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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Miners Vow To Strike On In Ukraine

KIEV -- Ukrainian coal miners vowed Friday to stay on strike to press for unpaid wages, ignoring government pledges to produce some of the cash they are owed.


But the government suggested the strike, launched at the same time as a mass walkout in Russia, was crumbling on its second day.


Trade unionists in eastern Ukraine's Donbass coalfield said 800,000 miners remained off the job, with 91 of 251 pits at a standstill, down from 123 on the opening day of the stoppage. They said 100 other mines were refusing to load coal.


Government officials said 70 mines were out, but suggested many were working quietly to avoid charges of strikebreaking.


"The Ukrainian government is trying to conceal the scale of the strike," senior mining engineer Leonid Kolesnik told 5,000 miners standing in temperatures of minus 15 degrees Celsius in the city of Donetsk.


"The government has promised us some money. Our aim is to maintain our strike and not to take these scraps."


Like their colleagues in Russia, and in Romania where miners also walked out for two hours, the strikers limited demands to economic issues -- mainly securing back pay and state subsidies for their industry. The political weight they enjoyed at the end of the Soviet era, when strikes halted industry, has been greatly diminished.


The miners have not been paid monthly wages of between $50 and $75 since October and some invalidity benefits have gone unpaid since July. Many live in squalor and have been forced to feed families on preserved vegetables raised on garden plots.


Deputy Prime Minister Vasyl Yevtukhov told parliament that the equivalent of $21 million had been allocated to paying salaries. The miners put the wage bill at $122 million, but ministers have said additional money must come from outside the budget.


Communist and Socialist deputies, who control about a third of the 450-seat chamber, blamed the strike on the government's market reforms. But the assembly confined its action to a demand for ministers to pay outstanding wages by mid-February.


"The economic crisis is a consequence of the reforms that have been undertaken," said socialist Natalya Vitrenko. "This is a scenario to destroy all our industry as proposed by the International Monetary Fund."