Starving Donbass Miners: Under Yanukovych We Were Paid Five Times More

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Nine miners went on a hunger strike directly in the building of the Ministry of Energy and Coal Mining in Kiev. These are miners from the State enterprise “Selidovugol” – they came to Kiev especially to solve sore problems caused by delayed salary payments.

The correspondent of the Federal News Agency (FAN) communicated with the miners and was personally convinced of two things. The first: the desperate protest of the miners in the ministry didn’t especially surprise anybody. The second: the miners are ready to go to the end in their desire to receive the means to live.

The nine miners decided to take the desperate step after learning that deals for the transfer of layers of the “Novogrodovskaya” and “Kotlyarevskaya” mines to representatives of private business were conducted. One of the demands of the striking miners is to return the layers of coal that were put in private hands back to the State.

It wasn’t difficult to meet the miners. And on the way to meeting them the correspondent of the FAN imagined angry, smeared with coal, dusty people in helmets sitting on the square in front of the ministry and knocking these helmets on against the frozen Kiev asphalt. Such a picture is in the spirit of the early days of Yeltsin’s reign.

In fact, everything was much more prosaic. There weren’t any miners either in front of the entrance to the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine, nor in the hall of the department. To the question where it is possible to find the starving miners, the security guard at the entrance said: “Ah, journalist … Now I will call them, they starve on the second floor”.

He indeed called someone, and ten minutes later a group of tired, exhausted people with identical linen bandages on their heads with the inscription “I’m starving” came down. to the hall. They lined up in front of the correspondent of the FAN like soldiers and were ready for recording. Everything happened so quickly and harmoniously that the correspondent of the FAN even became a little puzzled by such discipline.

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“We decided to go on a hunger strike because other methods don’t have an effect on our authorities any more!” explained one of miners. “Last time three guys starved for a whole eleven days, and only after did officials fulfil our requirements. We can’t say how many days we will hold on for now, but we will stand to the end! After all, we are supported by miners across all Ukraine and other people are in solidarity with us! We won’t leave here without a salary”.

According to the starving persons, in the last two years miners were forced to resort to such radical measures for the third time. Starting with 2014, with the notorious “revolutions of dignity”, delayed salary payments at mines became rather the rule than the exception. The total amount of debt owed to miners over the entire country now exceeds 800 million hryvnia, and this sum constantly grows. The miners stated with bitterness – today the coal industry of Ukraine is brought to full poverty.

“Earlier, at the time of Yanukovych, a normal working miner earned $1000–1200 in a month, and they could calmly support their family. Today we receive $150–200 a month, and for the families of many colleagues there often isn’t enough even for bread. Our women complain that can’t take away children in a garden – they have no money to give to their children for food in kindergarten! People have nothing to pay for electricity with, and the monopolists disconnect them – and, after all, it is us who extract energy resources for the country! How can the State force us to live so shamefully?!” said one of the delegates, Viktor Trifonov.

He heads a trade-union cell of two miner’s cities — Selidovo and Novogrodovka, and in 2016, after a 6 month delay of salary payments he tried to commit an act of self-immolation. As a reminder, earlier, on February 14th, miners of the same enterprise “Selidovougol” and their family blocked two main roads leading from the city of Selidovo. The reason for the protest was the same – salary debts.

“Officials don’t allocate money not only to us, but also for new production technologies, to improve mine safety. We work there, in fact, like suicide bombers, and the State doesn’t care. In addition, it should also be taken into account that we work 10-12 kilometers from the ‘line of differentiation’, actually at the front line. The conditions are hellish in general,” said the miners.

Among the male miners there was a woman, Taisiya Kravtsova, who also heads a trade-union cell at Kotlyarevskaya mine.

“You can’t imagine the conditions that miners and their families now live in today! In many cities of Donbass heating has been disconnected for many years – debts were formed because of the instability of salaries, and it was disconnected long ago. People for years heat their houses and apartments via ovens, like in the 19th century. And only several kilometers from us is the Svetlodarsk arc – the coal export routes are periodically disrupted by shelling, and coal isn’t taken out for weeks. In this situation the State must, first of all, care about us, after all, we are State people, and we don’t bear any responsibility for shelling!” said Kravtsova.

The hunger strike is the only way to achieve fair compensation in today’s Ukraine, assure the miners. Officials from the Ministry of Energy refuse to understand their problems in a different way. One more starving miner, the head of the labor union cell of miners of the “Kurakhovskaya” mine, has diabetes.

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“This is the second hunger strike for Aleksey,” said his companions. “For health reasons he in general can’t be starved, he can die at any time. But he has three children at home. His familial situation is difficult, that’s why he is here among us”.

Representatives of the International Labour Organization were informed about the situation that developed at the “Selidovugol” mines and about the miners’ hunger strike, and a letter addressed to the President Petro Poroshenko was also sent.

“Maybe after this at least the conscience of the authorities will wake up,” hope the miners hope. However, they state in advance that they “won’t disturb the work of the ministry building”. As Viktor Trifonov told the FAN, on Wednesday the miners had a meeting with the head of the Ministry of Energy Igor Nasalik. However, even the minister couldn’t promise them to quickly solve the problem salary debts.

“Nasalik told us – ‘how the person works is how the person earns’. We have starved already for several days, but officials didn’t even slightly open the door for us, there are no prospects! But, anyway, we will continue to obtain what’s ours!” said the miners, driven to despair.

At the same time the miners sadly note – the State media and journalists in general practically don’t come [to see them – ed]. Today in many branches of Ukrainian industry the situation is hopelessly bad, and the problems of individual miners doesn’t really bother the Ukrainian media.

That’s why there is only one thing left for miners – to sit on the second floor of the ministry and via psychological pressure to elicit their honestly earned money from officials. As the miners say among themselves, “the official is a proud bird: if you don’t shove it – it won’t fly”.

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