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Ukraine: Miners Continue Strike

  • Stefan Korshak

Kyiv, 22 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A miners' strike in Ukraine continues, with no sign of a breakthrough in talks between miners' leaders and the government. More than 120,000 miners are off the job, on strike in an effort to obtain back wages estimated to total more than $3 billion.

The nation's miners went on strike May 4, halting operations at 45 of Ukraine's 184 coal mines, according to miners' union leaders.

Chairman of Miners' Independent Trade Union of Ukraine (MITUU), Mikhailo Volynets, met Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko to discuss the strike and miners' back wages this week. And, Pustovoytenko formed a commission headed by Coal Ministry Deputy Minister Vladimir Rachenko to study the issues.

While the government and union officials spent the week haggling, rank-and-file miners have moved independently to draw media attention. A miners' march from Pavlograd miners was on the road three days and two nights this week. The march began when angry strikers walked off the job in protest at an eight-month delay in wages. The march grew from an initial several hundred to an estimated 2,000 marchers. They arrived at the Pavlogradugol Administration building in Dnipropetrovsk Tuesday morning.

"We have gotten no results from management in our region," declared miners' representative Kiril Zakharov to television cameras. Some miners have begun protest fasts. Miner Elena Marchenko entered her third week of a hunger strike at the Krasnodar City Hall, in an effort to receive nine months' accumulated back salary, according to a Kievskie Vedomosti report. Seven more miners are on hunger strike inside the Baranova mine near Donetsk.

The coal miners are also actively seeking the attention of international labor organizers.

The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine, and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) offered its support. "We sincerely hope that the government will understand that it must negotiate with your organization as the legitimate representatives of Ukrainian coal miners," telexed ICEM General Secretary Victor Thorpe.

Across Ukraine's eastern border, on the Russian side of the coal fields, the Russian Coal Miners' Union declared a general walk-out this week, not in support of their Ukrainian colleagues, but to force the Russian government to pay a one-year wage backlog of salaries to Russian miners.

More demonstrations by miners are planned in Kyiv today.