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Ukraine Mourns Coal Miner Deaths

Ukraine is mourning the deaths of 72 coal miners in Donetsk, following Sunday's methane gas explosion, about one kilometer underground. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports another 28 miners are missing.

An intense fire, more than 24 hours after the blast, complicated Monday's rescue efforts at the Zasyadko mine in Donetsk. More than 360 miners have been rescued, among them Vitali Kvitkovsky. He says methane levels in his part of the mine were within safe limits, but an explosion in another section sent a wave of gas toward him.

Kvtikovsky says he heard a bang, temperatures surged and thick dust made it impossible to see.

Yevhen Hladchuk, the chief doctor at a Donetsk's hospital, says he suspects many of the survivors are suffering from gas poisoning.

Hladchuk says 26 miners admitted to the hospital are in satisfactory condition. He says they are being examined by neuro-pathologists and are undergoing high-pressure treatment to provide patients with additional oxygen.

Distraught relatives break down upon hearing officials announce the names of miners who did not survive.

One mother fears the worst for her son.

She says her son works in the mine and is not answering his cell phone and is not at home.

President Viktor Yushchenko arrived in Donetsk on Monday. According to the Ukrainian presidential website, Mr. Yushchenko chaired an official commission investigating the explosion, and called on Ukraine's Coal Ministry to develop clear reorganization and safety plans for 2008. The previous day, he accused the government of his political arch-rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, of not doing enough to reform Ukraine's coal mining industry.

However, Mr. Yanukovych says safety violations do not appear to be the cause of the disaster. Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Kliuyev says the Zasyadko mine has the latest methane detection equipment.

Kliuyev says the Zasyadko mine is one of the most advanced in Ukraine. However, he notes that digging for coal at greater depths involves processes, which Ukrainian experts do not yet fully understand.

Methane is an explosive gas often found in coal mines. Mines must be properly ventilated to insure safety.

About 10,000 people work at the Zasyadko mine, which produces as much as 10,000 tons of coal each day. It is considered one of Ukraine's most dangerous mines. More than 140 miners have died there since 1999.

Donetsk has declared a three-day mourning period for the miners. Ukraine will observe a national day of mourning, Tuesday. The first funerals will be held, Tuesday.