The widow of one of the miners killed in the recent Raspadskaya coal mine explosion in Siberia says the families of the dead or injured are being extorted by organized crime groups.
In response, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev has ordered police protection for all miners' families in the town of Mezhdurechensk.
A total of 90 miners and rescue workers were killed following twin explosions at the Raspadskaya mine on May 8. The Russian government has pledged to pay the families of those killed 1 million rubles (approximately $32,000) each.
The widow of one dead miner, who insisted on remaining anonymous for her own safety, spoke to RFE/RL's Russian Service about the threats she says she has received.
They said they had a list with the names and address of all those who were killed and injured in the explosion and that everybody was going to pay.
"On May 19, 2010, at 8 a.m., three young men came to my home and told me in a very unpleasant manner that I must pay them 500,000 rubles from the compensation I would receive for my husband's death. If I didn't pay, they said they would burn down my apartment or harm my child," said the widow, reading from a statement she posted on the Kemerovo Oblast's official website.
"They said they had a list with the names and address of all those who were killed and injured in the explosion and that everybody was going to pay."
The woman said she went to the local police in Mezhdurechensk, where an investigator showed her photographs of potential suspects. She recognized one of them, who the investigator identified as the leader of a powerful local criminal group.
"The investigator said he would not take my official statement. He explained that this was a big and powerful criminal group that has been frightening the city for years. It has connections to the local police and the local administration and therefore has a free hand," she said.
"The investigator advised me to appeal to [the oblast administration], since it is not possible to solve this problem on the local level. To avoid problems, the investigator asked that I not name him."
The woman said the widow of another deceased miner told her she received similar threats.
Tuleyev has ordered an investigation and has pledged to bring those threatening the miners' families to justice.
Olga Ilyukhina, a spokeswoman for the Mezhdurechensk police department, says she learned of the issue only from the anonymous complaint posted on the Kemerovo Oblast administration's website.
"All I can say is that we have no record of anybody appealing for help from the police due to threats or extortion from May 19 up to the present time," Ilyukhina said.written by Brian Whitmore, based on reporting by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Anastasia Kirilenko from Mezhdurechensk and Moscow