Miners Demonstrate in Kiev Over Pay

By Tim Vickery, Associated Press, 18 July 2002, 4:37 PM EDT

KIEV, Ukraine—Hundreds of miners waving banners and beating plastic bottles on the pavement blocked Kiev's main street Thursday in a bid to get the government to pay $230 million in back wages.

Miners in the former Soviet republic often go months without pay, or receive only a small fraction of their salary every few months. Some miners are employed by the government, while others work in partially privatized mines that rely heavily on government subsidies.

About 600 coal miners converged Thursday on Khreshchatyk Street to address their demands to President Leonid Kuchma and Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh.

“Kuchma, you guarantee our pain and hunger!” the miners' banners read. “Kuchma, Kinakh: You don’t solve our problems, you freeze them!”

Kinakh later held an emergency meeting with Viktor Turmanov, leader of the Union of Coal Industry Workers, and 26 regional union representatives, the Interfax news agency reported. Turmanov said Kinakh pledged $25 million would be paid by year's end.

Though that falls far short of their demands, it would still be a major victory for the miners.

“People are demonstrating to get decision-makers to address their demands,” said Oleksandr Bondarchuk, a legislator and representative of the Ukrainian Worker's Union. “It's the same problem every year.”

Ukraine's coal miners have staged frequent protests demanding unpaid wages, including a three-week hunger strike by dozens of miners in Kiev's main square.

A string of recent accidents in Ukrainian mines, including one that killed 35 miners, have fueled miners' demands and sparked new calls for improved safety measures in Ukraine's troubled mining industry.