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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coal Union Strike Leader Reports Life Threatened

A strike leader in one of Russia's most profitable coal mines said Friday two men burst into his apartment and threatened to kill him if he did not send miners back to work immediately.

The leader, Konstantin Pimonov, is chairman of the Coordinating Council for Miners' Protests at the Vorgashurskaya coal mine in Vorkuta, a city of 90,000 located 160 kilometers above the Arctic Circle in European Russia.

He told The Moscow Times in a telephone interview from Vorkuta that the intruders entered his flat at about 11 p.m. Wednesday and threatened him while holding a pistol to his face. After a brief struggle he managed to evict the men and alert the police. They are now conducting an investigation.

But Russian newspaper journalist Ivan Bolotovsky, who has been covering the ongoing disputes in the coal industry, said there can be no doubt who was behind the attack. "There is a criminal structure involved in the resale of coal to metallurgy plants in places like Lipetsk and Cherepovets," he said. "When the mine isn't working, these people derive no profits."

Some 2,600 miners at the Vorgashorskaya mine have been on strike since Jan. 16 in protest over unpaid wages, from July 1996 to the present, that now amount to 45 million rubles ($7,993). The strike is costing the mine 2.5 billion rubles a day.

"People are starving up here and nobody cares," said Pimonov. "We are desperate. We have 10 women lying in a hospital on their sixth day of a hunger strike. I have to alert normal, civilized people to our plight.

"Boris Yeltsin and Viktor Chernomyrdin have promised so many times to pay us. They have issued decrees. But now they are silent. They have deceived us. Yeltsin's government is simply unable to rule in accordance with the Russian Constitution. We need healthy, competent people in government who can rule according to the law."

According to Galina Sveterova, an official in RosUgol's Moscow office, the Vorgashurskaya mine is the largest and potentially most profitable in Russia. "But consumers don't pay for the coal," she said. "That is the problem."

Her response to the crisis cut no ice with Pimonov. "RosUgol owns 19 percent of the mine," he said. "It is their duty and that of InvestUgol and the Komi State Property Committee who also own stakes in the company to make sure that consumers pay for the coal. We are not being unreasonable. We just want our wages, that's all there is to it."