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Ukraine

Brothers Divided, Iconic Ukrainian Miners Torn By War

While Ukraine combat continues despite peace efforts, the Donbass region's famously rugged coal miners have divided their loyalties: some keep working on Kiev's behalf, others fleeing to the pro-Russian rebels.

Sunset over Ukraine's Lidievka coal mine
Sunset over Ukraine's Lidievka coal mine
Benoît Vitkine

MAKIIVKA — It's easy to forget there's a war going on when you're 480 meters underground.

The crash of explosions and detonations on the surface gives way to the considerable silence in the galleries, interrupted only by the sounds of dripping water and of passing carts filled with coal. Here, the men are focused on one goal and one goal only: extracting coal. They weave in and out of narrow corridors propped up by logs, crawling up the metal machines that tirelessly scrape the stone.

The war raging here in Ukraine isn't far away. Two days earlier, a team was trapped inside the second well at the end of their six-hour shift. A shell left it without electricity.

This mine, located in Makiivka, near Donetsk, never stopped functioning — even when the conflict and bombings were at their worst. When a mine ceases to function, it takes weeks just to pump out all the water and relaunch it.

Still, its director had to slow down its activity. Kiev halted supplies of wood logs, which are used to shore up the tunnels. The economy here has been hit hard. Coal production — 80 million tons in 2013 — is now at just a quarter of what it was, forcing Ukraine to import the material necessary for heating and for the industry from South Africa and Russia. Many miners have also left. In this mine in Makeevka, only 500 of the original 1,000 miners remain. Most have left the region, and about 50 have enlisted in the pro-Russian rebel "army."

Yuri is one of these fighting miners. He is stationed not far from the Kholodnaya Balka mine, where he worked for 22 years. The 42-year-old man enlisted on Aug. 4, at a time when the Ukrainian army seemed on the verge of victory. Miners are men of few words. His speech sounds like a thousand others heard in this region. "Ukraine is the aggressor," he says. "We must defend our land and our families." Standing with him is Sergey, 25. He doesn't have a family, but he does have a 1974 machine gun around his neck. The mine where he worked, in the town of Kommunar, has been completely destroyed, he says.

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Geopolitics

Venezuela-Iran: Maduro And The Axios Of Chaos In The Americas

With the complicity of leftist rulers in Venezuela, Bolivia and even Argentina, Iran's sanction-ridden regime is spreading its tentacles in South America, and could even undermine democracies.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro visiting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran, Iran on June 11. Venezuela is one of Iran's closest allies, and both are subject to tough U.S. sanctions.

Julio Borges

-Analysis-

CARACAS —The dangers posed by Venezuela's relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran is something we've warned about before. Though not new, the dangers have changed considerably in recent years.

They began under Venezuela's late leader, Hugo Chávez , when he decided to turn his back on the West and move closer to countries outside our geopolitical sphere. In 2005, Chávez and Iran's then president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, signed collaborative agreements in areas beyond the economy, with goals that included challenging the West and spreading Iran's presence in Latin America.

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