Ukraine Live Day 380: At Least 32 Miners Trapped And 1 Killed In Donetsk Mine After Gas Explosion

March 4, 2015
Photo: Wikipedia

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Russian-Backed Separatists Say At Least 17 Dead In Mine Explosion, Kiev Says Rescue Efforts Being Blocked

We’ve been covering the various claims about how many people have been killed in an explosion at the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk. RFE/RL reports that, according to spokesperson for the Emergency Situations Ministry of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic,’ 17 bodies have been removed from the mine and another 16 miners are still missing.

Earlier reports put the death toll at 32, but those claims were disputed.

But RFE/RL also reports that the Ukrainian government wants to deploy a rescue team to the mine, but the Russian-backed separatists are blocking that effort.

Authorities in Kyiv were attempting to send rescue teams to the region in eastern Ukraine but according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, pro-Russian separatists were refusing to allow rescue teams access to the scene.

“That is why I am publicly calling on the Russian Federation — order these rascals to allow our mine-rescue brigades to save the lives of miners,” Yatsenyuk said.

It’s worth noting here that under both Minsk agreements, both sides agree that Donetsk and the rest of the Donbass are still part of Ukraine and will remain so, though the area is to become a more autonomous region. Under that logic, it is the Ukrainian government’s responsibility to respond to events such as these, but in this situation and others Ukraine is unable to respond due to the actions of the Russian-supported separatists.

James Miller

Former Ukrainian Finance Minister Arrested In Resort Town By Spanish Police

Yuri Kolobov, the Former Ukrainian Finance Minister who has been missing since August 2014, has been arrested by Spanish police in the coastal resort town of Altea. Reuters reports:

Kolobov will be brought before a judge at Spain’s High Court for questioning and the judge will decide how to proceed with an extradition to Ukraine, ABC newspaper reported. Spain’s Interior Ministry declined to comment.

Kolobov is accused of embezzling and other financial crimes, and is one of several former Ukrainian officials, including ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, who have been placed on Interpol’s wanted list.

James Miller

Spanish Separatist Volunteers Describe Fellow Fighters As Communists And Nazis, Fighting Together

On February 27, Spain’s El País has a report on three of the nine Spaniards arrested after returning from eastern Ukraine, where they had joined separatist fighters. The men, all aged in their twenties, described their journey to the region, which they arranged after contacting separatist fighters on Twitter.

The men, who were not paid but received assault rifles, food, lodging and uniforms, reported that there were other Spanish members of the “Donbass International Brigades,” alongside “several hundred” from other states, chief among them, Serbia and France.

Half of them are communists and the other half are Nazis,” they explained. “We fought together, communists and Nazis alike […]. We all want the same: social justice and the liberation of Russia from the Ukrainian invasion.”

One of the three men discussed in the article was a member of a recently-formed political movement in Spain called Communist Reconstruction.

El País notes that:

At the moment, Spanish police only have proof that one of the Madrileños arrested fought on the front lines. The other two were used for propaganda purposes to encourage others to join the ranks.

— Pierre Vaux

Will Russia Cut Off Ukraine’s Gas After Friday?

Reuters reports that Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, says that Ukraine has only paid for enough gas to get it through Friday, March 6:

“Gazprom has sent a letter to Naftogaz Ukraine that says that … without new payments the prepaid volumes will be enough until the morning of March 6,” Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told the Rossiya-24 TV channel.

According to Kyiv Post, Naftogaz, the Ukrainian energy company which handles the country’s natural gas supplies, has applied to receive an additional 10 million cubic meters today. According to the same report, however, Ukraine has currently prepaid for 28.1 million cubic meters of gas. Some quick math suggests that, unless we’ve missed something, that may only extend Ukraine’s gas supplies for maybe another day.

The Russian state-operated propaganda outlet RT reports that there is also dispute about which pipelines are used by Russia to supply gas to Ukraine:

Ukrainian Naftogaz received 22,781 million cubic meters of gas from Gazprom on March 2, 11,466 million of which went through Prokhorovka, as RIA quotes Ukrtransgaz. At the same time no gas was pumped through the Platovo station on the border of the Russian Federation and the Donetsk region.

On March 1 Naftogaz refused to take gas supplied through the Donbass measuring stations, saying the gas had to come through the Valuiki, Sokhranovka, Pisarivka and Sudja stations on the Russian border with Ukraine. On that day Ukrtransgaz received 4,477 million cubic meters of gas from Russia.

Kiev cut off gas supplies to the south east of Ukraine on February 19, explaining it was because of damage to pipelines as a result of fighting in the Donbass. On behalf of the Russian government Gazprom then started using the Prokhorovka and Platovo stations on the border of Russia and the Lugansk and Donetsk republics to supply gas to the region.

