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The Struggle Of Eastern Ukraine's Coal Miners

Ukraine’s state-run coal mines are in crisis. Two years of war and political upheaval in eastern Ukraine have led to plummeting production levels, with damage at many facilities due to fighting, and large-scale depopulation as residents flee the conflict with Russian-backed separatists. The few state-owned coal enterprises still running are fighting to survive.

It's been a couple of months since the workers at the state-owned Ukraina coal mine, in the country’s eastern region of Donetsk, received their full salaries. Spring wages are only now trickling in, leaving families without enough money for basic items.

Miners return to the surface after completing their shifts at the Ukraina mine. In July, miners here went on hunger strike to protest the government’s failure to secure their regular salaries.
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Miners return to the surface after completing their shifts at the Ukraina mine. In July, miners here went on hunger strike to protest the government’s failure to secure their regular salaries.

A worker waits as miners ascend to the surface at the Ukraina coal mine. As well as war, coal mines in the east of Ukraine are facing the problem of being unprofitable. As the industry began to decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine's government has pumped billions of dollars into keeping the mines functioning. 
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A worker waits as miners ascend to the surface at the Ukraina coal mine. As well as war, coal mines in the east of Ukraine are facing the problem of being unprofitable. As the industry began to decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine's government has pumped billions of dollars into keeping the mines functioning. 

The Ukraina mine's main building. “The subsidies were a mistake,” said Andriy Gerus, from Ukraine’s National Energy and Utilities Regulation Commission. “They went to oligarchs and local decision makers. The mines did not use them to restructure.”
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The Ukraina mine's main building. “The subsidies were a mistake,” said Andriy Gerus, from Ukraine’s National Energy and Utilities Regulation Commission. “They went to oligarchs and local decision makers. The mines did not use them to restructure.”

A worker in a supply room at the Ukraina mine waits for colleagues to return to the surface. “If the Ukraina mine closes, it won’t just affect this town,” Artur Mirumian, the director of the mine said. “It will have an impact on all of the nearby communities."
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A worker in a supply room at the Ukraina mine waits for colleagues to return to the surface. “If the Ukraina mine closes, it won’t just affect this town,” Artur Mirumian, the director of the mine said. “It will have an impact on all of the nearby communities."

An administrator answers a call in the control room of the Ukraina mine. Director Mirumian says: "People here either work in the mine or in the production factory. There is nowhere else to work. This is a very important moment politically. Under no circumstances should this enterprise close. It would be a catastrophe.”
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An administrator answers a call in the control room of the Ukraina mine. Director Mirumian says: "People here either work in the mine or in the production factory. There is nowhere else to work. This is a very important moment politically. Under no circumstances should this enterprise close. It would be a catastrophe.”

Viktor Trifonov, a local trade union leader, stands near the doorway leading to the elevator shafts of the Ukraina coal mine. Coal production peaked in the early 1980s, and has been slowly declining ever since, but the war with Russia-backed separatists sent the production of raw materials into freefall. 
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Viktor Trifonov, a local trade union leader, stands near the doorway leading to the elevator shafts of the Ukraina coal mine. Coal production peaked in the early 1980s, and has been slowly declining ever since, but the war with Russia-backed separatists sent the production of raw materials into freefall. 

Coal awaits processing at a small facility near the town of Selidovo. Last year, Ukraine was forced to buy coal from abroad, importing it from as far away as South Africa.
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Coal awaits processing at a small facility near the town of Selidovo. Last year, Ukraine was forced to buy coal from abroad, importing it from as far away as South Africa.

Coal awaits processing at the facility. The government has promised not to import coal in 2016, but the current conflict over salaries has put pressure on domestic production.  
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Coal awaits processing at the facility. The government has promised not to import coal in 2016, but the current conflict over salaries has put pressure on domestic production.
 

Viktor Trifonov outside the Central mine in Myrnohrad. “We don’t want anything special -- just to live like normal people," he says. "We just want to be paid our salaries.” On August 9, Trifonov attempted self-immolation during a press conference. 
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Viktor Trifonov outside the Central mine in Myrnohrad. “We don’t want anything special -- just to live like normal people," he says. "We just want to be paid our salaries.” On August 9, Trifonov attempted self-immolation during a press conference. 

