Death toll reaches 52 in Russia’s largest mine accident since 2010. One rescue worker presumed dead makes it out alive.

Emergency services workers on the grounds of the Listvyazhnaya coal mine in the town of Belovo, Kemerovo region Maxim Kiselev / TASS

The reported death toll from the November 25 blast at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine in Belovo, a town in Siberia’s Kemerovo region, has reached 52 people, making it the largest mine accident in Russia since 2010. According to officials, the blast that filled a section of the mine with toxic smoke was likely caused by a methane explosion. Search-and-rescue efforts have been suspended since Thursday evening due to the threat of another gas explosion. However, one survivor — a rescue worker who was presumed dead — emerged from the mine and was taken to hospital on Friday. The Russian investigative committee has opened a second criminal case in connection with the accident, arresting two inspectors from Rostekhnadzor’s local branch on suspicion of negligence. The mine’s parent company, one of Russia’s largest coal mining enterprises, SDS Ugol, has promised to pay compensation to the families of the victims.

The reported death toll from the accident at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine has exceeded 50. On Thursday evening, local authorities reported that 52 people had died, including 46 miners and six rescue workers. The death toll includes 35 miners who were trapped underground. 

In total, 285 miners were in the coal mine at the time of the accident. Most of the bodies of the victims were still inside the mine as of Friday morning. Search-and-rescue efforts were suspended on Thursday due to the threat of a gas explosion. EMERCOM warned that the miners and rescue workers trapped underground would be unlikely to survive due to the lack of oxygen and high concentrations of harmful gases, like carbon monoxide. 

Rescue worker Alexander Zakoryashin being taken to hospital on Friday, November 26Rescue worker Alexander Zakoryashin being taken to hospital on Friday, November 26Kirill Kukhmar / TASS

One survivor has been found — a rescue worker who went missing during the search effort and was presumed dead, Emergency Situations Ministry (EMERCOM) head Alexander Chupriyan reported on Friday morning. According to Mash Siberia, the surviving rescue worker made it out of the mine himself, after spending about 24 hours underground. The survivor, later identified as Alexander Zakovryashin, was hospitalized and treated for severe poisoning from combustion products and hypothermia. 

In total, 64 people were injured, including 12 rescuers who took part in the search effort. The majority — 50 people — were hospitalized, while the rest received outpatient treatment, reported the regional Health Ministry. Most of the victims suffered poisoning from carbon monoxide and combustion products, and one rescue worker was diagnosed with a head injury. Though some of the patients were placed in intensive care, all of the injured victims are expected to recover, regional health officials noted. As of Friday morning, three injured miners and one rescue worker were still in intensive care. 

Relatives of the deceased miners at the Listvyazhnaya coal mineRelatives of the deceased miners at the Listvyazhnaya coal mineMaxim Kiselev / TASS

The accident at the coal mine was likely caused by a methane gas explosion, reported Kemerovo Regional Governor Sergey Tsivilyov. Russia’s Deputy Attorney General Dmitry Demeshin also said that the blast “was most likely a methane explosion” set off by “some kind of spark.” EMERCOM head Alexander Chupriyan and Governor Sergey Tsivilyov told journalists that contrary to claims circulating on social media, they have no information about a second explosion at the mine.

High concentrations of methane were not recorded prior to the accident, an unnamed source from a technical oversight body told TASS on Friday. “The censors didn’t register it. Perhaps there was a sudden surge,” the source told the state news agency, noting that several versions are still being considered.  

Citing violations, Russia’s environmental and technological watchdog, Rostekhnadzor, suspended operations in some sections of the Listvyazhnaya coal mine on nine separate occasions in 2021, reported the agency’s official spokesperson Andrey Vil. According to him, Rostekhnadzor’s specialists have carried out a total of 127 inspections of different sections of the mine since the start of the year, uncovering 914 violations and fining the Listvyazhnaya mine more than 4 million rubles (more than $53,000).

The wife of one of the victims told journalists that there was a fire in the mine on November 15 — just 10 days before the methane explosion. “On the fifteenth they didn’t back down and they put out the fire in the mine on their own,” the miner’s wife said, adding that according to her late husband, the mine’s methane levels were “off the charts.”

The Russian Investigative Committee launched a criminal case against local Rostekhnadzor inspectors for negligence. Two senior state inspectors from the agency’s Belovsky territorial department are suspected of falsifying inspection reports concerning the windway in the section of the mine where the accident took place. Allegedly, the reports were drawn up a week before the accident, when in fact no inspection took place. Investigators will petition the courts to jail the suspects pending trial.

Earlier, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case on charges of violating industrial safety requirements for hazardous production facilities. The mine’s director was arrested in connection with the case, along with his deputy and the manager of the section where the accident took place. According to the investigation, due to safety violations a “gas-dynamic phenomenon occurred, smoke began to fill the windway of section number 4, as a result of which workers in the mine suffocated.” Investigators in this case are also seeking to jail the suspects pending trial. 

The mine’s parent company has promised to pay the families of the victims 2 million rubles (around $26,600) each. SDS Ugol said that the families will receive this money in addition to any payments mandated by law. The company has also decided to pay bonuses to the miners injured in the accident. The sum will be based on the severity of their injuries, SDS Ugol said. In addition, Russia’s Social Insurance Fund stated that it will pay 1 million rubles ($13,300) to the relatives of the deceased “as soon as possible.” The regional authorities also promised financial support for the injured miners and rescue workers, as well as for the families of the deceased. 

On Friday, President Vladimir Putin signed an order on awarding the Order of Courage to six of the rescue workers who took part in the search-and-rescue operation at the Listvyazhnaya mine; five of them will receive the award posthumously, reported EMERCOM head Alexander Chupriyan. 

The methane explosion at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine is the largest mine accident Russia has seen in the last 11 years. On May 8–9, 2010, two methane explosions at the Raspadskaya coal mine, also located in the Kemerovo region, killed 91 people and injured 133 more. The last major accident at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine took place in October 2004, when a methane explosion killed 13 people. Following the accident, nine of the company’s employees received suspended sentences. 

The previous accident at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine in the town of Belovo, Kemerovo region. October 28, 2004. The previous accident at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine in the town of Belovo, Kemerovo region. October 28, 2004. Anatoly Kuzyarin / TASS

We won’t give up Because you’re with us

I’m with you, Meduza

Story by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Eilish Hart

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