Undermined: how the state is selling out Ukraine’s coal workers

Vitalii Atanasov// Dec. 19, 2016// OpenDemocracy-Russia

Ukraine’s miners were once heroes of socialist labour. Today, after years of sector-wide neglect and corruption, there are new plans for further mine closures, leaving thousands of people without work.

September 2016: miners from Novovolysnk No.10 in west Ukraine protest the government’s plans to close their mine. (c) RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.

Since 2014, war has redrawn the map of Ukraine, removing many of its mining operations. Half of Ukraine’s 150 mines operational before 2014 are now in the territories of the so-called “Peoples’ Republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk, and some have been destroyed or flooded as a result of military action.

Despite considerable losses, the Ukrainian government still runs 35 mines, 24 of which are in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. Another 12 operate outside the Donbas, including some in the Lviv and Volyn regions in the west of the country.

These state-owned mines provide work for around 50,000 people, many of whom may however soon lose their jobs — Ukraine’s ministry of energy and coal mining plans to close 11 mines and privatise 14 more. And those that can’t be sold, it seems, will also be closed.

In the east

The town of Lysychansk lies a few dozen kilometres from the demarcation line that separates Ukraine from the “Luhansk Peoples’ Republic” (LNR). Two years ago, this area was mired in the conflict. Traces of it are still visible: along the Kyiv-Luhansk railway line, on the approach to the final station, you can see construction machinery by the bridge across the Seversky donets river. This bridge was blown up by pro-Russian forces in 2014, and is now being rebuilt using EU funding.

Lysychansk is one of the few towns in the Luhansk region where Ukraine’s state mines are still operating. “They form the economic basis of our town,” Sergey Shilin, mayor of Lysychansk, tells me. “They provide the lion’s share of income for our municipal budget, with our oil refinery coming second.”View of Lysychansk train station. Courtesy of the author.

In 1991, the Lysychanskugol mine corporation owned 11 mines, but since the closure of loss-making enterprieses in the late 1990s only four remain. These facilities provide work for 5,000 people, and the fact that the town still exists is to a large extent thanks to these mines.

In the current climate, Lysychansk can’t really count on new investment. Many of the factories that struggled on before the war broke out have since shut down. Local people have to travel elsewhere to find work — the town’s streets are lined with posters advertising direct transport to Russian cities and annexed Crimea, where they may be better prospects.

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