Ukraine Mourns 90 Dead Miners

ReutersMiners carrying one of their dead colleagues' coffins Tuesday in Donetsk.
SHCHEGLOVKA, Ukraine -- Weeping relatives gathered in cemeteries around Donetsk, heart of the Donbass coal field, on Tuesday to bury the dead from Ukraine's worst mining accident.

Flags were adorned with black ribbons and flew at half-mast on a national day of mourning for the at least 90 people killed in Sunday's methane blast.

At least 10 miners at the Zasyadko mine were still missing after fires roared through shafts more than one kilometer underground. There is little chance they are alive, trade union officials said.

Thirty men remained in hospital.

Coffins draped in maroon cloth were lowered into four graves at the vast, dusty Shcheglovskoye cemetery outside the town, a resting place for victims of previous disasters and lying within sight of the Zasyadko mine.

One of the victims, Anatoly Belous, was 30 years old. He had begun working at the mine four months ago.

An orchestra played as families were joined by veteran miners, witnesses of many such funerals, and industry officials. Other miners stood at a respectful distance behind a fence.

"It is a terrible sight when they bring the bodies to the surface," said ex-miner Anatoly. "They are incinerated. All but impossible to identify after death in such conditions."

All but one of the coffin lids were kept shut.

The mine's general director, Yefim Zvyagilsky, burst into tears as he addressed families: "Parents, wives, children. I share in your indescribable suffering. Our mine will help you. No request for help will go unanswered."

As the ceremonies proceeded, three bus loads of miners passed down an adjacent road on their way to start the next shift and rescue teams pressed on with dampening down the underground fires.

"A fire is still burning in the area of the accident," said Serhiy Storchak, a member of the commission of inquiry into the accident. "Bit by bit it is being brought under control. The teams have made good progress in the last 24 hours."

Until Sunday, post-Soviet Ukraine's worst mining accident had been in March 2000, when an explosion killed 80 miners at a shaft near the eastern town of Luhansk.

On Tuesday, the square around the mine's offices, which was teeming with relatives seeking information 24 hours after Sunday's explosion, was all but empty.

Zasyadko has a reputation for being one of Ukraine's most technologically advanced and profitable pits. Its miners take home on average each month the equivalent of $1,000 -- more than three times the average national wage -- with those at the coalface earning still more.

But Sunday's blast was the fourth major accident there in six years. At least 225 miners have died since 1999.

Vitaly, a middle-aged miner outside the pit, was wondering whether it was worth carrying on.

"I know three colleagues who want to quit," he said. "But I have three children, so what am I to do? My small daughter never leaves my side now. She is afraid that she could lose her dad."