An explosion that left at least one man dead and more than 30 people trapped today in a coal mine in war-torn eastern Ukraine was not caused by shelling, authorities say.
The blast, 3,280 ft underground at the Zasyadkov mine in Donestk – a city under the control of rebels from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) – is close to the conflict’s frontlines.
Rebel and government officials said that 230 men were working in the pit at the time of the explosion. Between 30 and 32 men were trapped, according to reports. One witness reported seeing five bodies.
Workers from other parts of the pit were enlisted to clear rubble. Operations were hampered, however, because one of the three entrances to the mine – the entrance closest to where the blast happened – has been forced closed by artillery shelling during fighting between rebel forces and the Ukrainian army.
The war in the region, now under a ceasefire brokered by European leaders, Moscow and Kiev, has claimed more than 6,000 lives.
Separatist authorities blamed the blast on a combustible mixture of methane and air, a common cause of industrial mining accidents.
A mine rescue services representative, Yuliana Bedilo, confirmed that one man had died. Rebel officials say 198 had been evacuated, but the fate of as many as 32 others remains unknown.
One injured miner, Igor Murygin, suffered burns over a fifth of his body and said he had been blown off his feet by the blast.
Speaking to reporters at a hospital in Donetsk, he said: “When I came to, there was dust everywhere. People were groaning.”
He added that the mine had newly installed equipment that appeared to be working normally.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the Ukrainian prime minister, said in Kiev that rebels had prevented a team of 60 Ukrainian rescue workers from reaching the mine to provide assistance. But leading rebel representative Denis Pushilin denied that Ukrainian authorities had offered any help.
“If we truly need assistance, we will turn to Russia,” Pushilin was quoted as saying by the Donetsk News Agency.