26 Jan 2015

Ukraine: 500 miners trapped after shell blast

Nearly 500 miners are trapped underground after a shell hit an electric substation near the site in east Ukraine, following an escalation in violence at the weekend.

Miners at the Zasyadko mine in 2014

Above: Miners at the Zasyadsko mine in 2014

Emergency services were called to Donetsk’s Zasyadko coal mine in the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine on Monday. The mine is one of the biggest in eastern Europe.

It is the second time this year that miners have been trapped underground in the Ukrainian conflict – in which Ukrainian government soldiers are fighting pro-Russian, separatist rebels.

On 11 January nearly 400 miners were trapped underground after a shell damaged an electric substation. The separatists, known as the Donetsk People’s Republic, have previously accused Ukrainian forces of deliberately targeting the coal mine.

Monday’s shelling comes after a weekend of escalated fighting, with separatist fighters launching offensives on the city of Mariupol.

Ukraine said 30 people were killed in rebel shelling of the eastern port city on Saturday. Kiev also said on Monday that seven of its soldiers had been killed in the last 24 hours.

Last week 13 people were killed when a shell hit a trolley bus in the city of Donetsk. Both sides in the war blamed each other for the incident.

The renewed fighting has ended months of ceasefire in a war that has claimed more than 5,000 lives.

‘High alert’

Ambassadors from Ukraine and the 28 Nato allies are holding an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the increase in violence.

Ukraine invoked a clause of an agreement it has with Nato which allows for crisis talks if Ukraine perceives a direct threat to its territorial integrity, political independence or security. The last such meeting was held in August last year.

On Monday Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed the renewed violence on Ukraine’s government, saying the separatist rebels were responding to attacks by government forces.

“We see attempts to derail the peace process and attempts again and again by the Kiev leadership to solve the problem by using force to suppress the southeast. These attempts lead nowhere,” he said in a news conference.

On Monday Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk ordered all Ukrainian territories to be on “high alert”.