Digging on Opportunities and Challenges in Mining Regions in Europe
Scroll to
the mine

Europe aims to say goodbye to the most polluting fossil fuel - coal. What until recently was considered a cheap power has come at a high cost for the planet and people's health. In 2020, the EU production of hard coal was 80% less than in 1990, according to the European Commission.

However, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, along with the earlier shortage of natural gas and the increase in electricity consumption after lifting the pandemic restrictions, have increased the demand for coal. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2021, the world already generated more electricity from coal than ever before (an increase of 9% compared to 2020), even before the war started.

We have travelled across coal mining regions in five European countries, aiming to learn from their experiences of phasing out coal mines.

In some regions, where the coal mine was the dominant employer, being a miner has been a way of life that has been inherited from grandparents to children. Some of the first questions in the coal-dependent regions are: how will coal jobs be replaced, and what will be the alternative to generate energy and economic activity? We have met miners and their families, local governments and union representatives to discuss the opportunities and challenges ahead in the coal farewell in Europe.

Go underground and learn about opportunities and challenges in mining regions in five European countries: Poland, the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany and Ukraine. 


Lola García-Ajofrín (article), Karolina Baca-Pogorzelska (reporter) and Bartosz Kielak (video), reporting from Aberfan, Barnsley, Cumbria, Durham, London  Sheffield (UK) and Swansea (Wales).

Coal played a key role in the industrial activity of the United Kingdom during the 19th and 20th centuries, powering factories and railways and warming houses.

In the 1920s, the British coal industry accounted for 1-in-20 of the country's workforce - this means that the industry employed 1,000,000 people throughout the country.

In the 1960s, it employed half a million miners at 483 mining facilities. In the 1980s, when the strikes between miners and the government over the closure of mines were at their height, the number of workers in the coal mines had been already reduced to 180,000 people.

Britain's last deep coal mine, Kellingley Colliery, was closed down in 2015, ending a long history of the coal mining industry.


The significant reduction in coal use in the UK has been accompanied by the reduction of CO2 emissions to the lowest levels. In 2020, CO2 emissions fell to the lowest level since 1888, as the UK’s reliance on coal power dwindled to just 2%

In the history of coal mining closure in the United Kingdom and how it was done, there are two clear protagonists; one is the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), who, in 1984 and 1985, carried out the longest strike in UK history, and the other is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between 1979 and 1990. Her name was Margaret Thatcher.

We have spoken with some of the people who witnessed those times.

 #The shutdown

"I think Margareth Thatcher hated the National Union of Mineworkers", says Ann Clwyd, a politician of the Labour Party. The latter served as a Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom for 35 years.

She was elected in the middle of a miners' strike in 1984, becoming the first woman to be elected for the Welsh mining constituency of Cynon Valley.



Ann Clwyd

She served as a Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom for 35 years.

She was elected in the middle of a miners' strike in 1984, becoming the first woman to be elected for the Welsh mining constituency of Cynon Valley.

"You have to remember that the decision to decimate the mining industry in the UK was a political decision", said Chris Kitchen, a British trade unionist who has served as General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers since 2007.

Chris Kitchen

Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers

"It was purely a vindictive payback for what happened in 1972 and 1974 when they brought out the government," he adds.

Margaret Thatcher, the leader of the Conservative Party, became Britain's Prime Minister in 1979, when the country was going through a severe crisis, with inflation and unemployment rising.

The previous Conservative government of Prime Minister Edward Heath had been taken down by the various strikes organized by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) five years earlier. Thatcher was not willing to go through the same story.

"NUM was the strongest union, and if you defeat NUM, then you will be able to defeat any union", says Ray Hudson. He has been a Professor in the Department of Geography of Durham University since 1990.

Ray Hudson

A Professor in the Department of Geography of Durham University

#Policies and subsidies

In 1984 and 1985, the National Union of Mineworkers led the major miners' strike in the British coal industry.

The strike was led by Arthur Scargill, a British trade unionist and president of the NUM.

Tyrone O'Sullivan was a Secretary of the Wells Branch of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) during the great Miners' Strike of 1984-1985. As the British government closed the famous pit Tower Colliery in the Cynon Valley in South Wales, he led the workers' buy-out of Tower Colliery, the oldest continuously working deep-coal mine in the UK.

Mr O'Sullivan and 238 other miners paid 8,000 pounds from their dismissal compensation and borrowed an initial 2 million pounds. That way, they became shareholders.

Picketing continued throughout 1984, making this strike the bitterest dispute between unions and the government in the country's history. Nevertheless, in March 1985, after a year of the strike, British miners lost the battle to stop the closure of coal mines.

Tyrone O'Sullivan

A former Secretary of the Wells Branch of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)

Finally, the United Kingdom's coal industry was privatized in 1995.

Tower Colliery was finally shut down in 2008, after operating since 1864.


How has the shutdown of the mines impacted the traditionally mining town?

At the time of the strike, 171 000 miners were employed by the state-owned coal industry in the UK and over 220,000 jobs in total, including other professionals related to mining business.

We met Alan Cummings, the lodge secretary of the NUM, in Easington, County Durham, who says that in 1972 and 1974, they fought "for better wages", but in 1984 they fought "for jobs".

The report 'Twenty years on: has the economy of the UK coalfields recovered?' by The Center for Regional Economic and Social Research of Sheffield Hallam University analyzed in 2007 the state of the British mining regions two decades after the mines closure.

The report explains that 90 per cent of those jobs were destroyed in the next ten years after the great strike.

Alan Cummings

The lodge secretary of the NUM, in Easington, County Durham.

It mentions a series of initiatives that were carried out to alleviate the miners' situation, such as opening in 1984 the job-creation agency British Coal Enterprise or the RECHAR programme, which was introduced by the European Union and brought 250 million pounds additional regeneration funding to the UK coalfields. And the establishment of three coalfield `Enterprise Zones' in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, and County Durham in 1995 provided financial incentives.

Between 1981 and 2004, 222,000 male jobs were lost in the UK from the coal industry, and 132,400 male jobs in other industries and services in the same areas were created, according to the Sheffield Hallam University report.

It means some 40% of the total jobs lost in the coal industry between 1981 and 2004 remained to be replaced. Half of the lost jobs not replaced were in Nottinghamshire and South Wales.

In West Cumbria, we met Mike Starkey, Conservative Mayor of Cumberland. After years of unemployment in this area since the Sellafield nuclear facility was closed, the promise of up to 500 well-paid new jobs has persuaded residents of the West Cumbria region.

Surprisingly, the UK plans to open the first deep coal mine in the country in 30 years, which is for a type of coal for steel-making. Whereas coal power has almost phased out, coal for steel-making still exists. Port Talbot and Teesside steelworks are the UK’s largest CO2 emitters. Currently they use imported coal. But as they make strides to reduce emissions as the UK moves to become net zero, it’s unlikely they will need the coal that is currently planned to be mined.

#A high cost 

When we talk about the cheap cost of coal, we do not consider the high price that the planet, the miners, and their families have paid

In 1966, a major catastrophe in the Welsh town of Aberfan was considered one of the UK's biggest mining disasters. A colliery spoil dump had been created on the side of a mountain above Aberfan, a little town. A period of heavy rains caused the colliery spoil tip to slide down the hillside, burying the town.

