POPE JOHN PAUL II SADDENED
BY MINING CATASTROPHE IN UKRAINE
Country Holds Highest Mortality Rate of Miners

VATICAN CITY, MAR 13 (ZENIT.org).- John Paul II sent a message of condolence and expressed his closeness to the families of 81 miners who died in an explosion, and of 200 who survived the tragedy in the Ukrainian region of Lugansk.

According to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, based on a preliminary investigation, the accident was caused by a methane explosion due to violation of security norms. However, labor union leaders attribute the explosion to carbon dust ignited by soldering equipment. Close to 200 miners were able to escape unhurt after trying to rescue their trapped fellow miners. The explosion occurred 664 meters underground.

Ukraine has the world's highest mortality rate in the mining industry. This is nonetheless the worst catastrophe the country has endured since gaining independence in 1991. A miner in Krasnodon receives wages $100 a month. According to statistics, in the province of Lugansk, on the Russian border, 30 million people live in abject poverty. In 1998, 282 miners died in Ukraine; one year later, 358 were buried. Some observers say that during the Soviet period these catastrophes were kept from public knowledge. However, many local sources agree that over the last few years the observance of security regulations has diminished. Consequently, every year Ukraine declares days of mourning to weep over her sons buried in the mines.

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