Tatiana Ivanovna, a pensioner in Starayakolona whose husband worked in a mine, said the new authorities were not concerned about the problems facing mining towns and were ignoring the situation of workers in the region’s traditional industries. “The salaries of the teachers and medical workers have gone up, but not the salaries of the miners. All of the young people will leave if the mine closes,” Ivanovna said. “If the mine closes, the town will die.”
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Tatiana Ivanovna, a pensioner in Starayakolona whose husband worked in a mine, said the new authorities were not concerned about the problems facing mining towns and were ignoring the situation of workers in the region’s traditional industries. “The salaries of the teachers and medical workers have gone up, but not the salaries of the miners. All of the young people will leave if the mine closes,” Ivanovna said. “If the mine closes, the town will die.”

Sergei Dorokh stands with his mining helmet outside his home in the economically depressed neighborhood of Starayakolona in Myrnohrad. Dorokh worked in mining for five years before getting a job as a rescue worker at a local emergency service, responding to accidents at mining facilities in the region. The World Bank and other critics say Ukrainian mines have obsolete equipment and dangerous working environments.
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Sergei Dorokh stands with his mining helmet outside his home in the economically depressed neighborhood of Starayakolona in Myrnohrad. Dorokh worked in mining for five years before getting a job as a rescue worker at a local emergency service, responding to accidents at mining facilities in the region. The World Bank and other critics say Ukrainian mines have obsolete equipment and dangerous working environments.

Homes in Starayakolona. 
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Homes in Starayakolona. 

Vasiliy Alekseevich stands outside his home in the town of Myrnohrad. Alekseevich worked in mining for 30 years and largely blames Russia’s aggression against Ukraine for the current crisis in the industry. “It wasn’t too bad,” he said. “We worked, and the salaries, well they weren’t great, but we lived.” “The most important thing is that this conflict ends, and that Russia gets out of here,” Alekseevich said. “My father was Russian, my mother was Ukrainian. I was raised here, I worked here, and retired here. This is my land -- our land. We do not need Russian occupiers.”
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Vasiliy Alekseevich stands outside his home in the town of Myrnohrad. Alekseevich worked in mining for 30 years and largely blames Russia’s aggression against Ukraine for the current crisis in the industry. “It wasn’t too bad,” he said. “We worked, and the salaries, well they weren’t great, but we lived.” “The most important thing is that this conflict ends, and that Russia gets out of here,” Alekseevich said. “My father was Russian, my mother was Ukrainian. I was raised here, I worked here, and retired here. This is my land -- our land. We do not need Russian occupiers.”

Nikolai Ivanovich, an 86-year-old pensioner, stands outside his home in the town of Myrnohrad. He said his pension was not enough, and prices were on the rise. “I had to sell my car because my pension was too low. That’s how we live now.” 
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Nikolai Ivanovich, an 86-year-old pensioner, stands outside his home in the town of Myrnohrad. He said his pension was not enough, and prices were on the rise. “I had to sell my car because my pension was too low. That’s how we live now.” 

The Central mine of Myrnohrad. 
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The Central mine of Myrnohrad. 

Signs on a mine administration building criticize the Ukrainian government for failing to pay salaries to coal miners.
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Signs on a mine administration building criticize the Ukrainian government for failing to pay salaries to coal miners.

Several hundred people gathered in the main square of the town of Selidovo on July 10 to demand that the Ukrainian government pay salaries owed to the workers of state-owned coal mines.
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Several hundred people gathered in the main square of the town of Selidovo on July 10 to demand that the Ukrainian government pay salaries owed to the workers of state-owned coal mines.

A young miner in the Ukraina mine. “Soon we won’t even be able to buy bread,” said Vera Nikolaivna, a pensioner whose husband worked as a miner.
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A young miner in the Ukraina mine. “Soon we won’t even be able to buy bread,” said Vera Nikolaivna, a pensioner whose husband worked as a miner.

A lump of coal in Selidovo. Nikolaivna says, “Before, coal mining was the most honorable profession in the Donbas (region of eastern Ukraine). People went to work with pleasure. They produced coal. It was proud work -- very hard, but honorable work.” 
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A lump of coal in Selidovo. Nikolaivna says, “Before, coal mining was the most honorable profession in the Donbas (region of eastern Ukraine). People went to work with pleasure. They produced coal. It was proud work -- very hard, but honorable work.” 

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