Jeff Edwards was eight years old and learning at Pantglas Junior School when the coal waste tip came crashing down a hillside and fell on the school and houses.  Martin O'Neill was another child who survived.

Jeff and Martin survived, but 116 children who studied at the town's Pantglas School and 28 adults who worked there were killed under the coal waste.


After the Second World War, the Discovery of North Sea gas in 1959 encouraged the acceleration of coal mines’ closure in the UK.

"If the UK hadn't discovered gas, I wonder if we would have made the same decision to close the coal mines," says Karoline Kuzemko, Associate Professor in International Political Economy at the University of Warwick.

"I understand that gas has lower emissions, but it is still emissions", Mrs Kuzemko adds.

The 1990’s dash for gas was the death knell for UK coal. Jobs in coal mining fell to just 10,000 by 1995. Since the 1990’s, gas has generated about 40% of the UK’s electricity, and continues to do so in 2022.

Karoline Kuzemko

Associate Professor in International Political Economy at the University of Warwick.

How can regions dependent on the mining industry reinvent themselves?

"In the UK, coal has been replaced partially with gas, although in the fullness of time, that will need carbon capture and storage as well," says Nigel Yaxley, an independent consultant specializing in coal markets and regulation and a former president of Euracoal. Mr Yaxley explains that also "the UK has excellent renewable resources, perfect offshore wind" and

"Hopefully, there'll be a new programme of nuclear power stations and perhaps, solar," but he believes that "other markets, like cooking, are a lot more difficult."

In 2020, for the first time, renewable electricity in the UK (42 per cent) exceeded that of fossil fuel, which is 41 per cent, including gas and coal plants together, making renewables the main source of electricity in the country, according to a report by the non-profit think tank Ember.

Nigel Yaxley

An independent consultant specializing in coal markets

"The Saudi Arabia of wind" 

The UK only produced 2% of its electricity from coal in 2020. Almost a quarter (24%) came from wind generation, and a further 4% came from solar power. The UK’s phase-out of coal power is almost complete. But through the 1990’s dash-for-gas, gas still provided 40% of the UK’s electricity in 2020. And it will be wind that’s the answer.

The UK's big bet to replace gas is now windfarms. The then Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described the UK as "the Saudi Arabia of wind" and move to 100% clean electricity by 2035.

Worldwide, wind and solar are the fastest-growing electricity sources. From 2015 to 2021 they doubled from 5% of global electricity to 10% of global electricity, according to the Ember report. In 2020, already 50 countries generated over a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar.

Lessons from the UK:

The drastic closure and privatization of mines in the United Kingdom substantially impacted employment, especially for men in the mining regions, as some union members, journalists and miners have recalled in these interviews. For all of them, the problem is how it was done.

The farewell of coal, has helped to collapse the UK’s emissions. Overall UK CO2 emissions in 2020 dropped to the lowest level since 1888. What’s more, it has brought to an end the incessant air pollution of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and dust, which have blighted coal-burning communities for over a century, causing untold health impacts.

The UK relied on gas to replace coal in the 1990’s. But from the mid-2010’s, the UK has become a major global power in wind generation, and this is firmly where its future is heading. This shift to clean electricity is underpinned by the UK’s climate change law, Boris’s commitment to 100% clean power by 2035, and most importantly regular, predictable auctions to develop new wind farms. Just one auction result in July 2022 secured enough wind generation to meet 14% of the UK’s electricity supply.



Lola García-Ajofrín (article) and Hubert Witarowski (video), reporting from Arnao, El Entrego, Langreo, Mieres, Oviedo (Asturias), León, Paradilla de Gordón, Pola de Gordón and Villablino (Castile and León).

Mieres, SPAIN - On a cloudy, warm summer day, next to the entrance of San Nicolás pit, the last coal mine operating in Spain, we met Álvaro José Delgado, a miner who works as a machinist.

The last Spanish coal pit in force is located in Mieres, a town that was once the third-largest city in Asturias.

This pit has appeared on national televisions and newspapers several times due to several strikes and protests, such as the strike lasting for two months in 1962 during the Franco regime and the sit-in for 18 days in 2012. It is also famous because the deadliest accident in Spanish mining history occurred here in 1995, as 14 miners died due to an explosion of firedamp. And now, it is well-known for being the last coal pit working in Spain.

Álvaro José Delgado

A miner at San Nicolás pit in Mieres, the last coal pit working in Spain.

The coal industry in Spain has been in decline since 1990, when it employed 45,000 workers, according to data from the EFE agency, shrinking to just 2,000 workers in 2018, as the final deadline for the closure was set up. In 2018, of the 2,000 miners remaining in Spain, 80 per cent (1,615) worked in Asturias and the rest in Castille and León (320 miners) and Aragón (89).

The amount of coal extracted in Spain had also been drastically reduced, from 30 million tons of coal extracted in 1993 to 3 million tons in 2017, according to the Spanish Geological and Mining Institute.

For environmental and financial reasons, the European Union decided to end public aid to coal mines. The first European decision that marks the gradual closure of coal mines is CECA Decision 3632 of December 1993.

In December 2010, the EU approved a decision that set 2018 as the deadline for the closure of coal mines that were not profitable, which meant the closure of almost all Spanish mines, including those from the public company, Hunosa. The 2018 date was the extension by four years, at the request of Germany and Spain, of the first plan that sought to close the mines in 2014.

26 Spanish mines were shut down in December 2018.

In October 2018, the socialist government of Spain had signed an agreement with the Spanish unions, Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), General Union of Workers (UGT) and Unión Sindical Obrera (USO), together with the National Federation of Employers of Coal Mines (Carbounion) for the so-called just transition and the sustainable development of the mining regions during a decade.

In the agreement, two essential points were early retirement for workers and a fund of 250 million euros, spread over five years, to support business and development initiatives in the mining districts. Miners over 48 years of age or those who had worked for 25 years could benefit from early retirement.

These social benefits, added to the coordination with the different actors affected, including labour unions, meant that the closure was not as aggressive as in other countries like in the United Kingdom. However, there are new challenges in the medium term - depopulation and unemployment.

Across Asturias, Castile, and Leon regions, we have spoken with experts of the reconverted companies, union members, local mayors and miners, some of whom took early retirements.


On the way, a green landscape mixes with the grey of the large industrial chimneys and the red of the facade. The road passes next to the Nalón River. We left behind the municipality of El Entrego until finding a large tower that reads: "Pozo Sotón'', one of the most emblematic coal mining pits in Asturias, which is 600 metres deep and has 140 kilometres of galleries. It stopped operating, and since 2015 it has been open for tourist tours.

How can regions dependent on the mining industry reinvent themselves?

We met Noel Cantó, Head of the Innovation Department of Grupo HUNOSA, a Spanish public company specialising in the energy and mining sectors, to talk about how they are exploring the use of alternative energies, such as geothermal and biomass energy aiming at redirecting research and work towards clean energy.

Noel Cantó

Head of the Innovation Department of Grupo HUNOSA

Alternative energies can help reconvert some industrial areas. Still, in small municipalities like this one, where people from all over the country came to work, the number of new jobs created is much lower than those generated by the mine.

Only in HUNOSA "about 25,000 or 26,000 people came to work in the 70s, and now there are only 600 - 620 of us," Cantó explains.

Some miners have become tourist guides like María Suárez. The tour is advertised as "a unique visit" to floors 8, 9 and 10 to feel like a "miner for a day".

María Suarez

Former miner and tourist guide at Pozó Sotón in Asturias.

In Asturias, several mines have been turned into museums, such as the Pozo Sotón, the Ecomuseo, the Asturias Mining and Industry Museum (MUMI), and the Arnao mine, the only underwater mine in Europe.

However, hundreds of thousands of jobs that disappeared with the closure of the mines have not been maintained in this region.


How has the shutdown of the mines been experienced in a traditionally mining town like Mieres?

At the time of our visit to Mieres, a traditionally mining town in Asturias, a protest organised by some national unions demanding alternatives for the region took place across the town.

One of the protesters is Concepcion Rodriguez Valencia, an Asturian "granddaughter, daughter and sister of miners". She, after a years-long legal battle, became the first Spanish woman to work in the mine in 1996, when she got the Constitutional Court verdict accepting women's right to work in the Spanish mining sector.

Concepción Rodríguez Valencia

The first Spanish woman who worked in the mine.

"A way of living has ended", says Aníbal Vázquez, Mayor of Mieres and a miner.

"The dumps, the accidents, the dead and the sick people from pneumosilicosis have remained here so that this country could develop. Therefore, I believe there is a debt with this land that has not yet been paid," Mr Vázquez continues.

Aníbal Vázquez

Mayor of Mieres and a miner.

#Policies and subsidies

In Spain, one of the critical points in the closure of the mines was the mining agreement with unions that included early retirement schemes for miners over 48 with generous pensions. They were the outstanding achievements of union negotiations for years.

Early retirement at age 48 

The closure of mining in Asturias began in 1992. The government already proposed the early retirement plan after closing the mines at the end of 1991. There were strikes and protests, and for 12 days, some trade unionists locked themselves underground in the Barredo well in Mieres. Finally, at the beginning of 1992, the CCOO and UGT unions signed an agreement for Asturian mining which included three points: the first stated early retirement instead dismissals, the second meant maintaining a production quota for Spanish coal and the third described the investment commitment in the region, through the so-called "mining funds".

Did the early retirements work? 

Today, with high unemployment rates and depopulation in these regions, the pensions of early retirees are what maintain the economy. More than 30,000 miners have retired early in Spain in the various restructuring plans that have been carried out since 1992 by successive governments, according to data from the UGT union. They have monthly pensions from 1,600 euros and 1,700 euros to 2,573 euros, according to the UGT union. These are the pensions for the dangerous professions, one of the highest pensions in Spain.

Two early retirees are Ángel Iglesias and Roberto Ordoñez, whom we met at the Santa Bárbara cultural and mining association in Mieres.

Ángel Iglesias retired in 2004 when he was 47 years old after working 20 years in mining. He has been retired for nearly two decades.

"The ideal would have been that there were no early retirements because there was still employment. However, it was the only way to ensure that when it came time to close down coal mining, we would not have the same situation as other countries, like in the England of the Prime Minister Thatcher. People were fired, and mining areas were left as ghettos," says Ángel Iglesias.

Ángel Iglesias

An Asturian miner who retired at the age of 47.

Roberto Ordoñez, who was orphaned at the age of nine, when his father had an accident and died in the mine, took early retirement in 2019 at the age of 44.

Roberto Ordoñez

An Asturian miner who retired at the age of 44.

#A high cost

In the Mieres cemetery in Asturias, there are carvings of miners' helmets and lamps on the tombstones.

Coal has been said to be cheap energy for a long time. However, the human and environmental cost has been significant in the mining regions.

Mining has always been a dangerous occupation, with deaths in accidents or from diseases linked to the inhalation of dust underground.

The deadliest occupational disease

Dr Aida Quero, Head of the Occupational Pulmonology Service at the National Institute of Silicosis in Asturias, Spain, talks about one of the diseases that has devastated most miners' houses - silicosis.

"Just like a fish taken out of the water, that is how the miners died. It was a terrible death”, Dr Aida says.

Silicosis is a type of occupational pneumoconiosis caused by inhaling crystalline silica dust. The National Silicosis institute of Spain, located in Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, was created in 1970 after a miners’ strike. In the autumn of 1968, several miners protested for 33 days due to working conditions and the possibility of starting this centre as it had in other parts of Europe was proposed.

Dr Aida Quero

Head of the Occupational Pulmonology Service at the National Institute of Silicosis in Asturias, Spain.

"Silicosis is probably the deadliest occupational disease in history," says the report 'The Reemergence of Silicosis as an occupational disease in Spain, 1990-2019.'

However, dr Quero explains that even though the coal mines have been closed, patients continue to arrive, first because it is a chronic disease, which appears after 10 or 15 years of exposure and worsens in the long term, and second because the patients also come from another industry that is closely linked to silicosis - marble and granite mining.

Accidents, in many cases fatal, due to firedamp inhalation or landslides, have also been one of the risks present in the mines of all countries.

In Castile and Leon, another traditionally mining Spanish region in the north of the country, there has still been no justice for those who died in the last major coal accident in the country, in 2013. Six miners from the Hullera Vasco Leonesa died. Brothers, parents and widows of the deceased never received a call from the company, and eight years later, they are still waiting for the court verdict.

Toñi and Manuel are parents of Manuel Maure ("Manolín"), one of the six miners who died in the Pozo Emilio del Valle, in the Leonese municipality of Pola de Gordón in 2013. They welcome us in the garden of their house, where they still keep the helmet and the shovel of their deceased son. Waiting for a verdict that does not come has been eternal for all these years for these parents, but they want to go to the end, they lost what they loved most - the lost their son.

Toñi and Manuel Maure

Parents of Manuel Maure ("Manolín"), who died in a mine accident in 2013.

Patricia, the widow of Antonio Blanco, bursts into tears when she remembers that she found out on television while eating with one of her daughters that her husband had died. The company did not call to notify them.

Patricia Collazos

Widow of Antonio Blanco, a miner who died in the accidente in 2013.

In Paradilla de Gordón, a small cattle town with green pastures and stone houses, we are greeted by José Manuel Gonzalez, the brother of Orlando Gónzalez, another of the six miners who died in the accident. It is said he died trying to save his colleagues.

José Manuel Gonzalez

Brother of Orlando Gónzalez, one of the six miners who died in the accident in 2013.

Lessons from Spain 

Coal produced 16% of Spain’s electricity in 2011 to 2018, but in 2020 and 2021 it produced just 2%. This rapid fall was not just from coal mines closing. Coal power plants also needed to close because they were reaching the end of their life, and emitted too much air pollution to meet the stricter emissions limits.

And coal was replaced with wind and solar power. Between them, they generated a third of Spain’s electricity in 2021. Spain had always been an early adopter of wind power, but recently it has also been on a solar spree, with a tenth of its electricity from solar power on average in 2021.

Although coal is now only 2% of electricity, gas still provides a quarter of Spain’s electricity. With gas prices soaring, Spain’s rapid build up of wind and solar power is sure to seal the fate of gas, in the same way it did for coal.

However, there is still a long way to go and the fight against unemployment and depopulation continue to be the great issues in the mining basins in the north of Spain.

