Twenty kilometers from the Polish border, a Socialist/realist style statue of a coal miner stands guard of his town. As our bus crawls along the ice covered road, past the Bronze sentry, I try to clear the frost from inside the window to get a better look. The view is short-lived, as my eyes are drawn instead to the rows and rows of brick boxcar style dormitories that line the streets of Chervonohrad, Ukraine.
Situated in the Lviv-Oblast region, Chervonohrad is only one of a handful of coal mining towns left in Western Ukraine, where only three percent of the country’s coal is found. Over 90% of the coal is mined in the Donblas region of Eastern Ukraine, where production has been dominant since the mid 19th century.
Economically structured when the coal industry represented power and stability, Ukraine was once a symbol of Soviet pride; the post-Soviet crisis and the discovery of gas and oil in Siberia caused the Ukrainian coal industry to collapse. Now, almost 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian coal industry suffers from primitive machinery, poor geological conditions, low quality coal, and the second largest fatality rate in the world. As one of Europe’s largest energy consumers, and without any alternative for fuel sources, Ukraine must continue to dig for coal at unsafe and unprofitable depths to prevent their demand of Russian gas from mushrooming out of control.
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