Ukraine’s Coal Miners Dig Deep to Power a Nation at War

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Deep underground in southeastern Ukraine, miners work around the clock to extract coal to power the country’s war effort and provide citizens with light and heat.

The chief engineer of a mining company in Dnipropetrovsk province said coal is central to meeting Ukraine’s energy needs following a 6-month campaign by the Russian military to destroy power stations and other infrastructure.

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The lift takes the company’s employees down into the depths of the mine. From there, they operate heavy machinery that digs up the coal and lifts the precious resource out of the ground. It is a tough job, the miners said, but necessary for the country to move forward.

“Today, the country’s energy independence is more of a priority,” said Oleksandr, the chief engineer, who, like all coal miners, spoke on condition of giving only his first name for security reasons.

A miner leaves his lantern after his duty at a coal mine in the Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine on April 7, 2023.

Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s nuclear, thermal and other power stations continue to disrupt electricity service as the war drags on for a second year.

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Talks to demilitarize the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which the Kremlin’s forces captured at the start of a full-scale invasion last year, are at an impasse. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky opposes any proposal that would legalize Russian control of the plant, which is Europe’s largest nuclear power facility.

At full capacity, the plant can generate 6,000 MW of electricity. Ukrainian operators of the plant shut down the last reactor in September, saying it was too risky to operate while Russia bombed nearby areas.

Shelling has damaged the plant several times, raising fears of a possible nuclear meltdown. Russian missiles also threaten power lines needed to operate critical cooling equipment at Zaporizhzhia and other nuclear plants in Ukraine.

Before the war, the Ukrainian government planned to reduce the country’s reliance on coal-fired power stations, which contribute to global warming, and to increase nuclear power and natural gas production. But when Russian attacks damaged thermal plants in the middle of winter, it was coal that helped keep Ukrainian homes warm, Oleksandr said.

The work of coal miners could not fully compensate for the energy losses from nuclear power plants, but they had a role in generating less lag each megawatt.

Miners exit the pit at a coal mine in the Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine on April 7, 2023.
Miners exit the pit at a coal mine in the Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine on April 7, 2023.

“We come and work with optimism, trying not to think about what is happening outside the mine,” said a miner named Serhiy. “We go to work with a smile and forget about it. And when we leave, another life begins (for us), existence and everything else.”

While many of the area’s miners joined the armed forces when Russian troops invaded and are now fighting on the frontlines in eastern Ukraine, about 150 displaced workers from other coal-producing regions in the east joined the team in Dnipropetrovsk.

Miners go down to work in a coal mine in the Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine on April 7, 2023.
Miners go down to work in a coal mine in the Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine on April 7, 2023.

A man named Yuri left the troubled Donetsk province town of Vuhladar, where he had worked as a coal miner for 20 years. “The war, of course, fundamentally changed my life,” he said. “Now it is impossible to live there and in the mine where I used to work.”

“Life begins from scratch,” he said.

British military analysts said on Saturday that they think Russia’s campaign to disrupt Ukraine’s energy grid through intense missile and drone attacks over the winter has “absolutely failed”, and that the invaded country’s energy The situation will improve as the temperature rises.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said that while attacks have continued since October, attacks causing large-scale infrastructure damage are becoming rare. The ministry said Ukraine’s network operators had also managed to replace transformers and other “critical” components to keep electricity flowing.

Ukraine’s Coal Miners Dig Deep to Power a Nation at War

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