Mario Rivas, the Mayor of Villablino, in the Laciana Valley, in Castile and Leon, believes that "the path of a real transition should have begun long before the closure of mining." Mr Rivas believes that the mining funds were used to improve infrastructures but they should have focused on employment creation.

Mario Rivas

Mayor of Villablino, Castile and Leon

He would have liked that "a town that has given so much, that has suffered the emissions and the deaths of colleagues, would have been given back all that in the form of industry in its own territory." Lastly, Mr Rivas adds that the governments should listen to city councils in decision-making, because they are the ones who know the problem first hand.


Anna Górnicka (article), Karolina Baca-Pogorzelska (reporter) and Hubert Witarowski (video), reporting from Bogdanka, Bytom, Chełm, Chorzów, Dąbrowa Górnicza, Gliwice, Głogów, Jaworzno, Katowice, Łaziska Górne, Łęczna, Mysłowice, Nowa Ruda, Poleski Park Narodowy, Puchaczów, Ruda Śląska, Sosnowiec, Wałbrzych, Wodzisław Śląski and Zabrze

Dariusz Depta (50) works in the Bolesław Śmiały mine in Łaziska Górne, in Silesia, in Southern Poland.

He became a miner because his father was involved in mining and his family has a long mining tradition.

The mine where he works is a few minutes' drive from his home.


Hard coal is mined in Poland in the Upper Silesian Coal Basin and Lublin Coal Basin. In turn, in Lower Silesia in 2000, the last operating coal mine in Nowa Ruda was closed. There are still almost 30 hard coal mines operating all over Poland.

The main reasons for moving away from coal in Europe are economic and environmental. The situation is similar in Poland (96% of hard coal mined in the EU is mined in Poland [2020]), which is one of the last two European Union countries (apart from the Czech Republic - 4% of coal mined in the EU), which still extracts hard coal. In 2021, the Polish government and mining trade unions signed an agreement about closing the last hard coal mine by 2049. The end of coal is likely to come much earlier than then.

Hard coal production in Poland grew from the end of World War II to the 1980s and reached over 190 million tons per year at its peak. And then it started to decline. At the end of the 1990s, the government of the then Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek decided to close 22 mines out of about 60 existing at that time. The reasons were mainly the crisis of the coal market and the ineffectiveness of the Polish mining industry, which failed in the market economy. The production was disproportionate to the demand, and too many people were employed in the mining industry. Moreover, domestic prices of the raw material were much higher than of the imported coal. At the end of 2000, the debt of the mining industry in Poland reached PLN 22 billion.

By 2006, active mines decreased to 32, and employment dropped from 416,000 to 119,000 people. Currently, approx. Seventy-seven thousand people work in the hard coal industry.

Seventy-seven thousand people work in the hard coal industry.

In Poland, about 70% of electricity is produced from hard coal and lignite, i.e. fuels which emit the most carbon dioxide.

Lidia Wojtal

Agora Energiewende expert, former Polish climate negotiator

Joanna Maćkowiak-Pandera

President of Forum Energii think tank

In 2021, the Polish government and trade unions signed an agreement to close the last hard coal mine by 2049. The social contract guarantees that miners will be able to work until retirement age. If the transfer from a closed mine to another job is impossible, the miner should receive a pre-retirement leave or severance pay.

Until then, mining is to be subsidised by the state (and we are talking about tens of billions of zlotys). The Polish government is to obtain the needed approval from the European Commission. In addition, Poland will be able to take advantage of EU funds for mining regions under the Just Transition Fund.

Jan Sakławski

An energy law specialist

Jerzy Buzek

MEP, former prime minister, former President of the European Parliament

Dariusz Depta

A miner working in the Bolesław Śmiały mine.

High environmental costs

One of the reasons for the closure of coal mines is also an adverse environmental effect. Coal mining is associated with its impact on the earth's surface, contamination of surface water or the formation of waste dumps. In addition, vast amounts of carbon dioxide and dust and gases containing toxic substances are emitted into the atmosphere.

In Poland, hard coal is extracted only by underground hard-rock mining. Therefore, it substantially impacts the earth's surface, buildings, houses, roads, etc. Although it is appropriate to use protective measures, protective pillars or to fill the former mine workings with water, it is often not the case for economic reasons.

In addition, the water of the coal-bearing formation contains substances such as sodium, potassium, ammonium, nitrogen, iron, chlorides, sulphates, barium and boron. These substances exceed several hundred to a thousand times the highest permissible values ​​specified by law for mining plants' drainage water.

In many places, one can observe the environmental and economic effects of coal mining (damaged houses, collapsing ground). Despite that, in Upper and Lower Silesia and the Lublin region, plans are still being made to build new mines in the vicinity of the Poleski National Park.


Maciej Mroczek

Living in Wojciechów

Jarosław Szymański

director of Poleski National Park

Anna Meres

Greenpeace Polska

Piotr Chibowski

PhD student, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw

Alicja Zdziechiewicz

Activist from Imielin

Artur Wasil

CEO of Lubelski Węgiel Bogdanka

The complete closure of the mines in the Wałbrzych Basin. How did it affect the region?

Stanisław Zubalski,

Former miner, president of the “Mining Memory” Association KWK Wałbrzych

On December 15, 1990, a decision was made to close the mines in the Wałbrzych Basin. The decommissioning process was extended over time. At the end of the 1990s, however, no mine was operating in this area because the government of the then Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek decided to close 22 out of about 60 existing mines. The mines’ closure worsened the standard of living of many people. Despite mining severance pay, they could not invest the money they had received and retrained.


Andrzej Partyka

A former mine rescuer in the Wałbrzych mine, guide in the Old Mine

Some miners have tried and are still trying to extract coal illegally in the so-called bootleg pits, i.e. holes dug in the ground that still contain coal.

Roman Janiszek

Former miner and former worker in bootleg pits

Despite the closure of the mines, the mining tradition has survived in Wałbrzych. The Museum of Mining and Motor Sports, among others, was established there.

Jerzy Mazur

A rally and racing driver, owner of the Museum of Mining and Motor Sports in Wałbrzych

Jarosław Paska

A businessman, owner of the Irena shaft of the former Victoria mine.

Jan Jędrasik

Director of the Old Mine Science and Art Centre

What do Polish miners think about closing mines?

Michał Toruń

A miner from the Lubelski Węgiel Bogdanka mine

Dariusz Depta

A miner from the Bolesław Śmiały mine

Adam Komraus

A miner from the Bolesław Śmiały mine

Damian Włodok

A miner from the Bolesław Śmiały mine

Wojciech Kania

A miner from the Bolesław Śmiały mine

Michał Piotrowski

A shotfirer from the Polkowice-Sieroszowice mine


Seven billion tons is the annual extraction of hard coal in the world. More than half of this is extracted in China. Ten countries in the world (including Poland) are responsible for 88% of this fuel reserves. Europe and the world decide to abandon coal mainly for economic, environmental and security reasons.

Lidia Wojtal

Agora Energiewende expert, former Polish climate negotiator

Joanna Maćkowiak-Pandera

President of Forum Energii think tank


Anna Górnicka (article), Karolina Baca-Pogorzelska (reporter) and Hubert Witarowski (video), reporting from Berlin, Bottrop, Datteln, Essen, Jüchen and Marl.

