The reason for the massive coal miner strike in 1989 in the Soviet Union's two largest coal mining areas – Kuzbass in Russia and Donbas in Ukraine – was a deterioration in the government supply of the coal mining regions with food and industrial goods as a result of the total lack of food in the Soviet Union, because of the economic crisis in the wake of the dramatic decline in the world price of crude oil. The coal miners discontent is also due to lack of safety at work, many accidents resulting in death, as well as a wish for increased coal production and improved living conditions.
On July 10, 1989 the coal miner strike started in Kuzbass. One week later Donbas followed. Already on July 19 67 coal mines in Donbas stopped working. More than 222,000 coal miners all over Soviet was at that time covered by the strike. On July 20 was already 88 coal mines in the Donbas covered by the work stoppage. Also, coal miners in the easternmost part of the neighboring region Dnipropetrovsk joined the strike.
Gorbachev satisfied demands
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev appealed to Ukraine's coal miners to resume work. After long negotiations in the Kremlin the Ukrainian coal miners complied with his wish, but only after the Soviet leadership agreed to most of their demands. Initially there was purely social and wage, not political, requirements. The first time the requirements were of a social nature and about wage – not political requirements.
But shortly after, namely 3 September 1989, Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada, under the impact of the strikes, agreed to a law «about the economic independence of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic». The law was caused by large problems and difficulties in the planned economy and the decline in many sectors.
Leader of Communist Party admitted existing problems
On 7 September 1989 the Moscow loyal chief of the Ukrainian Communist Party, Volodymyr Shcherbytskyi, admitted at a meeting of KPU's Central Committee, that the main reasons for the strikes was neglect of social issues, a failure compared to many everyday problems, poor housing, inadequate pay, the non-delivery of daily living necessities and environmental degradation.
Resignation and suicide of the leader of the party
On the «coal miner’s day» September 27, 1989 the Donetsk miners adopted a resolution that demanded that the chief of the Ukrainian Communist Party, Volodymyr Shcherbytskyi, and the chairwoman of the Verkhovna Rada, Valentyna Shevchenko, resigned. Volodymyr Shcherbytskyi complied with the requirement the day after. In February, 1990, the day before his 72 birthday, he alleged committed suicide in despair over the erosion of the Communist Party's power in the Soviet Union and especially in Ukraine.
The miners stand for Ukraine’s sovereignty
In March 1991 the Donetsk miners initiated a new general strike. One of the requirements this time was that Ukraine's state sovereignty should be written into the Constitution, and that the Soviet should be transformed into a loose confederation of sovereign states. The Coal Miners strikes of 1989-91 was a crucial factor for the economic and political changes in 1991. This applies to the election of Boris Yeltsin for president of Russia in June 1991, the failure communist coup against him in August of that year in Moscow and Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada's subsequent decision to proclaim the independence of Ukraine, august 24, 1991, which was confirmed by the Ukrainian referendum of December 1, 1991. On December 25, 1991 the Soviet Union ceased to exist as a state.
The coal miners in Donbas largely supported Ukraine's independence in the referendum. During the referendum in December 1991, there were also in the Donbas a solid majority for independence. Throughout the 90s, 00s and especially in the first half of 10s the Donbas region achieved large grants and subsidies from the Ukrainian treasury. Therefore, it was «good business« for the region to secede from Moscow.
Viktor Yanukovych and the Donetsk clan
The so-called «Donetsk clan» had in the second half of the 90s a significant influence on the then Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who in 1997 made one of the Donetsk clan's informal leaders, Viktor Yanukovych, governor of Donetsk region. In 1999, 2000 and 2002, Yanukovych helped to ensure Kuchma good election results in Donetsk region.
In 2002-04 and 2006-07 Yanukovych was prime minister for the whole Ukraine. His Donetsk clan continued even after the Orange Revolution in 2004 to have a significant influence on the western-oriented President Viktor Yushchenko. One reason is that Yushchenko – supported by the United States – wanted to preserve Ukraine as a unitary state, and therefore was willing to compromise with the so-called oligarchs, including those from the Donetsk clan.
Putin's military aid to Donetsk clan
In 2010, Yanukovych became President of Ukraine. When he, in February 2014, was overthrown by the Maidan revolution and fled to Russia, and Putin subsequently annexed the Crimea, the Donetsk clan decided to break up with the government in Kyiv and ensure their autonomy and immunity via a de facto secession with Russian military help. The rest is history, although we unfortunately do not know the end.
Translation by Joergen Deleuran