A growing number of men in southern Kyrgyzstan are making their living in illegal hand-dug coalmines. The job is dangerous, but in a good week, each miner can make up to 10,000 soms (about $150).
A few people die in illegal Kyrgyz mines every year, but the men tell RFE/RL’s Current Time TV correspondent Zhibek Begaliyeva they consider it worth the risk.
It’s not just the danger of working underground, where the walls are reinforced by simple logs that could give in at any moment. Simply going down into the mine is a risk -- a miner sits in a twine loop, while men on the surface work the mechanism to pull him down or up. One mistake could result in a deadly 70-meter fall.
Workers also risk lung silicosis, eye and musculoskeletal system diseases.
"Many have kidney diseases," says miner Marat Ergeshev. "It's cold during winter and hot during summer. There is no time to see a doctor. We have to work while we can."
But the men smile as they talk about their job.
"Every day we make 1,000-2,000 soms. Where else are you going to make such money?" explains Ryspai Dykanov.
The miners say they try not to think about the risks.
"Well, if God wills, we could die above the ground, too," says Kylychbek Kyrgyzbaev. "If disaster strikes, then it is Allah's will. But we, of course, try to follow safety rules."