90 Miners Dead in Ukraine Blast, 10 Still Missing

On Nov. 18, an explosion in the Zasyadko coal mine in eastern Ukraine caused a collapse that took the lives at least 90 coal miners, with 10 still missing. Underground fires have delayed rescue efforts, and officials say the chance of finding the remaining missing miners alive is unlikely.

The explosion took place more than 3,280 feet below ground and was caused by a build up of methane gas. Of the 457 miners who were working underground in the mine at the time of the explosion, 357 were able to escape on their own. According to media reports, 34 survivors have been hospitalized, with at least one in critical condition.

The death toll from the Nov. 18 blast, which is expected to continue to rise, makes it Ukraine’s worst mining accident. After China, Ukraine is considered the world’s second-deadliest country for miners and has a history of major accidents.

In a neighboring region of Lougansk, 80 miners died in the Barakov mine in 2000, while Zasyadko and other mines suffered similar accidents in 1999 and 2001. Last year, a gas leak in the Zasyadko mine killed 13 workers and injured dozens. Between 1999 and 2002, 125 miners have lost their lives in the Zasyadko mine alone.

This record of mining accidents and fatalities has generated concern for mine safety and regulations in Ukraine. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has requested an inquiry to determine the blast’s circumstances.

Andrey Klyuev, Ukrain’s deputy prime minister, referenced a report that had previously declared that “all safety measures required by the mining license were in place” for the Zasyadko mine.

President Viktor Yushchenko ordered an investigation of the accident, as well as an examination and overhaul of the country’s coal mining industry, but he confirms that miners were reportedly working in accordance with regulations.

Volynets: Coal Industry Plagued by Poor Funding, Bad Management

Volynets does not agree that the mining accident may have been unavoidable. According to media reports, he indicated that the coal industry is plagued by poor funding, bad management, a low level of responsibility for security and a lack of governmental will to fix the problems.

Miners and their families blame the government, claiming that the focus on higher productivity has eclipsed safety. The problem is compounded when considering that miners are paid by the amount of coal they produce, and may ignore safety regulations that could slow their progress. Some miners apparently turn off their gas-detecting devices so they can continue working.

While some surviving miners expressed intent to quit after the deadly blast, Zasyadko management should not have difficulty finding others willing to take on the work. For many residents in eastern Ukraine, working in coal mines is the only available source of income.

Even as families hold funerals for those who died in the Zasyadko explosion, operations continue in the mine. While management said that repair and renewal operations were taking place, miners reported they were required to continue working in an extraction block under threat of dismissal.

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