For Episode Three of the EarthRights Podcast, we are in conversation with Kataryna Liashchenko, Ukrainian Sociologist, about the Frozen Conflict: Ukraine’s Coal Crisis.
This is an extremely informative episode on how Ukraine’s failure to move away from coal production has led to an environmental crisis, but also a society and economy rooted in corruption. Corruption has subsumed Ukraine since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, leading to a frozen conflict with Ukrainian separatist groups in the coal-rich region of Donbas.
At the beginning we discuss Kate’s experiences of the 2014 Orange Revolution, as well as the impact of the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, which is arguably the biggest land grab to occur in Europe since World War Two. Kate tells us about Russia’s appropriation of her uncle’s hotel in Crimea and how most Ukrainians have chosen on principle not to visit the area, once a thriving tourist destination, until it is again under Ukrainian rule.
Then we move on to the simultaneous, but more life threatening situation in the Donbas region, which hosts one of the largest coal basins in the world. Today, however, the region is deeply rooted in depression – economically and psychologically. Kate explains that large-scale corruption in coal mining companies that started during Soviet times continues to ruin the lives of many families living there.
The human cost of the mines is huge: many miners loose their lives, the health impacts are disastrous and the ability to lobby or speak out against the conditions is greatly curtailed by the lack of freedom of speech and the presence of separatist combatants.
At the same time, the negative environmental consequences of coal mining have accumulated: waste accumulation, air and soil pollution. Depletion and poisoning of water resources have turned Donbas into a region of environmental crisis.