Gazprom said gas supplied to Ukraine through the stations was in accordance with the Naftogaz contract. Naftogaz, in turn, said the deliveries were contrary to the agreement, blaming Gazprom for breaching it and delivering less gas than Ukraine had requested.

Of course that article is framed to highlight the Russian government position on this.

It’s not clear whether Ukraine’s gas will actually be shut off on Friday, however.

Just two days ago it looked like Ukraine and Russia were on the verge of an agreement that could alleviate some of this tension. Bloomberg reported that Gazprom’s stock rallied after the announcement:

Ukraine confirmed it will keep paying in advance for natural gas deliveries for its domestic needs, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in Brussels on Tuesday. Russia agreed, for now, not to charge for gas delivered directly by Gazprom this month to the conflict zones in Ukraine, he said. The two countries plan to discuss who will pay for the rebels’ gas later, he said.

The European Union will seek a new gas accord between the two countries this month, said EU energy union chief Maros Sefcovic, who presided over the talks. Russia cut off Ukraine for six months in June amid a dispute over unpaid bills. A temporary deal brokered by the EU in October allowed supplies to be restored for the cold season. It expires at the end of this month.

While the eased tension in Ukraine and a weaker ruble, which has dropped 12 percent in the past three months, may boost Gazprom in the short term, other factors including Russia’s contracting economy and the company’s shrinking domestic market share will weigh on the stock, according to Farid Abasov, an analyst at SBG Securities in London.

James Miller

Kharkiv Mayor Kernes Named As Suspect In Torture And Kidnapping Case

TV Rain (Dozhd) reports that the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office has announced that the mayor of Kharkiv, Hennadiy Kernes, has been named as a suspect in a criminal investigation into torture and kidnapping. 

The Prosecutor General’s office also reported that Kernes had already been made familiar with the evidence in the criminal case.

Kernes’ defence lawyers are currently studying the case. Afterwards, the indictment will be sent to the Specialised Higher Court of Ukraine for consideration. 

A notice on the website of the Prosecutor General stated that the investigation was being conducted in relation to violations of three articles of Ukrainian criminal law, kidnapping or unlawful imprisonment, torture, and death threats. 

TV Rain notes that, at the end of last month, the prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, told Ukraine’s Channel 5 that Kernes would be charged “in the near future.”

The Interpreter translates:

“He is being charged with torture – this grave crime carries a sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison, and disorderly conduct, because he committed a crime together with his two bodyguards, who have already been named as suspects for illegal imprisonment.”

Kernes is a controversial figure in Ukrainian politics. He was a supporter of Viktor Yanukovych, and was involved in the organisation of the ‘Ukrainian Front,’ a movement of pro-Russian, Yanukovych loyalists that rallied against the EuroMaidan revolution. 

Here is Kernes, sitting second from right, at a conference of the Ukrainian Front in Kharkiv on February 22, 2014:


The Ukrainian Front folded without much fanfare as Kernes and many other public figures in the east realigned themselves with the post-Maidan government once it became clear that the Party of Regions was a spent force. However both he and the governor of the Kharkiv region, Mikhail Dobkin, had already been named as suspects of ‘separatism’ by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). He was also accused of hiring titushki or provocateurs and thugs to attack or break up Maidan demonstrations in Kharkiv.

In addition, as is often the case with politicians and businessmen in eastern Ukraine, there were accusations of both involvement in organised crime and also that Kernes was being targeted by rivals. 

A criminal case, for the same charges as those listed by Shokin above, was in fact launched against Kernes last year. However on April 28, the mayor was shot in the back by an as-yet, unidentified, assailant while jogging in Kharkiv. Seriously injured, Kernes was flown to Haifa, Israel, where he received medical treatment. 

On June 30, owing to the suspect’s severely poor health, the investigation was suspended.

It appears that the case under way now is a revival of this investigation.

— Pierre Vaux

Local Mining Official Says 32 Miners Killed, More Than 70 Trapped In Donetsk. Other Death Tolls Lower
Sky News reports that local authorities in Donetsk are reporting that at least 32 miners have been killed in the explosion in a Donetsk mine:

Sky reports:

“More than 30 people were killed. Rescue workers have not yet come to the place of the explosion, they are removing the poisonous gas and then will go down,” said Vladimir Tsymbalenko, head of the local mining safety service.

One of the men caught up in the blast and taken to a Donetsk hospital said: “I was blown away by an explosion. I came round. There was dust everywhere and people were moaning.”

But Reuters reports a different situation all together:

Obviously, confusion remains.

James Miller

Conflicting Reports of How Many Miners Have Been Killed In Donetsk Mine Collapse
Earlier we reported that there has been an explosion in the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk. There are conflicting reports about casualties, with some of the reports suggesting that 32 miners have been trapped and others saying that 32 have been killed. The situation has not been clarified:

We’ll continue to monitor the latest developments.