Germany closed its first hard coal mines in 1968. By the end of the 1960s, 70 out of 173 mines were still operating, and by 1980 only 40 were active. In 2001, German taxpayers paid an extra 80 thousand euros per single workplace in the mining industry per year. The last German hard coal mine was closed in 2018 in Bottrop in the Ruhr, but Germany still imports millions of tons of hard coal. In addition, in 2020, they opened the Datteln IV power plant, which uses imported hard coal.

#A high cost - Why did the Germans close hard coal mines?

The costs of coal mining in Germany were higher than anywhere else in the world, mainly due to high safety standards and the very deep location of the coal seams (the average depth of the mine exceeded one kilometre). In addition, the costs were much higher than the income from the sale of coal. Therefore, mining largely depended on state subsidies. However, maintaining German mines became unprofitable, and rising costs resulted in strong criticism of the subsidy policy. In addition, apart from the subsidies, billions of Deutsche Marks were spent on treating diseases caused by smog and environmental degradation.

Along with the decision of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to completely close coal mines in Great Britain, the idea of mine closing became an open public subject in Germany. However, the Germans - unlike the British - approached the whole process of closing mines in a planned, long-term and high-cost way, cooperating with mining trade unions and thinking about the miners' future.

In 2007, it was decided to finish hard coal mining in Germany once and for all, even though coal seams were underground. However, economic considerations were decisive. For Germany, importing coal mainly from Russia, the USA, Canada, Australia, and Colombia is cheaper. And that matters because hard coal and lignite are the country's most important energy sources.

Philip Litz

Project Lead International Coal Transition, Agora Energiewende

Uwe Seeger

A German miner.

#The last mine - When was the last coal mine in Germany closed?

The Ruhr was the industrial centre of Germany. Coal mining on a larger scale began there in the 19th century and was one of the key industries in the region. Steel production also started there. Before the coal crisis in 1958, 150 mines were operating in the Ruhr. The decision to import cheaper coal and crude oil led to a crisis in the coal industry: by 1980, the number of mines had dropped to 39, and by 2000 to 12.

In 2018, the last German coal mine, the Bergwerk Prosper-Haniel coal mine in Bottrop in the Ruhr, was closed after 155 years of operating. It was established in 1863. It was the largest workplace in the area for decades, where several generations of miners worked. However, in 2018, only a few hundred people were employed in the German mining industry. The closure of the Bergwerk Prosper-Haniel coal mine ended the history of coal in the Ruhr and became a symbol of the German energy policy shift.

The mineworkers from Bergwerk Prosper-Haniel also symbolically handed over the last lump of coal to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. During his speech, the miners were unable to hold back their tears.

Christof Beike

RAG German Coal

Abandoning hard coal mining in Germany was long and very expensive. However, it was spread over time, which was crucial for mining unions. It eased the effects of the transformation for employees - who were offered personalised career counselling tailored to the individual's qualifications - and for the regions that had more time to find new development opportunities.

The number of employees working in the mining industry dropped year by year. German mines employed:

- 607 000 people in 1957.

- 138 000 people in 1985.

- 100 000 people in 1994.

- 33 000 people in 2007.

- less than 20 000 people in 2011.

In 2018, approx. Five thousand people worked in the last Prosper-Haniel mine until the end.

After the mines were closed, most miners retired at the age of 50. On this basis, the German authorities set the closing dates - to fit into this natural process - and the mining unions wanted to extend it in time so that as many people as possible would be entitled to early retirement. As a result, the Germans avoided mass layoffs and the miners' great frustration. Significant resources were also consumed by retraining miners who were not of retirement age. Most of them started working as firemen, railroad workers, and administration. Until 2021, 650 people were still working in the last closed mine, carrying out security works.

Christof Beike

RAG German Coal

Bernd Tischler

Mayor of Bottrop

Closing the last hard coal mine in the Ruhr - memories of former miners.

Michael Klever

A miner

Uwe Seeger

A miner

Heiner Marczian,

A miner

Germany's dominant source of electricity in 2021 was still coal - with most of that from domestic lignite, rather than from hard coal which is now completely imported. Wind energy came second, and nuclear power came third.

Although the Germans closed the last hard coal mine, they have not yet given  up on lignite mining. They are the largest lignite producer in the world. The phase of closing the lignite mines is just beginning, and Olaf Scholz is committed to ensure it’s phased out by 2030. This is a very big ask, as Germany is also going through a gas crisis of massive proportions. This need to collapse the use of coal AND gas has turbocharged the clean transition in Germany, with staggering annual targets on building solar panels and wind turbines - both on land and also offshore. When the lignite phaseout is complete, it will mean the real end of coal mining in Germany.


Lola García-Ajofrín i Anna Ackermann (article), the materials were prepared by Julia Alekseeva, Karolina Baca-Pogorzelska and Evgeniy Maloletka (video) from Avdiivka, Kiev, Lysychansk, Severodonetsk, Toretsk and Zolote (Ukraine).

Ukraine ranks 8th in the world in terms of proven coal reserves, estimated at around 34 billion tonnes, or 3.5% of the world's reserves. Most of the coal produced in Ukraine has been used for decades at thermal power plants to generate electricity. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, coal production dropped significantly but stabilised after 1996 to provide resources for the energy and heavy industry sectors. The coal sector was able to survive thanks to generous state subsidies provided to thousands of workers in the east and the west of the country.

However, the Russian invasion and the war that started in 2014 in the coal-rich Donbas region forced a farewell to coal. Much of the Ukrainian coal mines are located in the Donbas, the country’s eastren region that grew in importance during the industrial revolution. Russia has been occupying part of this coal basin controlling dozens of mines in both Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Russian separatist forces took over both state and private mines. Many coal mines were also destroyed as a result of hostilities.

Ukrainian government kept control over 33 state-owned coal mines, only four of which were still profitable. Once a major global producer of anthracite, a variety of coal that has the highest heating value of all ranks of coal, the country found itself with a shortage of such coal due to the loss of control of the mines in the east of the country. In order to satisfy the domestic demand coal imports had to grow, including from Russia, the US, Australia and South Africa during different years. The critical situation has forced Ukraine to the reconstruction of its energy mix. In 2021 during the international climate negotiations in Glasgow the government announced it would phase out coal in electricity generation by 2035.


In February 2022 Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine attacking all the regions of the country and attempting to advance deeper in the Donbas. After just four months of the escalated hostilities, ten coal mines were flooded due to damages to critical infrastructure. This caused a further drop in coal production.

Despite the ongoing war, coal mining is carried out, even close to the front line. In 2021, we travelled to Luhansk region, where we visited a coal mine in Zolote and we travelled across Donetsk region, where we visited several mines in Vuhledar, Toretsk and Pivdennodonbaska, which is one of the largest coal reserves in Ukraine. Some of the mines we saw are now flooded and all the operations are stopped.

The importance of coal in the Donbas region is palpable in the cities that were built around a mine and in the homes, where the tradition of mining work was passed down through generations. Many young people here did not know any other alternative to earn a living other than coal. With limited employment opportunities in the region as a whole, the local population associated its well-being with successful operation of coal enterprises.

