Donetsk-based blogger Stanislav Kmet (LJ user frankensstein) visited Severnyi, a decaying coal-mining village in eastern Ukraine, after a group of local residents emailed him asking for help in drawing attention to the illegal mining that threatens to ruin their homes. On January 10 -11, 2013, Kmet posted a photo report from the trip on his blog ( part 1 and part 2 here [ru] – with some 70 photos and two videos), adding to the already extensive collection of items on the history and contemporary problems of Donbas, the region where most of Ukraine’s coal production takes place.
According to Kmet, if it wasn't for the Ukrainian currency and passports still in use in Severnyi, it would be hard to tell that this village was part of the Ukrainian state: an “enclave” – one of many in Donbas – where “neither the Constitution, nor the laws have any real power.”
Here is Kmet's summary of the situation [ru]:
[...] As it usually happens with coal-mining villages, Severnyi [...] started dying together with the local mine. All the way back in 2000, the Severnaya mine was declared unprofitable, and soon coal extraction basically stopped there. Currently, mining takes place only in numerous [illegal mines known as kopankas], whose owners have all the power over the village. The local population are deprived of their rights, law enforcement officials neglect their duties, the local authorities keep silent and pretend nothing is going on. Coal entrepreneurs shamelessly engage in grabbing the lands that are rich in coal, digging up nearby forests, ruining people's houses. I've been to many corners of Donbas, but I haven't seen such blatant criminal dictatorship anywhere before.
Located between the towns of Snezhnoye and [Torez], the village of Severnyi isn't a good place to live in – there are almost no jobs there, and getting to nearby towns using the beaten down road is hard and takes too long. Real estate costs almost nothing, population has reduced from 17,000 people (in the early 1990s) to 10,000 (in 2012). [...]
Unfinished, ruined and deserted houses, impassable dirt roads: Kmet's photos and words work together well to convey Severnyi's “hopeless atmosphere.” He writes:
[...] Even the inhabited buildings in Severnyi bear the mark of decay and death. As you walk down its streets, everything around is somehow only half-alive, slanted, neglected. It seems as if these houses are inhabited not by people but by walking mummies, as shabby and dusty as their dwellings. [...]
It seems as if everyone who is still capable of doing something has already left this village.
Illegal coal mines are everywhere, writes Kmet:
[...] Everything is done absolutely openly. Neither the authorities, nor the law enforcement react to it. The looting of the bowels of the earth goes on as if no state exists at all, and everyone is digging up coal wherever they feel like it.
We encounter numerous resource-exhausted, abandoned “holes.” When a kopanka exhausts its resources, they just move on to dig up a new one. [...]
Some of this illegal mining takes place right beneath people's houses – and this is the problem that brought Kmet and his colleagues to Severnyi.
Residents of the affected streets show Kmet two kopankas located dangerously close to their houses, as well as Kozlov Street, whose residents were forced to move elsewhere after their houses became damaged as a result of illegal mining:
[...] They know coal lies right underneath their backyards. If they start mining it, their houses will collapse due to land subsidence. [...]
The local residents’ attempts to resist illegal mining produce no results: the authorities keep failing to react adequately to the officially filed complaints, and, moreover, there are signs that they are actually collaborating with the illegal miners (e.g., by providing them with access to electricity).
When one of the local women confronted the illegal miners personally, she received a death threat in response. Kmet cites her story (which he has also recorded on video [ru]):
[...] At first we just wanted to come to an agreement [...]. When the bandits arrived, I came up to them and said: “Guys, you won't be allowed to dig here.” Then one of them told me: “Lady, you're tired of being alive, aren't you? Because we can [throw in two bottles of explosives] at night – and everything will be fine!” So then I, of course, decided to keep my mouth shut. [...]
Kmet writes that the local residents’ only hope is for the media to get involved.
The other video included in this photo report is of a man working at one of the illegal kopankas. Kmet writes that this video will be part of the documentary about Severnyi that he's working on now and will soon post online.: