Coal Survivors

  • Photographer
    Alain Schroeder
  • Prize
    Honorable Mention
  • Jury Top 5 Selection
  • Date of Photograph
    2020

The mining town of Toretsk is isolated from the rest of eastern Ukraine. The mines in this coal-rich Donbas region, have closed one by one since the 1990s. Since the start of the (ongoing) Donbas conflict in 2014, young people have left from the region due to the proximity of the frontline, just 10 kms away. Centralna Mine, is the oldest and deepest coal mine (1124 meters) in the region. Its infrastructure is dilapidated and in dire need of repair. The situation is tense and as of mid-February 2020, miners had not been paid for four months and rumors of closure by the summer of 2020 are rife.

Story

The mining town of Toretsk sits isolated from the rest of the country in eastern Ukraine. There is no train station, no highway passing thru. The mines that once nourished the local economy, in this coal-rich Donbass region, have closed one by one since the 1990s. The two that remain are rapidly reducing the number of workers. Since the start of the (ongoing) Donbass Conflict in 2014, young people have left and investors have shied away from the region due to the proximity of the front line, just 10 kms away. Most of the city’s residents, directly and indirectly, depend on the coal mines. Centralna Mine, founded in 1860 and operated by the state-owned company Toretskvugillya, is the oldest and deepest coal mine (1124 meters) in the region. Its infrastructure is dilapidated and in dire need of repair, but the company has no funds to invest. The priority of the central government in Kiev is to support its soldiers first and it will undoubtedly stop subsidizing this mine where the cost of extraction per ton has grown to more than double the market price. To make matters worse, coal that has already been delivered to Kiev has not been paid for despite the government’s promise. The situation is tense and as of mid-February 2020, miners had not been paid for four months, other than an advance of 10% of their salary. In the last year alone, the number of workers per 8-hour shift has dropped from 100 to 50.  A shift at Centralna mine is paid 250 Hrivnia (+/- 10 Eur) for 8 hours of work in archaic, difficult conditions. Modern equipment is scarce and the majority of miners continue to extract coal with jackhammers.  Among miners, rumors of closure by the summer of 2020 are rife and Toretsk may soon know the fate of Walbrych, the city in Silesia (Poland) that went bankrupt in the 1990s following the closure of all of its mines.

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