In May 2019, six mining towns of the Donetsk Region (Dobropillia, Myrnohrad, Novohrodivka, Pokrovsk, Selydove, Vuhledar), the Donetsk Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and three local NGOs joined forces at the regional level to create a Platform for Sustainable Development of Coal Towns. Main goal of the Platform is to find alternative ways to develop their towns by diversifying the local economy and implementing joint innovation projects. A seventh town, Toretsk, joined the Platform in March 2020.

Volodymyr Gert

Director of human resources and Social Affairs at Central mine in Toretsk

Toretsk, in Eastern Ukraine, is a mining town located a few kilometres from Horlivka town, which is occupied by separatists.

The city, founded in 1806, was initially called Shcherbynovka. In the 1930s, as the mine was opened, both the town and the mine were named Dzerzhinsk, in honor of the founder of the Communist secret police. The city was renamed as Torestk in 2016 There are only two coal mines left in this town. One of them is the Centralna mine, which is the oldest and deepest mine in the region. Previously, there were 7 mines in this city.

Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Toretsk saw new civilian deaths and destruction. The town started having critical disruptions with water supply. Many citizens left their homes, the number of coal miners fell by more than a half.

When Outriders visited this mine 1,350 people worked at the mine. One hundred forty-eight of them were handlers, 95 people worked in the tunnels, and 180 hewer miners were from the sewage treatment plan. The rest were the support.

One hundred forty-eight of them were handlers, 95 people worked in the tunnels, and 180 hewer miners were from the sewage treatment plan. The rest were the support.

“Back in the days, when I was young, I came to dance parties on a motorcycle with black eyes because of this coal dust; I had authority among many. Now people wash their eyes because they're ashamed. Not always do miners get a good salary. The salary must be no less than $ 1,000,” says Volodymyr Gert, director of human resources and Social Affairs at Central mine in Toretsk.

“The most terrible thing about the effects of the war is that most of the miners left this city for various reasons because they were intimidated,” Mr Gert explains. “We lost 800 people of different occupations and specializations”, he continues.

“Gone are the young, needed, good handlers, the ones from the tunnel. Moreover, we had people from Gorlovka and Yenakievo, 18 km away”, he says. Mr Gert explains that they came here to work. “But recently, literally, we settled with the last employees in the last month. Because they lived here in shifts. “Of course, they have families and parents, and with all due respect to the establishment, they said goodbye to me, said goodbye, and left,” he adds.


A miner who works in a mine in the town of Toretsk, in Donetsk, Ukraine.

Oleksandr, one of the miners working at Toretsk’s mine, explains that his first thought “is to smoke because the whole shift is without cigarettes, without anything.” He says he has been working here since 2012. “As a handyman, and in general, I was an ordinary miner for ten years. I worked in the trailers, on the tracks, fixing things up. I know everyone here; I've had some success in this job. The bosses respect me. Sometimes we argue, but we consider it as a part of a job,” he says.

“If we close our mines: ours and the Dzierzhynski mine, the city will simply die,” Oleksandr continues. Because there are no factories here that can provide 4,000 jobs. People just aren't there,” he says.

“We work independent of shelling and all that”,  Oleksandr  says. “We go to the mines and risk our lives and continue to extract coal for metallurgy, electrical and thermal stations,” he adds. He believes that it is not true that mines are not repayable. "Every mine and coal deposit is profitable, just put money into it.  No one wants to do that right now,” he adds.

Andrij is a mining veteran: he has worked in the industry for 11 years, having done various jobs underground. He lives in the city of Vuhledar together with his wife (she is also from Vuhledar) and two sons (10 and 7 years) who go to school there.

He likes his town: “It's a good city: small, compact”. He admits that the town is very dependent on the mining: "If there are no mines, no one will live on this territory: “The whole town participates in the work in the mines. These mines create them. If there are no factories, there will be no city, no people, and no land”.

Since Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion, Vuhledar has been very close to the frontline. The city and its economy were built around the idea of coal production, but due to power supply disruptions and hostilities, the coal mines are reportedly flooded.


Miner at Surhay’s mine

Andrij says that times are harder on his job since the Russian war in Donbas began 8 years ago: “Currently, the coal industry is not going through the best of times due to the whole situation in the country, etc. We are close to the border with ... how shall I put it ... military operations." It affected the work in the mine; it became more difficult. We have little support; the plant is large, which requires support and funding to make it move, and people work here”, he says. “To put it simply, it must be well paid and supported”, Andrij continues.

According to Andrij, 11-12 years ago, the miner was getting a salary of $1,000. Now because of the inflation the miner gets $300-400, but the work has not changed: “It is as heavy as it was. But the work is no longer valued the way it was. It might be appreciated more. So that people can afford a vacation with their family by the sea, relax, go to a resort or for treatment. All this in our country depends on financial well-being. Therefore, if the plant works, then the workers will be prosperous”. Andrij also doesn’t believe that the miner profession can disappear in the nearest future: “I think about switching to other sources of energy. I read the news, and I know that they want to end the coal industry. Maybe it will happen in the future, but now we need to support this industry in every possible way”.

In Ukraine the state owns primarily unprofitable mines with complex mining and geology which require significant subsidies to function. The state support aimed at ensuring coal mining activities and domestic production of coal makes billions of UAH annually. At the same time, the strong financial public incentive provided to the coal sector has not proved to be effective according to multiple reports and investigations.

Denys Kazanskyj

A journalist.


Journalist Denys Kazanskyj speaks on the mines situated on the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia. He says, now Ukraine is getting a lot less coal as a large number of mines are closed on those territories. “In Ukraine, once there was a policy of supporting the mines, they received subsidies even if they were not viable. Accordingly, mines that produced little coal worked. Now there is no money because Russia refused subsidies. During these seven years, dozens of mines were closed entirely and sunk. But those that more or less have a supply of coal have been working. They work irregularly. They can do nothing for a month, then extract, and fill the warehouse”.

But the demand for coal decreases, no one buys it from warehouses even in Russia, says Denys: “Miners can be sent on a leave at their own expense. They don't work, and they don’t get paid. They can be challenged to work, if the work on the mine appears again, but their pay has fallen very much compared to the situation before the war in the days of Ukraine. It is not clear how long these mines will be able to work in this way because they work very poorly, and no one puts money into them. Russia does not do this because it is not its territory. Because in Ukraine mines got it and got new machines. And here they work until the end of extraction, and in a few years, they can be just shut down”.

Jurij Onishchyv

#Energy policy

More than a third of the energy coal was extracted in the occupied part of Donbas, which is outside the control of the Kyiv authorities, explains Yuriy Onyshkiv. The mines there were producing coal for combustion at power plants. “In 2014 it was critical because companies produced electricity from anthracite. They just took anthracite, which remained outside the border, outside of the Kyiv authorities’ control”, he adds.

To avoid using the coal from the occupied territories, “the Ukrainian thermal power stations switched to other brands of coal, which they could acquire on their territory or import’, continues Mr Onishchyv.

He explains that “in fact, Ukraine is now almost entirely self-sufficient in obtaining its own coal; coal consumption for electricity production has decreased, and electricity generation from new energy sources has increased. From time to time, coal imports from the United States occur”.

