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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Coal Miners Laid to Rest

Itar-TassRelatives of a miner killed in the blaze attending a funeral in Ukrainsk on Monday.
UKRAINSK, Ukraine -- Survivors of a weekend fire at a Ukrainian coal mine dug graves for their fellow workers Monday, saying many of the 35 dead had suffocated hundreds of meters underground while waiting for a lift to hoist them to safety.

The Ukrainian parliament's deputy speaker announced a day of mourning and demanded rapid changes to end the cycle of accidents that last year claimed an average of six lives per week.

Mykola Shamoto, leader of a 16-man team from which only three survived, said many had escaped the fire only to die from carbon monoxide poisoning while waiting down the mine shaft for lift operators to raise them to ground level.

"Some had survived the blaze and reached the cages to be hoisted up. But they were left there, because the operators did not have respirators and could not stand the smoke," Shamoto said, helping to dig graves for 13 colleagues to be buried just outside the village of Ukrainsk.

"I was in a different part of the mine because they had changed my shift at the last minute," he said, pointing to a grave where his youngest colleague would be placed following funerals across the Donetsk region Tuesday.

Shamoto, in his 40s, said miners died because managers did not take necessary safety precautions in the country's aging facilities. That sentiment was echoed across Ukraine, coming to terms with a new disaster that took this year's death toll to around 150.

"This is a national tragedy," the deputy speaker of parliament, Oleksander Zynchenko, told a news conference, announcing a day of mourning for the Donetsk region. "And it confirms the necessity of radical reform in the coal sector."

The death toll at the gutted mine, where the fire still raged Monday, rose to 35 as rescuers found another victim.

At dusk Sunday, rescue workers began bringing bodies out of the pit. Screening them with white sheeting, the workers ensured that women massed around the mine entrance could not see their loved ones being put into the back of a truck. One woman collapsed Sunday. Others screamed and wept.

Top officials, sent to investigate the accident by President Leonid Kuchma, promised compensation for bereaved families and vowed to pay off months of back wages, local media reported.