Ukraine’s prime minister has accused “Russian terrorists” of stopping rescuers reaching a mine in rebel-held territory where around 33 miners were feared dead following an explosion.
Officials at the Zasyadko mine in eastern Ukraine said yesterday ten bodies had been recovered but dozens of miners remained missing as rescue teams began to pump out poisonous gasses released by the blast before a rescue effort was attempted. Around 200 miners were below ground when the accident occurred in the early hours of the morning.
Arseny Yatsenyuk, the Ukrainian prime minister, said Moscow-backed rebels – or “terrorists” as he called them – had thwarted rescue efforts.
He said: “Today in the early morning I ordered emergency rescue teams from the energy ministry to deploy to the site of the mine explosion in east Ukraine and aid rescue efforts.
“However, Russian terrorists did not allow Ukrainian aid workers to reach the mine and save lives.
“We ask the Russian Federation to allow our mine rescue teams to pass. You’ve taken hostage millions of Ukrainians who live in Donetsk and Luhansk, and now you ruthlessly humiliate the families of miners by not letting us help people.”
The prime minister added he had instructed the energy ministry to try and negotiate safe passage for the rescue teams, while Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, also called for rescuers to have access to the mine.
Although the mine lies in the Donbas, Ukraine’s mining and industrial heartland, it is now under rebel control and it is becoming increasingly difficult to cross from rebel-held areas to government-controlled land.
Local officials at the mine made no comment on Mr Yatsenyuk’s allegations, but said a rescue operation was under way, although they conceded the chances of finding anyone alive were slim. They added that an official committee to determine the cause of the blast had been set up.
The area surrounding the mine has seen fighting between government troops and Moscow-backed rebels that included the use of heavy artillery but the disaster is thought to have been caused by a build-up of gasses underground.
The explosion underlined the dangers of working in an Ukrainian mining industry that has seen a number of large and lethal accidents since the turn of the century. It is also the second time tragedy has struck the Zasyadko mine. In 2007 it was the scene of the Ukraine’s worst mining disaster when 101 miners died in a huge methane blast at the pit.
The apparent lack of co-ordination between the rebels and the government in response to the disaster has made clear the lack of control Kiev now has over industry located in rebel-held areas.
This could inflict further pain on Ukraine’s ailing economy by depriving it of resources vital to the country’s health.