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June 11, 2008

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08KYIV1127 2008-06-11 12:16 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Kyiv

DE RUEHKV #1127/01 1631216
R 111216Z JUN 08

E.O.: 12958: N/A 
REF: KYIV 3071 
1. (SBU) Summary: Ukraine's coal mines remain dangerous and 
grueling workplaces for the miners who depend on them for their 
livelihood.  Two recent accidents that included fatalities 
underscore the severity of the situation.  Econoff visited one 
mine in eastern Ukraine and experienced first-hand the hellish 
conditions facing miners.  Labor safety officials complain of a 
lack of funding for safety improvements, and the horrific 2007 
disaster at the Zasyadko mine apparently has not resulted in any 
substantial changes in government policy.  The USG Coal Mine 
Safety Program has helped Ukraine to move in the right direction 
in recent years by introducing safety-enhancing techniques at 
some mines, but much work remains to be done.  End Summary. 
2. (U) Econoff accompanied representatives of Partnership for 
Energy and Environmental Reform (PEER), which implements the 
Department of Labor Coal Mine Safety Program in Ukraine, to a 
series of meetings and site visits with GOU mine officials 
during the week of June 2.  The PEER contingent included 
consultants Ronald Costlow and Clyde Turner, themselves former 
mine inspectors and mine rescue officials from the U.S. Mine 
Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). 
No Policy Changes Following Recent Accidents... 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
3. (U) Econoff and PEER reps met with Mykola Maleev, head of the 
State Labor Safety Committee's regional office in Donetsk, in 
Ukraine's coal heartland, on June 4.  Maleev said that 
investigators were still working to determine the cause of the 
May 23 accident at the Krasnolymanska mine, which killed eleven 
and injured several more.  Maleev noted that the GOU needed to 
conduct more research on the effects of mining at very deep 
levels (i.e. greater than 1000 meters), as Ukrainian mines tend 
to be significantly deeper than their American and other 
counterparts, and more accidents seem to occur at greater 
depths.  (Note: The GOU very often blames accidents on 
"spontaneous outbursts" of gas and coal dust, a very uncommon 
phenomenon in the United States, and one which the Ukrainians 
attribute to the greater depths of their mines.  End Note.) 
4. (SBU) Econoff asked if there had been any changes in policy 
in the aftermath of the tragic disaster that killed over 100 
miners at Donetsk's Zasyadko mine in November/December 2007 
(reftel).  Maleev said that the government's investigative 
commission had completed its conclusions on the accident and 
made a list of recommendations -- including changes to 
ventilation systems, limiting production, and meting out serious 
disciplinary measures -- but that no substantive policy changes 
had taken effect as of yet.  Maleev also thanked the USG for 
providing an expert to assist with that investigation. 
(Comment: Despite hopes that the sheer immensity of the 
disaster, along with a new government coming to power, would 
shake up the corrupt and dangerous practices at many coal mines, 
nothing much seems to have changed.  Yukhim Zvyahilsky, the 
Member of Parliament who has run Zasyadko for years, received 
little more than a slap on the wrist and is still in control of 
the mine.  Econoff took note, however, that the picture of 
Zvyahilsky that had previously been prominently displayed on 
Maleev's wall had been tellingly removed.  End Comment.) 
...And another Serious Accident Occurs 
5. (U) A powerful explosion rocked the Karl Marx mine in 
Yenakiyevo, Donetsk oblast, on June 8, just days after our 
departure from the region.  Thirty seven miners were initially 
trapped underground, and there were even several injuries on the 
surface, as a fire ball from the explosion carried up the shaft. 
Rescue efforts continue, with two miners confirmed dead and 
twelve further miners still missing and feared dead. 
6. (SBU) Marina Nikitina, spokeswoman for the State Labor Safety 
Committee's Donetsk office, told the press that the government 
had ordered the mine to cease operations on June 6 due to 
numerous violations of safety rules.  Mine officials initially 
reported that the 37 miners underground were engaged only in 
repair work, not active mining, but subsequent media reports 
cited miners who claimed that management had in fact sent them 
to do mining work despite the closure order.  (Comment: The 
miners' claim is bolstered by the size of the explosion, as it 
seems unlikely that methane would be released in such large 
KYIV 00001127  002 OF 003 
volumes if mining was not taking place.  End Comment.) 
