Methane explosion kills 8 at coal mine in western Ukraine

Methane explosion kills 8 at coal mine in western Ukraine
A methane gas explosion killed eight miners and injured six in western Ukraine. Local authorities say there were preparations at the mine to increase output in response to a coal blockade in the east.

The deadly explosion happened on Thursday at the Stepnaya mine in the Lvov region. Eight miners are reportedly dead and six injured, some seriously, while 20 people were successfully rescued, local police say. Early reports claimed as many as 11 deaths.

“There were casualties, but the reports about 11 miners killed have not been confirmed,” Lvov region head Oleg Sinyutka told NewsOne TV. “There are people in serious condition, medics are helping them.”

The blast happened at a depth of 550 meters and triggered a cave-in over one of the conveyor belts, the local emergency service said. The mine is part of Lvovugol, and has been in operation since 1978. It is rated as highly dangerous due to the high amounts of methane gas in the coal mined there.

According to Sinyutka, the mine was preparing to increase output to compensate for a coal shortage in the country. Ukraine is currently in a state of emergency in the energy sector due to a lack of coal needed for electricity and central heating.

“Since we lost coal from eastern Ukraine, we have been preparing to boost production of Lvovugol. Whether the explosion is connected with the preparations for increasing the output or anything else is up for an investigative commission to establish,” the official told 122 Ukraine TV channel.

Coal had previously been supplied from rebel-held areas in the east, but over a month ago, nationalist paramilitary fighters supported by several legislators imposed a blockade on the railroads.

The people behind the blockade argue that trading with the rebels is tantamount to treason. Kiev is reluctant to order a forced resolution to the crisis, and has instead called on the activists to leave, saying that otherwise the power plants would stop working and Ukraine would suffer a power shortage. In response, the nationalists threatened to take over the power plants and keep them running, although it was not clear how they planned to do so without any coal.

Amid the crisis, the rebel authorities ordered a change of management for businesses located in their territory which had been operating under Ukrainian law to keep economic ties with partners located in Kiev-controlled parts of the country.