Miners hold 22 hostage in Siberia

Twenty-two people were being held hostage last night by workers at a Siberian coal mine. As Phil Reeves reports from Moscow, tensions are running high in a disaster-plagued and outdated industry which faces a huge overhaul.

Simmering anger over late pay, lousy conditions and sweeping cuts erupted into the open from the dark and dangerous caverns of Russia's coal pits yesterday.

Some 1,500 miners in the Far East blockaded the tracks of the Trans-Siberian railway near Vladivostok for several hours alongside 1,000 defence workers. No sooner had they dispersed than 150 mine workers at a privatised pit took hostage their director and 21 others. Last night, the captives were still being held in their offices at Polisayevo, in southern Siberia.

Both incidents are further signs of the anger and restlessness that prevails among Russia's coal miners, who helped springboard Boris Yeltsin into power in 1991 but have since grown disillusioned with his rule. Frustration over unpaid wages and dismal conditions has been deepened by the prospect of a fundamental overhaul in which many thousands will lose their jobs.

Last month, the Russian government announced plans to close 86 of the country's 200 mines this year. It cannot afford to go on allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to coal which receives more than any other sector except agriculture. So it plans to focus on selling off profitable pits and shutting down loss makers.

Yet those miners who escape the axe will scarcely relish the prospect of carrying on toiling underground. Two disasters in less than two months have served as a grisly reminder to the outside world of the decrepit and under-funded conditions that they daily endure.

In the first, on 2 December, 67 men were killed in a methane explosion in the Siberian town of Novokuznetsk. Television images of long lines of coffins accompanied by distraught widows were still fresh in the national memory when another blast occurred, this time in a shaft at the Arctic former penal colony of Vorkuta on 19 January. Twenty-seven workers were killed.

If they go ahead, this year's sweeping closures will add to the suffering. The prospects look grim for scores of remote communities that were built from the Arctic to the Far East by Soviet central planners who cared nothing for market economics, but a great deal about coal.

To help restructure the sector, the World Bank recently agreed to a $800m (pounds 500m) loan, which may help ease the social consequences. However, it is hard to feel certain of this, given the level of corruption and bureaucracy in Russia. The bank's last loan earmarked for the coal industry - $500m - ended up being diverted to other pockets.

The miners believe they have been betrayed. They are keenly aware that they played a leading role in helping Mr Yeltsin oust Mikhail Gorbachev from the Kremlin by staging mass strikes in 1989 and 1991.

Mr Yeltsin has made some moves to soothe their feelings. His first radio address of the new year was devoted to lambasting officials responsible for holding up wages. But the miners have heard it all before. Two years ago, the Kremlin pledged to pay them according to a "tough monthly schedule". Yet some are still having to wait seven months for a pay packet.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz