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07KYIV3071, UKRAINE COAL MINE DISASTER: HOW CORRUPTION KILLS

December 17, 2007

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07KYIV3071 2007-12-17 09:32 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Kyiv

VZCZCXRO3408
RR RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHKV #3071/01 3510932
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 170932Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY KYIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4572
INFO RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0105
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KYIV 003071 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR EUR/UMB AND DRL/ILCSR 
DOL FOR SMARLER 
GENEVA FOR JCHAMBERLIN 
 
E.O.: 12958: N/A 
TAGS: EMIN PGOV ELAB EAID UP
SUBJECT: UKRAINE COAL MINE DISASTER: HOW CORRUPTION KILLS 
 
REFS: A) STATE 159658 
 
      B) KYIV 2863 
      C) YARNELL-MARLER EMAIL OF 11/15/2006 
 
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - NOT FOR INTERNET PUBLICATION 
 
1. (SBU) Summary: A November 18 explosion at the Zasyadko 
Coal Mine killed 101 miners in Ukraine's worst coal mine 
accident since independence.  Subsequent explosions killed 
another five miners and mine rescuers.  The Zasyadko mine 
has one of the country's worst safety records.  Its 
director, Yukhim Zvyahilsky, has run the mine for decades 
and is an influential MP from the Party of Regions.  The 
GOU has established two commissions to investigate the 
causes of the accident, but many observers doubt whether an 
impartial investigation will be possible.  The head of the 
State Labor Safety Committee appears to be struggling in 
his attempts to ensure a fair inquiry and has called for 
foreign experts to participate.  A U.S. expert is already 
on the ground to assist investigators.  Poor safety 
practices were likely to blame for the accident, and the 
political favoritism that has allowed Zvyahilsky to remain 
in charge of the mine has in this case proved deadly.  End 
Summary. 
 
Largest Mine Accident in Ukrainian History 
------------------------------------------ 
 
2. (U) A November 18 methane explosion at the Zasyadko Coal 
Mine in the eastern city of Donetsk killed 101 miners and 
injured nearly 100 more, marking the single largest loss of 
life at a Ukrainian coal mine since the country's 
independence.  (Note: The Zasyadko tragedy eclipsed an 
accident at the Barakova Coal Mine in 2000 that left 81 
miners dead.  End note.)  President Viktor Yushchenko 
declared a national day of mourning following the accident. 
The Ambassador used his disaster assistance authority to 
provide specialized medical equipment to Donetsk hospitals 
treating injured miners (refs A-B). 
 
3. (U) Despite opposition from Ukraine's Independent Trade 
Union of Miners, which saw eight of its members killed in 
the November 18 blast, and despite continued high 
temperatures underground, management decided to restart 
some operations at the mine on November 21.  Two more 
explosions rocked the mine on December 1 and 2, killing 
five miners and rescue personnel, and injuring about 
another 60.  After this further loss of life, the mine was 
finally shut down (for now) and flooded with water to 
prevent any further explosions. 
 
A Mine with a History 
--------------------- 
 
4. (U) Ukraine ranks second in the world after China in 
terms of the number of coal mine fatalities each year, with 
over 4,000 fatalities since independence.  There had been a 
steady decline in fatalities year-on-year since 2000, 
although there was a slight increase to 168 fatalities in 
2006, and the Zasyadko accident will push those figures yet 
higher for 2007.  Zasyadko has earned a reputation as being 
Ukraine's deadliest, with 246 fatalities over the last ten 
years.  Fifty-five miners were killed in a methane 
explosion at Zasyadko in August 2001, and another 50 in May 
1999, respectively marking the fifth and sixth largest 
Ukrainian coal mine accidents to date. 
 
The Man in Charge: Yukhim Zvyahilsky 
------------------------------------ 
 
5. (U) Zasyadko's management structure is unique, as it is 
the only Ukrainian mine that is state-owned but leased to a 
private entity.  (Note: Of Ukraine's 165 legal coal mines, 
140 are state-owned and 25 mines have been privatized. 
Small illegal coal mines, with poor to non-existent safety 
standards, also operate.  End note.)  Seventy-four year-old 
Yukhim Zvyahilsky has effectively been in charge of the 
mine since the 1970s, when he rose through the ranks of the 
local coal mining hierarchy.  Zvyahilsky is an influential 
politician, having served as Deputy Prime Minister and 
Acting Prime Minister in 1993-1994.  He was accused of 
corruption and misuse of government funds in summer 1994, 
however, and in November 1994 fled to Israel to avoid 
prosecution.  He returned to Ukraine in 1997 and managed 
his political rehabilitation, being reelected to Parliament 
 
KYIV 00003071  002 OF 003 
 
 
several times, most recently in September's early 
parliamentary elections as number 9 on the Party of 
Region's list.  Zvyahilsky continues to serve as the 
director of Zasyadko. 
 
6. (SBU) Post witnessed Zvyahilsky's political influence 
first-hand back in the fall of 2006, when the U.S. 
Department of Labor-funded Coal Mine Safety Program was 
working to provide a specialized drilling machine to the 
GOU.  Although the program implementers and GOU officials 
had already agreed on a pilot site for the drill, the 
project stalled when Zvyahilsky personally demanded that 
the drill go to his mine.  High-ranking GOU officials 
appeared coerced to reverse their initial recommendation 
and cal
l for the drill to be sent to Zasyadko.  Only after 
the Embassy strongly objected and when Zvyahilsky himself 
admitted that he wanted the drill for production, not 
safety, reasons were we able to restart the project in the 
originally planned mine. 
 
