EFE | Donetsk, Ukraine

At least 17 people perished Wednesday in an explosion at a coal mine in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, while another 16 workers are still trapped underground, said Ukrainian authorities and pro-Russian separatists controlling the city.

The government of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic said it knew nothing about the status of these workers trapped underground in the Zasyadko coal mine.

Several people gather outside the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk (Ukraine) on March 4, 2015 after registering an explosion of firedamp. EFE / Vladimir
Several people gather outside the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk (Ukraine) on March 4, 2015 after registering an explosion of firedamp. EFE / Vladimir Vladimirov

Zasyadko, which was opened during the Soviet Union era in 1958, is one of the most important mines in Ukraine.

Reports indicate that 15 workers, suffering from varying degrees of burns, were rescued from the scene of the accident, while another 198 workers were saved.

Mikhail Volinets, leader of the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine, told RIA Novosti Russian news agency that the explosion occurred at 5:20 a.m.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused the separatists of Donetsk of preventing 60 rescue workers from entering the mine.

The Zasyadko mine has a long history of accidents, the most serious of which occurred on Nov. 18, 2007, when 101 workers died.

The Ukrainian coal mines, particularly those located in the Donetsk coal basin, are among the most infamous for dozens of mining accidents every year.

The eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk has been the epicenter of an armed conflict between the Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian separatist militias since April 2014, following a military campaign launched by Kiev against the pro-Russian uprising that erupted in Donetsk and Luhansk.

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