Those of you unfamiliar with eastern Ukraine maybe unaware it was once the industrial heartland of Soviet Russia. Illustrated by the classic styled Soviet poster below, what is now eastern Ukraine and adjacent parts of Russia, known collectively as the Donbass, provided coal for numerous Russian towns and cities.
Since those heady days, the coal industry has declined. In eastern Ukraine, disused mines and giant slag heaps are a prominent feature in many towns and cities. When Russian forces invaded in 2014, there were around 55 mines still operating. Many of these subsequently shut down, with the remaining viable ones taken over by Russia’s so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.
In January of this year, Vadym Chernysh, Ukraine’s Minister for Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons, spoke about how Russia loots coal from occupied Ukraine. He claimed Russia exports approx. 2.8 million tons of Ukrainian anthracite coal worth around $288 million annually. Website link to Chernysh statement.
It’s thought this income maybe used by the Kremlin to help fund Russia’s occupation of eastern Ukraine, and no doubt line a few corrupt people’s bulging pockets. With a huge largely inactive standing army to pay for, a vast administration wage bill for those civilians involved in the occupation, the mountain of day to day infrastructure costs, providing pensions and keeping hospitals/schools running for several million inhabitants, all makes for a costly occupation undertaking.
Cast iron evidence (is that a pun?) of this illegal coal acquisition comes via the OSCE. Accompanied by soldiers, on Jan 13th they observed a train with 60 cargo wagons full of coal heading towards the Russian border. Seen in the Ukrainian border town of Voznesenivka, the only next stop on the line is the town of Gukovo in Russia.
Note how the OSCE also saw another 60 empty cargo wagons and fuel tanks at the same station. This only adds to the belief that the transfer of coal is taking place on a regular basis, with trains routinely going back and forth to Russia.
OSCE report. Website link to report.
Location of Voznesenivka and Gukovo. Yellow line marks the Ukrainian/Russian border.
Situation map showing the area (beige colour) of eastern Ukraine occupied by Russia. Since Sept 2014, Russia’s had total control over 409km of Ukraine’s eastern border. This control has given them access to two rail lines into Ukraine, as well as 12 larger and several smaller & previously disused road crossings.