Reprinted with permission from The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, which seeks to organise solidarity and provide information in support of Ukrainian socialists and trade unionists.
The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign is pleased to present to the labour movement this exclusive interview with Mykola Koziuberda, leader of the Independent Union of Miners (NPG) at the Nikanor Nova mine of the Luhansk Coal Association. NPG is facing a serious attack on trade union freedoms by the authorities who run the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk Peoples Republic’.
The interview was taken on 24 February 2015 by Oleh Vernyk, Head of the All Ukrainian Independent Union Defense of Labour- Zakhyst Pratsi. Translation by Marko Bojcun of “Observer Ukraine”.
O.V. Mykola, we have received information that you had to leave Luhansk Oblast because of direct threats made on your life. Is that true?
M.K. Yes, it’s true. Right now I’m staying in Poltava oblast. I have to say that several threats were made on my life, including from officials of the LNR (Luhansk People’s Republic). These threats were linked directly to my activities as leader of the Independent Miners Union at the Nikanor Nova mine.
O.V. Tell us a little about the situation at your mine, how things have developed there.
M.K. The director of the mine issued an order on 27 July 2014 to stop work at our mine. Approximately 300 people were left with full time jobs out of 1500 miners and support staff. The miners at our mine haven’t been paid since August 2014. The bank cards into which our miners get their pay have been blocked. In February this year the accounts office at the mine paid out one month’s wages – for last November. That’s all we’ve gotten up till now.
During this time the Nikanor Nova mine is one of a very few belonging to the Luhansk Coal Association which hasn’t stopped working and has suffered practically no damage from the war in Luhansk. The mine produces coal for electricity generating stations, which is needed by everyone regardless of the current position of the front.
O.V. A few words about your independent union?
M.K. We were officially registered in the town of Zorynsk, Luhansk oblast on 14 April 2000. At the peak of our growth our Independent Miners Union had over 600 members, that is, approximately half of the work collective belonged to it.
We experienced heavy repression from the mine management over the years after we were formed. Workers received bonuses and the best times for leave on the condition they resign from our Independent Union. Our union committee adopted resolutions many times calling for the removal of the mine director from his post in connection with frequent violations of the labour code. However, all our attempts were stopped by the Ministry and the law enforcement authorities. Eventually we succeeding in getting the resignation of the director who had by then become completely shameless. But the situation did not change in a qualitative way after that.
By the summer of 2014 there were 220 members left in our independent union.
O.V. Mykola, scanned copies of documents appeared on the Internet recently which testify to the prohibition of registration of independent trade unions in the LNR.
In particular the Independent Miners Union at the M.P. Barakov mine belonging to the Krasnodon Coal Association has put up onto its site (http://npg.social/title/275/ ) a scanned copy of its correspondence with the official organs of the “Luhansk People’s Republic” in which they are refused registration on the grounds of the Instruction of the LNR Minister of Justice A.V. Shubina, dated 20/1/2015: No. 8 – OD “On the prohibition of registration of independent trade unions on the territory of the Luhansk People’s Republic”.
This material evoked a strong civic reaction in the trade union milieu of Ukraine, in Europe and around the world. A number of “left wing” publications which support the DNR and LNR projects have been quick to declare these documents are “fakes”. Can you comment on this situation?
M.K. This is all true and the document is genuine. Moreover, I have personal experience of the leaders of the LNR not even wanting to hear anything about a social dialogue with independent trade unions. They rule out the very possibility of forming such unions in the LNR.
For example, in my capacity as head of the Independent Miners Union at the Nikanor Nova mine, I met with Ihor Plotnycky, the LNR leader on 5 November 2014. I wanted to find out how the LNR leadership views the issue of co-operation between the government and the independent unions. Plotnytsky gave me no understandable reply, but advised me to meet and consult on this question with Oleh Akimov, head of the so-called “Federation of Trade Unions of the LNR”.
This “federation” was formed with the support of the LNR authorities on the basis of the Luhansk Oblast Section of the so-called “official” unions – the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU). During my meeting with Mr Akimov, I was told that independent unions had nothing in common and even more so today they have nothing in common with his “Federation of Trade Unions of LNR”.
That same day, 5 November 2014, I was told point blank the following during my meeting with Dmytro Leonidovych Liamin, LNR Minister for Fuel, Energy and Coal industry, a man I have known for many years:
“We don’t need rebels, and you are a well-known rebel (buntar) and you are just trouble…. I will come to you and rip your head off”.
At this meeting I was told clearly and in no uncertain terms that there is only one official trade union in the LNR: the “Federation of Trade Unions of the LNR” and no others. Therefore, they are not going to register independent trade unions.