SVERDLOVSK, Ukraine -- Residents of a heavily polluted area in eastern Ukraine say they're hoping for help from President Viktor Yanukovych, a native son, in cleaning up the area, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.
The province of Luhansk, one of Ukraine's most industrialized eastern regions, has more than 500 slag heaps, the result of decades of coal mining. According to local environmental organizations, 66 of the slag heaps in the area are constantly burning.
Liubov Talubayeva, the director of the regional department that monitors the area's air quality, tells RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that the smoking heaps are releasing sulfuric anhydride, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen dioxide, and other harmful gases.
"Such a concoction of...gases is harmful to humans. It's harmful for all life," Talubayeva says.
Sverdlovsk city residents are worst affected. Almost one-third of the smoking slag heaps are in this eastern industrial town.
Olena Stepanets has lived in Sverdlovsk all her life and is an active member of an environmental community organization. She tells RFE/RL that she doesn't know what white snow looks like.
"When a slag heap has burned, the snow around it is blood red," Olena says.
Residents say they have been complaining about the problem for years without any resolution.
Three years ago, a group of environmentalists mobilized local residents to file a lawsuit demanding resettlement into areas with cleaner air. But the Sverdlovsk regional court returned the suit to the plaintiffs asking for additional information.
Putting out smoking slag heaps is a lengthy and costly process, say local residents. The Luhansk coal plants do not have the extra funds to cover such expenses.
The local residents hope that some help will come from Kyiv. Yanukovych hails from coal mining country, they say, so perhaps he will understand.