James Miller

Ukrainian POW Nadiya Savchenko Speaks To BBC Reporter

Sarah Rainsford, the BBC’s Moscow correspondent, has been at the Basmanny court in Moscow today where Nadezhda Savchenko‘s lawyers have been appealing for her to be released from pre-trial detention, citing her immunity as a Ukrainian MP and a member of the Parliamentary Association of the Council of Europe (PACE). 

Here are Rainsford’s tweets from the court:

Earlier, we reported that Ilya Novikov, one of Savchenko’s lawyers, told Novaya Gazeta that Savchenko was experiencing problems with her gall bladder and kidneys. He also reported that she had been administered an unidentified injection by prison doctors.

— Pierre Vaux

One Civilian Killed In Last Night’s Shelling Of Avdeyevka

Vyacheslav Abroskin, the head of the Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry, has written on his Facebook page that a woman, born in 1974, was killed when her apartment was struck by a shell during a mortar attack last night.

Abroskin said the attack on Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk, was conducted by Russian-backed militants.

Novosti Donbassa named the victim as Svetlana Kiseleva and published both her photo and one of her apartment block:



— Pierre Vaux

Ukrainian Government Claims 19 Soldiers Killed, 135 Wounded, 12 Missing During Debaltsevo Evacuation

UNIAN reports that Vladislav Seleznyov, a spokesman for the Ukrainian General Staff, has told reporters at a briefing today that 19 soldiers were killed during the Ukrainian withdrawal from Debaltsevo on February 18.

“During the planned withdrawal of about 3,000 soldiers from the Debaltseve bridgehead, Ukraine lost 19 soldiers. The fate of another 12 soldiers is being clarified. A total of 135 soldiers received injuries of varying severity… Nine defenders of the Debaltseve bridgehead are still in captivity,” he said.

According to Selezniov, all government and public institutions are involved in working for the release of the Ukrainian military.

Reports from soldiers and journalists at the time suggested that the withdrawal was somewhat more chaotic than the “planned withdrawal” described by the government, with some claiming that commanders in the field had taken the decision to evacuate themselves.

— Pierre Vaux

Nadezhda Savchenko Vomiting Bile After Unidentified Injection
Yesterday, Novaya Gazeta published an interview with Ilya Novikov, a lawyer for Nadezhda Savchenko, in which he reports that the jailed Ukrainian pilot and MP is now experiencing problems with her gall bladder and kidneys.

Novikov told Novaya Gazeta‘s Vera Chelishcheva that his client had told him on March 2 that she had been administered an unidentified injection at the previous weekend. 

The Interpreter translates: 

“After being administered this chemical she spent the whole of the following day on Monday vomiting bile. She has problems with her gall bladder, which has not been mentioned once, even by her doctors… Problems with her kidneys have been noticed… Other than that, she feels relatively well. At the very least, she can sit upright and stand.”

Savchenko’s lawyers have repeatedly demanded information from the authorities on what she is being treated with, however they have not received a response.  

Vomiting bile is a documented symptom of long-term hunger striking, such as those maintained during the 1981 Irish hunger strike, which led to the deaths of ten hunger strikers, the last of which, that of Kieran Doherty, came after 73 days. 

Savchenko has now been on hunger strike for 82 days. However her health was likely sustained longer as was being administered glucose injections until February 20, when she refused any further such treatment. 

— Pierre Vaux

At Least 32 Miners Trapped And 1 Killed In Donetsk Mine After Gas Explosion

There has been a powerful explosion deep within the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk. The mine lies in the Kievsky district, south-east of Donetsk Airport. There are conflicting reports of casualties, but local officials are telling reporters that at least 32 miners have been trapped and one killed. 

The Donetsk city administration, headed by the separatist-appointed mayor, Igor Martynov, reported that the explosion had occurred at 5:57 (3:57 GMT) this morning

There were 230 people working inside the mine at the time of the blast. As of 9:00 (7:00 GMT), 157 miners had been evacuated. 14 of them were hospitalised with burn or trauma injuries. One was found dead.

Donetsk news site reported that the Key Industries Department of the Donetsk Regional Administration had informed them that 50 miners were working in the lowest depths of the mine at 1,200 meters when the explosion went off. Forty-three of them reportedly remaining trapped. 

According to the Regional Administration, 15 mine rescue services were dispatched to the site. reported that Yuliana Bedilo, a spokesman for the “emergencies ministry” of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” had announced that the blast had been caused by the ignition of a mixture of gas and air. She stressed that the explosion had not been caused by shelling. 

Explosions caused by methane gas or coal dust build-ups are a major threat to coal miners. The Zasyadko mine itself has an especially awful history in this regard. In November 2007, the mine was the site of the worst mining disaster in Ukraine’s history, when 101 miners were killed in a methane blast. The disaster was sadly only one of many, with another 40 wounded and four killed in two further blasts later that year


— Pierre Vaux