PROKOPYEVSK, Russia — In the heart of the Russia’s coal-mining Kemerovo region, residents struggle with the harsh economic realities of declining wages, obsolete mine facilities, and chronic medical conditions that come from life below, and above ground.
Many are retired coal miners like Vladimir Miroshenko, 71, who recalls the halcyon days of the 1970s, when Prokopyevsk became a sister city with Horlivka, in the heart of Ukraine’s Donbas coal-mining region. Miroshenko also recalls his service in the Soviet Army in the early 1980s, during the decade-long invasion of Afghanistan.
“We trained for a month and a half and then were sent to man the howitzers. I won’t even tell you what happened there. When I came home, I just started drinking,” said Miroshenko, whose last name has been changed at his request.
“Now what’s going on in Ukraine — the oligarchs; they were getting fat and they’re just getting fatter,” he said. “It’s the same thing that happened in Afghanistan. And for what? What’s the point? It’s not clear.”
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