporters have following the game from it.

The word is, that when Juventus came to Donetsk in the 1980s, the Italians were rather startled to see a huge heap of rock in the middle of the city.

Open in new window : Donetsk slagheaps
Click here to see Shakhtar's "fifth stand"

There are about 200 slagheaps in Donetsk and the sloping hills have become an essential part of the city's landscape - but some are an environmental hazard.


Flattening the heap only speeds up the combustion process and the actual amount of industrial waste is not reduced.

Mykola Kaliushchenko

In these, the temperature at a depth of two metres can reach 80 C or more.

They release carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, and a bouquet of other harmful gases into the atmosphere.

According to the deputy head of Ukraine's State Department for Ecology and Natural Resources in Donetsk region, Mykola Kaliushchenko, the best thing to do with them is to plant treees and shrubs - and wait for improvements.

"First, it helps to conserve the slagheaps. Secondly, it impedes the production of dust and gradually extinguishes internal combustion," he says.

Flat-topped hills

However, in some cases the opposite is happening.

Donetsk slag
200 slagheaps
Some are hot and pollute the air
People plant forage for coal on the slopes
One slagheap has a bar on it
One third of Ukraine's industrial waste comes from Donetsk
Health and safety authorities now insist that people must be moved away from tall slagheaps.

But mines, many of which are closing down and cannot afford to buy new flats for their employees have found a cheaper way out.

They make the heaps lower, re-shaping the conical hill into a flat-topped one.

Experts are categorically against it.

Flattening the heap only speeds up the combustion process, says Mykola Kalilushchenko, and the actual amount of industrial waste is not reduced.

Disaster zone

Last year, about $566,000 was spent on re-shaping slagheaps and planting trees around closed mines.

Ukraine miners
Miners families plant food next to the heaps
But these new trees have not grown well.

Worst of all, some old slagheaps have started smouldering again.

Scientists say trees and grass will one day start growing on all of them.

In the meantime Donetsk regional council is debating whether to declare the region an ecological disaster zone.

Forty per cent of harmful emissions into the atmosphere, one third of industrial waste, and a quarter of polluted water in Ukraine comes from Donetsk.

But while the authorities are deciding what to do, local people grow potatoes at the foot of the slagheaps, gather small bits of coal from the hills for heating, and support their favourite team from the top.

A bar has appeared at one of the slagheaps.

It is open only in the summer, however. Winter is not the high season.

See also:

05 Sep 02 | Internationals
24 Jul 02 | Africans abroad
14 Mar 01 | Africa
18 Jun 02 | Africans abroad
07 Nov 00 | Champions League
21 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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