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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukrainian Coal Mine Blast Kills 20

ReutersRescue workers loading a stretcher with the body of a miner onto a truck at the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk, Ukraine.
DONETSK, Ukraine -- An explosion ripped through the Zasyadko mine in eastern Ukraine late Wednesday, killing 20 miners in the country's third such tragedy in just under a month.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma ordered a mine safety review Thursday

Wednesday's explosion put the death toll for miners in the last four weeks at 61. The country is also mourning 83 people killed Saturday when an Su-27 fighter crashed into a crowd in the western city of Lviv.

"All these tragedies in mines are not because of natural cataclysms but because of irresponsibility and disorder," Kuchma said. "Irresponsibility, because over these years not one person has taken responsibility for these tragedies. Because as I have told the prime minister that neither Ukraine nor myself needs coal that much," he said aboard the ship Hetman Sahaidachny.

Kuchma ordered the government to set up an independent committee to monitor safety at the country's 193 mines, saying that if they did not meet requirements they should be shut down, a move that he previously ruled out.

Kuchma and other politicians had feared closing the pits, which employ 450,000 people in areas with few other jobs, despite the mines being expensive and dangerous to operate.

Kuchma said Wednesday's mine tragedy underlined the need for people to take responsibility for safety.

"The headache for me and for everyone should be the question of technical safety," he said. "Today this is important for everyone nationwide, including for the armed forces. ... Let's work together on this problem."

A Fuel and Energy Ministry spokesman said the miners were drilling when the methane gas explosion occurred at the Zasyadko mine, where more than 50 died in a similar blast less than a year ago. One person was injured in Wednesday's blast.

Valery Vasylyev, an engineer at the mine, had trouble identifying two of his subordinates because their bodies were severely burned. He lamented the dangers for coal miners.

"Young, hardworking guys are killed. How long can all this continue?" Vasylyev said. "It's almost as if black mourning ribbons have become the third color of Ukraine's state flag. There's no protection, no certainty, no other work."

(Reuters, AP)