Investigation to Determine Accident Causes? 
------------------------------------------- 
 
7. (U) The GOU has established two ad-hoc bodies to manage 
the aftermath of the Zasyadko disaster: a governmental, 
political-level commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister 
Andriy Kluyev, and an experts-level commission charged to 
investigate and report on the causes of the accident. 
Zvyahilsky immediately argued that the explosion occurred 
due to "unexplained geological forces," implying that the 
tragedy was unavoidable.  Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych 
and other allies backed up Zvyahilsky's argument, saying, 
"This accident has proven once again that a human is 
powerless before nature." 
 
8. (SBU) Many observers fear that the governmental 
commission will resist an impartial investigation that 
could lay blame for the accident with mine management. 
Anatoliy Akimochkin, Chairman of Ukraine's Independent 
Trade Union of Miners and a respected authority in Donetsk, 
told Econoff on December 7 that he highly doubted a serious 
and unbiased investigation could take place.  Experts 
involved in the investigation, said Akimochkin, were afraid 
to give their real opinion due to fear of repercussions at 
the hands of the Donetsk political elite.  According to 
Akimochkin, behind Zvyahilsky also stands Rinat Akhmetov, 
Ukraine's mega-oligarch whose steel and power-generation 
empire depends on a steady supply of Ukrainian coal, 
including from Zasyadko, an important source of coking coal 
for Ukraine's steel industry.  Sergey Taruta, Chairman of 
the Board of the Industrial Union of Donbass, Ukraine's 
second-largest steel producer, told Emboffs that one 
leading coal mine expert had already been thrown off the 
investigatory commission for arguing that the accident 
resulted from negligence. 
 
9. (SBU) On December 7 Econoff asked Serhiy Storchak, 
Chairman of Ukraine's State Labor Safety Committee, the 
lead GOU agency in ensuring workplace safety, if he could 
guarantee that the investigation would be impartial. 
Storchak essentially ducked the question, saying that, 
"unlike some mine owners," his committee was only 
interested in the truth.  Storchak also reiterated his 
strong desire for U.S. and other foreign experts to join 
the investigation in order to bolster its objectivity. 
(Note: An expert from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health 
Administration (MSHA) arrived in Donetsk on December 13 to 
aid the investigation.  End Note.) 
 
Likely Causes 
------------- 
 
10. (SBU) Although the investigation is still ongoing, most 
analysts believe that poor safety procedures were primarily 
to blame for the accident.  Zasyadko mine management has 
pushed production beyond what should be expected at the 
mine, given its remarkable depth (over 1,000 meters) and 
high methane concentration.  Jerry Triplett, primary 
implementer of the USG's Coal Mine Safety Program, noted 
that, while Zasyadko currently drills at four longwalls, 
state drilling officials would likely drill at only one 
under such geological conditions.  Valeriy Kagalovskiy, 
Executive Director of the Interstate Euro-Asian Association 
of Coal and Metals (a CIS body), told Econoff on December 6 
that the people at Zasyadko were simply mining "too fast." 
 
KYIV 00003071  003 OF 003 
 
 
Kagalovskiy blamed Zvyahilsky for not being satisfied as a 
millionaire, and wanting to become a "multi-millionaire." 
Akimochkin noted that a general problem throughout Ukraine 
is that miners are paid based on how much coal they mine, 
creating an incentive for impoverished miners to violate 
safety rules in order to provide for their families. 
 
11. (SBU) In 2006, 13 miners died at Zasyadko due to a 
methane release that occurred because management did not 
let a new coal face ventilate sufficiently before mining 
began,  insisting instead that work begin earlier to 
maximize production.  A variety of sources have told us 
that, in this most recent accident, miners were likely 
again pushed to continue their work despite high methane 
concentrations, with methane detection equipment either 
disabled or ignored by miners desperate to bolster their 
paltry salaries.  In addition, it appears the miners were 
working without a properly functioning ventilation system. 
Miners would have used explosive blasting caps to break up 
large pieces of mined coal, which likely provided the spark 
for a larger explosion.  High amounts of rock dust in the 
air, which can be reduced by a safety-enhancing technique 
called rock dusting (not practiced at Zasyadko), then 
likely magnified the explosion, carrying it through a large 
portion of the mine and multiplying the number of 
casualties. 
 
Comment: Corruption Kills 
------------------------- 
 
12. (SBU) Many Ukrainian mines, and especially Zasyadko, 
face dangerous geological conditions.  Yet good management 
focused on safety procedures can drastically reduce the 
chances of major accidents.  The neighboring 
Shcheglovskaya-Glubokaya Mine, for example, which 
experiences the same geological conditions as Zasyadko, has 
had a comparatively solid safety record.  Labor Safety 
chief Storchak recently told the public, "At mines where 
the owner genuinely cares about safety issues, the risk of 
accidents is minimal."  Our impression is that Storchak's 
agency is interested in an impartial investigation, but may 
be politically out-gunned.  For example, Storchak told 
Econoff he hoped the United States could "tell us that we 
need to hold mine management responsible" for such 
accidents.  Although we wait for the official verdict of 
the investigation, it is difficult to imagine any other 
conclusion than that the management at Zasyadko is to blame 
for the mine's horrendous safety record and this latest 
tragedy.  That Zvyahilsky remains in control of the mine, 
due to his political connections and most probably the 
revenue he is providing to his superiors, is a tragedy of 
its own. 
 
TAYLOR

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