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‘Heroes of the Universe’: Russia’s War on Ukraine’s Coal Mines and Steel Plants

Written by NEWS-78

Amid a violent struggle between Ukrainian and Russian forces for control of eastern Ukraine, nearby miners continue their fight underground to deliver coal to their country.

Fighting has focused on Ukraine’s industrial east and agricultural south since April, following Russia’s failure to capture the capital Kiev earlier this year.

Near Pavlograd, a city in east-central Ukraine, 4,000 workers work at the so-called “Heroes of the Cosmos” mine, which was founded 43 years ago when the country was still part of the USSR.

About 800 personnel have been drafted into Ukraine’s army, just 150 kilometers from the front line, as it enters its seventh month of war with Russia.

Yet despite the war, officials say production has not been affected. “Everybody is in their place, yet we are with them in soul,” says Oleksandre Oksen, 42-year-old shaft administrator.

From an external perspective, the office seems to be a college grounds. Leaves on willow trees sway in the wind, water flows from a giant chess set that reaches waist height.

But 370 meters down, in an elevator shaft that screams down, the situation is quite different.

Here the heat is chilly and the air is filled with dust. Legend has it that a ghost lives in the mine and helps the workers. But even here war haunts them.

At the start of each shift, miners must hand in their phones. This means they are unaware of the latest information – including possible bomb blasts that could kill their families and friends – until they return to the surface six hours later.

“When they leave the mine, the first thing they do is pick up the phone and call,” says mine manager Vasil, who asked not to give his last name.

After sinking into the tunnels, the workers are transported by wagon for 3.6 kilometers before passing through a narrow tunnel, where the rock walls are in rusted metal cages.

In the tunnel, a conveyor belt moves the coal to trolleys that transport it to an elevator and then to the surface where it is transported to power stations.

The deeper the galleries go, the narrower they become, until they are only a meter high. In the background, with his back, 33-year-old Volodymyr Palenko tries to repair a metal machine that collects coal from the ground.

“What’s happening in our country impacts everyone,” he says, since “everyone has buddies and partners who are related with war”.

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