Victor Tryfonova Ukrainian miners

Victor Trifonov, the president of a local mineworkers’ union , set himself on fire during a press conference today in Kiev, Ukraine. He was rushed to the hospital and remains in the emergency room several hours later.

The incident occurred at a press conference in the Ministry of Energy, where mineworkers are occupying a room and holding a hunger strike against corruption and unpaid wages.

Eyewitnesses told that an advisor to the Minister laughed while Trifonov burned, and accused him of staging a paid stunt for oligarch Rinat Akmhetov. This is an allegation that has been repeated in the by by media in response to rising worker protests in Ukraine. The clear implication that the workers, miners especially, are being paid by Akmhetov to destabilize the country and support the Russian invasion. The accusation is meant to brand worker protests as traitorous.

In reality, Trifonov, whom I know, works at a publically owned mine managed by the Ministry, that is in competition with Akmhetov’s DTEK coal mines. He is the president of a local of the Independent Trade Union of MIners’ of Ukraine (NPGU).  NPGU is a pro-reform, pro-democracy union that has more than 3,000 members on active duty in the Ukrainian military. Whatever you think of the conflict, the assertion that the NPGU mine workers are protesting as provocateurs should be dismissed as slander, and as a dangerous anti-freedom of association position when coming from government officials.

Trifonov’s escalation, and the desperation to be heard, should serve as a wake up call to authorities of the dire situation for workers and their families in Ukraine.

Triston Masat, Labour Initiative centre Kyiv.