AFP-JIJI – KRYVYTSYA, UKRAINE – Volodymyr Korkosh steps on the accelerator and his jeep lurches forward, jumping through deep water-filled ditches. “We often come too late by just two to three minutes,” the police officer shouts in disappointment.
His unit carries out daily raids on the outskirts of the village of Kryvytsya and nearby settlements in northwestern Ukraine’s Rivne region, aimed at catching locals red-handed mining amber illegally.
Once a scenic forest area, the site has been turned into a moonscape with wet marshy sand on the surface and man-made, funnel-like pits scattered for hundreds of meters around, evidence of work by hundreds of illicit prospectors.
This site, which locals call a “Klondike” in reference to a 19th-century gold rush in Canada, is one of a number of amber fields in Ukraine, which has the world’s second-largest reserves of amber — some 15,000 tons — after Russia, according to the country’s state geology committee.
Amber is the translucent resin of trees that fossilized over millions of years and ranges in color from pale yellow to deep brown. It is used as a gemstone in jewelry making. But as prices for amber have quadrupled in recent years, fueled by demand from China, Ukraine has suffered from an illegal mining crisis.