To the Gates of Hell 
7. (U) Econoff visited the Bozhanova mine, in the Eastern 
Ukrainian town of Makyivka, on June 5 to examine conditions in 
person.  Our journey began with a descent of 1,012 meters via 
the shaft e
levator, followed by a hike to one of the mine's new 
development sites.  While our hosts explained that this was the 
easiest workplace to reach, the trip took us about 75 minutes by 
foot over uneven terrain, with the last half hour or so in 
temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  (Note: In contrast 
to those in the United States, Ukrainian mines generally lack 
underground transportation systems to ferry miners to work 
sites.  Rail, where in place, is often used exclusively for 
cargo, not people.  End Note.)  When we commented that it was so 
hot it felt like a sauna, our hosts corrected us by saying it 
was more like a Russian "banya" (the preferred choice in 
Ukraine) because of the high humidity levels.  At our 
destination, approximately 1,200 meters below the surface, we 
found a group of miners stripped of their clothing, in an effort 
to counter the high temperatures, and covered in dust, which is 
thrown thick into the air whenever the drill is put into use 
against the rock face. 
8. (SBU) Econoff asked Vitaliy, the slender but muscular brigade 
leader working the drill, how they managed to work under such 
conditions; Vitaliy quipped that they were used to the heat and 
now often got the chills when on the surface.  Vitality 
Nikonenko, the Acting Manager of Bozhanova, similarly reasoned 
that the miners simply got used to the conditions.  Costlow and 
Turner, however, argued that the heat, because it would cause 
dehydration and fatigue, would undoubtedly be a factor in 
increased accidents and injuries.  They noted that no American 
coal miners would be expected to work in such conditions and 
that heat was often considered a warning sign of poor 
9. (U) Comment:  Econoff, who is somewhat younger than the 
average miner at Bozhanova (our hosts estimated the mean age 
would be in the late 30s), was seriously winded just by the trip 
to the site and back, due to the difficult terrain and high 
temperatures.  Had our visiting group done six hours of hard 
labor once there, as the miners of Bozhanova do every day, a 
rescue team may well have proven necessary.  End Comment 
Lack of Funding for Labor Safety 
10. (SBU) Anatoliy Ivanenko, head of the local mine inspectors 
based in Makyivka and one of our guides, pointed along the way 
to a half-constructed piece of machinery that, once operational, 
would apparently significantly cool that area of the mine.  The 
cooling system required a whole network of pipes, costing 
upwards of a million dollars, however, and the funding was 
simply not available, said Ivanenko.  (Comment: During several 
discussions, it was clear that funds, which come from the state 
budget and from "intermediary" companies that have stepped in to 
help cash-stripped mines, but in return gain control of their 
coal sales, are generally available only for activities with a 
direct link to production.  Whenever a worker safety issue 
emerges, the answer usually seems to be, "There's no money." 
End Comment.)  Ivanenko told us that, although thankfully there 
had not been any serious accidents of late, nearly 50 of the 
approximately 2,000 miners that work underground at Bozhanova 
had been injured during the last five months. 
U.S. Assistance Targeting a Need 
11. (U) Our recent visit to Ukraine's coal capital was a 
reminder of the very difficult working conditions facing the 
country's coal miners, and of the major steps needed to improve 
labor safety in this sector.  Coal mining remains an important 
part of the economy and maintains a prominent position in the 
psyche of many Ukrainians, especially in eastern Ukrainian towns 
where the local mine is the largest employer and, in reality, 
the town's raison d'etre. 
12. (U) The USG Coal Mine Safety Program has been effective in 
introducing Ukrainian mines to practical techniques that can 
quickly and easily improve safety conditions for workers. 
Although Ukraine regularly records the second-most number of 
coal mine fatalities in the world, there has been progress in 
KYIV 00001127  003 OF 003 
recent years, and fatalities fell by 50% from a total of 316 in 
2000 to 157 in 2005.  Numbers have been up during the last two 
years (168 fatalities in 2006, 268 in 2007 largely due to the 
Zasyadko disaster), but we hope that the positive trend will 
continue.  While we still await a sea change in the mentality of 
senior Ukrainian officials, our Coal Mine Safety Program is 
helping to chip away at the widespread neglect for mine safety 
with new, modern ideas. 


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