Coal Shaft Blast Kills 33 Miners in Ukrainian Conflict Zone

An explosion at a coal mine killed 33 miners in eastern Ukraine, where government troops are fighting pro-Russian separatists, the Ukraine-run Donetsk Regional Administration said on its website.

Fifteen miners were injured in the explosion at the Zasyadko coal mine, Yuliana Bedilo, an official at the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic, said earlier on Wednesday. Separatists were blocking access for a team of 60 Ukrainian rescue workers to the region, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said, urging Russia to force the insurgents to grant them entry.

“I’m asking the Russian Federation to give the instruction to let in our mine-rescue teams,” Yatsenyuk told a government meeting in the capital, Kiev. “You have taken millions of Ukrainians living in Donetsk and Luhansk hostage and now you are mercilessly tormenting families of miners by blocking aid.”

The war has hammered the economy in Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions, part of the country’s industrial heartland, shutting down factories, power plants and mines. Ukraine blames Russia for sending cash, weapons and fighters to support the separatists, who have battled government troops to break away from Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people, according to the United Nations. Russia denies the accusations.

Help Needed

The Donetsk People’s Republic doesn’t have enough mine-rescue workers because about 700 left for Ukraine when it decided to secede, Mykhaylo Volynets, the head of coal miners’ trade union, said by phone. Work had to be stopped earlier because the gas level in the mine began to rise, risking another explosion.

Russia and the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic have offered to help the Donetsk rebels, DPR leader Alexander Zakharchenko was cited as saying by the insurgent-run DAN news service. DPR official Maksim Leshchenko said Ukraine hadn’t contacted the DPR about sending rescue workers.

Yatsenyuk said the Energy Ministry will continue talks with rebel leaders for rescue teams to start working at the mine. Coal mines in east Ukraine have patchy safety records. The Zasyadko mine was one of 14 temporarily closed for inspection in 2008 following several accidents.

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