Between 2013 and 2021, says Jurij, the electricity production from coal has decreased from 47 to 35%: “The reason for this was the reduction of electricity production, and in general, reduced electricity consumption by annexing Crimea and disconnecting part of Donbas by Russia, but also by increasing the activities of alternative energy sources”.

Yuriy Onyshkiv

Energy expert

While nuclear energy generally occupied the most critical place in the energy mix (about 50%) in Ukraine, the electricity output from renewable sources (wind, solar and bioenergy) ten years ago was close to zero. “Today it is 9-10%”, he adds.

Mr Onishchyv foresees that the trend on increasing the share of renewable sources in the energy mix will continue, while the share of coal will continue to decrease: “Not because of the climate goals that the Ukrainian government has adopted, but because of those that the EU has”. To be able to export its electricity to the EU in the future, Ukraine must prove that either the energy comes from clean sources or clean sources will start prevailing in the energy mix  gradually. “Therefore, now the production of energy from coal in Ukraine ceases”, sums up Mr Onishchyv.

The question of Ukraine’s future electricity mix and decarbonisation of the energy sector as a whole becomes even more relevant in the coming years, as Ukraine’s power system became connected to the EU one ahead of schedule due to Russia’s 2022 invasion.


War has been not the only risk associated with the work of miners in eastern Ukraine, another is illegal open-pit mines.

Activist Volodymyr Sirotin together with the team is approaching the illegal mine in Lysychansk, Ukraine, Luhansk region.

He explains that the mine was illegal, because, according to Ukrainian law, the extraction of open-pit coal is prohibited. “The first illegal deposit in the region was found in 2018. It's already closed, and it's not working. In 2018, activists of our city researched this site. They wrote applications to local deputies, local authorities, and the police. Deputies sent applications at the regional level to the governor. Sometimes the police came; coal was confiscated here, and they took it to the warehouse to keep there. What about the subsequent fate of this coal? No one knows where it disappeared”.

Volodymyr Sirotin

A local activist.

Sirotin says that the illegal mining in this place is suspended for the moment. “They say that when it comes to the new discovery, they are still preparing documents for legalization. We'll see how it goes”, sums up Volodymyr.

The activists feel harmed, says Volodymyr. There are nature reserves in the area of the Gelatin Factory, and there is Kurgan. Law prohibits working on the ground next to such objects. “It is punishable. But as we can see, in this situation, they bypassed the law, somehow so far”, the activist says.

“In 2018, a trailer worked here, lifting a layer of coal and transferring it to trucks; there was also a 35-ton car”, says Volodymyr explaining how the coal was transported illegally from the place. The tracks filled with coal left in the evening. The activists counted from 8 to 15 cars during the night. “They passed through the town Matrosskoye, a glass factory district, through the town and no one knew what happened to coal further”, Volodymyr explains.


Sirotin concludes that they managed to do it unnoticed; "the place is a little far from the nearest place where people live. At that point, the city had its problems. The local government did not look at the illegal coal deposit because of its political war”, he says.

Since our interview took place, the situation in Lysychansk and nearby towns deteriorated further, as the territories were badly damaged and are occupied by the Russian military (as of August 2022).


Russia’s war in the Donbas that has been taking place for more than 8 years now does not only cause social, economic, and raw material issues. It's also deepening an environmental disaster. Shortage of drinking water in the east of Ukraine is already becoming an urgency, not only in the occupied territories but also in the part of Donbas under the control of the Ukrainian government.

Maksym Butchenko

Journalist and writer, ex-miner.

Butchenko says that the closure of the mines has not been implemented according to the established rules and regulations. According to the procedures, developed back in the USSR, even if the mine is closed, it must be under control all the time: water must be pumped out, workover checks need to be constantly conducted and so on. “Most of all, it concerns the Donetsk region, there is a mine where there was a nuclear explosion. We have results from environmentalists [showing] that these dangerous elements are already in groundwater. When I worked, there were earthquakes because the mines went deeper [and deeper]”.

He explains that the earthquakes happened during the times when the closures were done according to the rules, “… there will be more incidents with earthquakes, which will affect the houses and ruin them”, he continues. “Secondly, and most importantly, the water in the mine will go to underground sources that people use (wells, bores). This is a pretty big ecological problem in the first place for those people who live there. But who's talking about it? No one knows that”.

“There's been no water for weeks now. People will have to find water somewhere. They will dig wells, etc. It forces them to take risks. And this water, which is in the mine, is dangerous and will rise from the underground”, he concludes.

Andrij Mishchenko

A miner at Zolote mine

The miner Andrij Mishchenko remembers as the fight started in this area in 2014. It was July, “when Ukraine troops came here, fighting began, 34 people remained in the mine,” says Andrij Miszczenko. He explains that during the shelling, the wires broke off. So the miners gathered, only a few people, and pulled these wires. “For several days they sat in the mine without the change. It was probably about a month and a half. It was tough. At most, the mine was without light in 2014 for about 24 hours”, the miner adds.

Mishchenko explains that the director of the mine, “our Igor Viktorovich  Novoselov”, “when for a day there was no light, turned on the knife switch.” He says that he was almost covered by water and could be killed by electricity. But he turned it on and pumped out the water from the mines’, Mishchenko continues about problems during the hottest phase of the Russian war in Donbas. But in 2017, there was a breakthrough of water from other mines on the occupied territories. The electricity went out there, and no one pumped the water there. “And all this water has now come to Zolote. We were flooded from both sides”, Mishchenko continues.

Mishchenko says that miners stayed in Zolote to give a chance for the future operation of the mine. “If we gave it all up, there'd be nothing but ruins. The mines would be sunk at our expense because they're geographically linked.


"Nowadays, the mine in Zolote needs stronger pumps ," says Mishchenko. The state has not yet financed everything, he says. “For now, we wait.

The project [of renewing the mine] was created beetwen 2015 and 2016. But when the mines were drowned, they just started to implement what we wrote. Mishchenko claims that pumping out the water will save the mines Karbonit, Hirska, and Toshkivska from sinking. He says that nowadays the mine only “pumps out water and ventilates a little to degas the mine production”.

“But the worst thing is that the Zolote mine throws water into the river, which must be cleaned. So they kill the river and that's it. Now you see the water”, Mishchenko concludes.


A resident in Zolote

Vladyslav, a resident in Zolote, remembers that once the water was clean, the river widened. “Now the water is terrible, the colour is terrible. Now nobody swims here. It is the result of the closure of the Pervomaisky mine. The water came from there. Now it's good that the mine in Zolote takes everything on itself and pumps this water. If they shut down the mine [in Zolote], it will be an environmental disaster. The mine will be sunk, and everything from it will come to the surface. It will go into the wells, and there will be no water to drink. It is an ecological threat. Then they will sink the Karbonit, and Hirska mines, and go further to the Toshkivska mine... If the coal mines are sunk, gas and radiation mix with water, and nothing good comes out of it”, says Vladyslav.

Vladyslav says that he rarely comes to the river and only recently saw that it changed the colour to red. Vladyslav’s father works in the mine, and he said to his son that everything from the mine went in the river. “Everyone has their problems. At work, at home. No one thinks about ecology. I hope our government will take reasonable measures to combat the ecological disaster”, sums up Vladyslav.


