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"Ukraine's dangerous mining industry"
 real 28k

Writer on Ukraine, Anna Reid
"Lots of broken pit props ... oxygen tanks don't work"
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Sunday, 12 March, 2000, 11:48 GMT
Ukraine mourns mine blast victims

Relatives and miners waited as bodies were recovered
The bodies of all 80 miners killed in an explosion in eastern Ukraine have been brought to the surface by rescue workers.

The blast ripped through the Barakova coal mine in the Luhansk region on Saturday at a depth of 664m (2,000ft). It was the country's worst mining disaster since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

May this mine be cursed. It has taken my little son forever. First my husband and now my son.

Dead miner's mother
Seven people were injured, five seriously, with burns and head wounds. They remain in hospital.

The Emergencies Ministry said the explosion appeared to have been caused by an "overconcentration of coal dust which ignited with a flame or spark". Earlier it said a methane gas build-up was probably responsible.

Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, who postponed a visit to Washington, was due to visit the scene on Sunday afternoon.

President Leonid Kuchma cancelled a visit to Poland. His office said he might travel to the region for the miners' funerals on Monday.

Map of the Ukraine
The Emergencies Ministry said in an official statement that 277 miners had been working on the shift, and 88 had been underground at the time of the explosion - 1335 (1135 GMT).

Rescue services said most of the victims had died from suffocation, with others crushed to death and a few dying from burns.

"It's hellish down below. Everything is burnt and many underground tunnels collapsed. The smoke is so thick that you can hardly breathe," said one rescue worker, Sergei, who has worked for 22 years at the mine.

'All dead'

"It was frightening, we went down and they were all lying one next to the other - all dead," another rescue worker, Andriy, said.

"In all the years I've been doing this I've never seen this many bodies. It was a real nightmare."

About 200 people spent the night waiting anxiously outside the mine shaft entrance as rescue workers pulled out bodies, wrapped in plastic bags and blankets.

A list of the 80 dead was pinned to a notice-board inside the mine's main administrative building.

"May this mine be cursed. I hate it. It has taken my little son forever. First my husband and now my son," one elderly woman said.

Common occurrence

Troubled mines
May 1999 - 50 miners burnt to death
April 1998 - methane explosion killed 63
Nearly 130 have died so far this year
1999: About 280 died
1998: About 360 died
1997: About 260 died
1996: Nearly 340 died
400,000 coal workers
More than 200 mines
Average wage: $100
Ukrainian radio said a state commission headed by Mr Yushchenko would investigate the explosion.

Ukraine has suffered a series of mine disasters since the country became independent.

The country has the highest mine death-rate in the world - a consequence of almost non-existent investment, poor maintenance and falling safety standards.

An average of about 300 miners are killed every year.

The head of the mine's trade union said the men broke rules to allow them to produce more coal and earn more money.

"If you followed all the safety rules, there would be no coal at all," Dmytro Kalitventsev said.

"People will do anything because the mine is the only employer here."

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12 Mar 00 | Europe
Ukraine's troubled mines
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