Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ukraine's President under Pressure to Deliver on Pledges

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ukraine's President under Pressure to Deliver on Pledges

Article excerpt

NEARING the end of his eight-hour shift at Donetsk's Red Star coal mine, Viktor Moskolienko and his fellow miners board the cramped, rusty train that will carry them to the surface from their workplace one mile under the ground.

"See how we live now," he says, gesturing to the Dickensian conditions around him. "We'll give {new President Leonid} Kuchma a few weeks to improve things here, but not much more."

Less than a month after his July 10 election victory, Ukraine's new president is facing demands for quick action from the people who elected him. Mr. Kuchma will meet US Vice President Al Gore Jr. today when he makes a stopover in the capital, Kiev. The meeting is the first high-level Clinton administration contact with the new president.

Ninety percent of voters in the Donetsk and Donbass regions supported Kuchma in his election battle against former President Leonid Kravchuk.

East Ukraine's predominantly Russian-speaking population now wants Kuchma to deliver on his campaign pledge to restore economic ties with Russia. The reasons become quickly apparent down in the dusty blackness of the Red Star Mine. Shortage of wood

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the colliery has lost its once-guaranteed supply of cheap wood from Russia. The shortage has contributed to a fall in the mine's productivity, exacerbated by the difficulties encountered in repairing and replacing broken digging machinery. The three shafts at the Red Star mine now produce 1,500 tons of coal daily, nearly half the figure of 2,800 tons produced in 1991.

Since April, the state-owned mine has been paying wages late. Average monthly salaries compare badly to the wages paid to miners across the border in Russia. Workers like Moskolienko say the situation is becoming desperate. He ascribes blame to the shattering of economic links between Ukraine and Russia in the aftermath of the USSR's collapse. "We'll get nowhere without Russia, we're bound together," he says.

But representatives of the Independent Union of Miners in the Donbass expect little rapid improvement in their members' predicament. The union's deputy chairman, Nikolai Kurishko, says the miners will "give Kuchma a chance to show us what he can do. …

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