In the middle of May 2022, since the beginning of the full-scale military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, coal production at state-owned mines has fallen by 37%. Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko announced it in an interview for Forbes. He added that Ukraine has already lost three mines in the temporarily occupied territories. "They are flooded, and it will be impossible to restore them," the head of the Ministry of Energy said. But according to him, there are no problems with the accumulation of coal; there are already several areas that are being worked out by the ministry.

In the last month, the fiercest fighting has been occurring around places we visited a year ago: Lysychansk, Severodonieck, Zołote and others. A year ago, our heroes shared their thoughts about the future of mines in the region.

Denys Kazanskyj

A journalist

Journalist Denys Kazanskyj says that coal mining in the Donbas started falling long “before, in the Ukrainian times”. He says, “this is an old region, where coal is already scarce. In the current conditions, it isn't easy to export, everything is getting more expensive, and these mines are not taken care of properly. I don't think it'll last for many years”. Thus, Denys predicts that the government will gradually close the mines, and people will leave.

“Ukraine buys coal in South Africa and thus diversifies coal imports. Of course, there are changes because we do not introduce coal from the Donbas”, he adds.

“Ukraine continues to support unprofitable mines that work poorly. But they are supported because it is a political decision. There are mines given in concessions; they belong to private individuals. That is, private work as private ones, state work as state ones. That’s it, everything remains stable as it was” says Kazanskyj.

To the contrary, Volodymyr Gert says, keeping the mines must be an aim. “We have a new horizon for 20 years of coal mining. "These are jobs; these are people," Mr Gert argues.

Volodymyr Gert

Director of human resources and Social Affairs at Central mine in Toretsk

The miner Oleksandr doesn’t know what he will do if the mine is shut down. “It's just throwing everything we had and going somewhere. They tell me to go to Poland too, because my friend lives there. Or to Russia. I will be looking for something to be able to earn a living for my family”, says the miner.

Maksym thinks even more mines will be closed. “According to various estimates, in the uncontrolled [by Ukraine] areas there are more than 40 mines closed”, he says.

Maksym Butchenko

Journalist and writer, ex-miner

Journalist and ex-miner Maksym Butchenko explains that the unemployment rate is very high there. "A lot of people go to Russia. A lot of people go to the troops of Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. It's not an accident," he says. "If people would generally work there, why would they go to the army, why go to Russia, why talk about the fact that Ukraine is putting pressure on them. When you watch the propaganda, people are told that Ukraine is guilty. The guilty are the people that lobby for their interests in this region”, Butchenko concludes.


Lola García-Ajofrín (article) and Evgeniy Maloletka (video).

Let’s talk about the future.

Although the transition to say goodbye to coal has been long and with several challenges, there are positive examples in Europe.

Portugal's winning formula

“Cleaning up the power sector is a complex undertaking; the optimum energy mix varies from country to country. But there are definitely good examples to learn from,” explains Alexandru Mustata, campaigner at Beyond Coal campaign.  

“Portugal ticks many boxes, as it plans to replace coal with renewables, and has recently rejected a proposal to burn biomass on the site of its last coal power plant, Pego,” Mr Mustață continues. He says that “Portugal's winning formula” is made up of “large-scale solar plants, wind farms, battery storage and green hydrogen production.”

Upper Nitra region in Slovakia, pioneer in Just Transition

Regarding “just transition”, “the Upper Nitra region in Slovakia is a pioneer”, highlights the Europe Beyond Coal campaign. Mr Mustață explains that work was initiated by a group of citizens who soon gained support from the Mayor of Prievidza and local businesses. This eventually led to a government strategy and the unlocking of European Funds.

At the Europe Beyond Coal campaign, they believed that “there is no one size fits all, top-down policy package to deliver a Just Transition” to every mining regions in Europe, instead, “strategies should be tailored to local needs” and “developed together with communities at the local level,” so that everyone affected has a meaningful opportunity to contribute to the process. “Of course, having a strategy is not enough. A Just Transition is one that is properly funded so that workers are supported to retrain, and businesses to grow,” Mr Mustață adds.

“Russia's invasion of Ukraine has made more stark that fossil fuels exact violence”

The war in Ukraine and the impact of the pandemic have led to an increase of the demand for coal. In 2021, electricity generation from coal rose by 9.0% compared to 2020, according to the International Energy Agency. We asked the experts of the Europe Beyond Coal campaign, how do they  think Russia’s war against Ukraine has disrupted the plans for an energy transition in Europe? And they answer, emphatically:

“Russia's invasion of Ukraine has only made more stark, the extent to which fossil fuels exact violence, both in a geopolitical, military sense, but also in terms of the carnage they unleash on the natural world and our health.” “This should, if anything, accelerate the transition to fossil free, renewable energy because people are becoming increasingly aware that to have peace and security,” Mr Mustață says. “We must cut all ties with fossil fuels and fully embrace renewable energy, '' he continues. “But we should be mindful that despite its extreme volatility, some countries and companies still harbour desires to expand fossil gas infrastructure, despite it being the cause of spiralling energy costs, damage to the climate, and ultimately stranded assets,” he says. “What we should be doing is accelerating the Just Transition to a fully renewable energy-based system, and at the same time, ensuring that we are implementing all the energy efficiency and savings measures that we can,” Mr Mustață concludes.

Lastly, we asked about Poland, one of the countries that, despite using a large amount of coal, hopes to get rid of it in 2049. What experiences and from which countries can it learn from so that the transition is not traumatic?

“Coal units won't be operating in Poland in 2048. But if they were, it would only be possible because the Polish taxpayer would be providing eye watering sums in subsidies to keep them burning,” Mr  Mustață concludes. “Coal is already too expensive to be profitable, and that's without factoring in the enormous financial costs it burdens society with through health and the environmental damage. Poland needs to take a look around.

It is expected that 17 European countries will have phased out coal by 2030

At the Europe Beyond Coal campaign, they explain that “Seventeen European countries have either already phased out coal or will by 2030 at the latest because it's the logical thing to do from an economic, environmental and health standpoint.” “The Polish government should redirect the resources it's wasting on propping up its failing coal industry towards the creation of local employment alternatives that can ensure a gradual coal phase out. If it doesn't, it will be baking-in a sudden and traumatic crash for those people connected to coal in Poland,”, Mr Mustață, the Europe Beyond Coal expert, concludes.


Multimedia and content coordinators: Lola García-Ajofrín and Anna Górnicka.

The materials were prepared by Julia Alekseeva, Karolina Baca-Pogorzelska, Lola García-Ajofrín and Anna Górnicka.

Edited by Anna Ackermann,  founding member of Centre for Environmental Initiatives “Ecoaction” (Ukraine), Dave Jones, Global Programme Lead for Ember.

Filmed by Evgeniy Maloletka (Ukraine), Bartosz Kielak (UK), Hubert Witarowski (Germany, Poland and Spain).

Video post production by Katarzyna Łuka and Zuzanna Olejniczak.

Design by Tina Xu.

Web development by Piotr Kliks.

Translation by Julia Alekseeva, Grzegorz Kurek and Olya Lypynska.

An estimated 1,400 girls are not born every year in Armenia due to a rooted preference for male children. The son-bias combined with a lower birth rate, has led to an alarming number of sex-selective abortions. Community activities, various laws and television shows are addressing the issue - with positive results. But is the actual problem being tackled?