REFILE-UPDATE 3-Dozens of miners missing feared dead in rebel east Ukraine

(Refiles, removing incorrect reference to Tuesday in first

* Dozens believed still underground

* Rescue workers say little chance they survived

* Kiev says separatists barred Ukrainian rescue crews

* Mine has history of fatal accidents

By Maria Tsvetkova

DONETSK, Ukraine, March 4 (Reuters) – Dozens of miners were
trapped underground and feared dead after a blast on Wednesday
at a coal mine in the eastern Ukrainian rebel stronghold of
Donetsk, with rescuers saying the chance of finding many
survivors was slim.

Mine officials said the explosion was not linked to fighting
at the nearby frontline in the war between Moscow-backed rebels
and Ukraine government forces. Kiev accused the separatists of
holding up the rescue effort by restricting access.

Outside the gates of the Zasyadko mine, about 30 relatives
clamoured for information about any survivors. A miner injured
in the blast mingled with the crowd, his face covered in
scratches and one arm hanging motionless by his side, the result
of a broken collarbone.

The miner, Sergei Baldayev, said five bodies had so far been
retrieved from the area of the blast, in a shaft deep

The sister of one miner who was in the pit at the time of
the explosion, Alexei Novoselsky, stood in tears.

« Tell me, are there survivors? Why are you concealing the
truth, » she said as a local rescue services employee tried to
calm her.

Donetsk has been the scene of heavy fighting between
Moscow-backed separatist rebels, who control the region, and
forces loyal to the government in Kiev. A ceasefire has sharply
reduced the violence in the past week.

The neighbourhood around the mine has come under artillery
fire, with fragments from Grad rockets visible on surrounding
roads, but mine officials said the explosion was unrelated to
the fighting and most likely caused by gas.

In Kiev, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said
rescue workers had been dispatched by the central authorities,
« but the Russian terrorists did not let them reach the scene of
the accident, » he said, using a term commonly used by Kiev to
describe the separatists.

Figures given by medical workers at the scene, miners and a
mine official speaking on condition of anonymity pointed to
there being about 50 miners still underground.

Earlier on Tuesday, some officials had said more than 30
people were killed in the early morning blast, although later
officials would not confirm that figure. Rescue services were
working to reach the epicentre of the blast, in a shaft deep
underground, they said.

Asked what were the chances of trapped miners surviving, a
medical worker said: « It’s getting smaller and smaller all the
time, because of the methane, the hot air, burns to the
airways. »

She said two buses had been brought to the mine in
preparation for carrying away the bodies of the dead.


The mine has a history of fatal accidents in the 57 years it
has been operating. An explosion at Zasyadko in 2007 killed 106
people. A cemetery next to the pit holds the graves of many
miners killed in the past.

« When there’s an accident, we bury them all here, » said the
head of security at the shaft where Tuesday’s blast happened,
who did not give his name. « Coal is a costly business. »

A welder at the mine, who gave his name as Oleg, said
outside the entrance: « I’ve been down the pit for 23 years, and
this is the fourth explosion that I can recall. If they didn’t
get them out straight away, then later they will only retrieve
bodies. An explosion is a terrible thing. »

The Zasyadko coal mine produced 1.4 million tonnes of coal
in 2013. The mine is in the centre of a Donbass region which is
Ukraine’s industrial and coal-producing heartland.

Ukrainian coal production fell 22 percent in 2014 to 65
million tonnes as the conflict disrupted mining operations in
the region, leading to some shortages of coal at power plants.

(Additional reporting by Lina Kushch in Donetsk, Pavel Polityuk
in Kiev and Polina Devitt and Damir Khalmetov in Moscow; Writing
by Christian Lowe; Editing by Peter Graff)

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