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Ukraine war: Welsh miners in country to repay 1984 help

In Europe
February 26, 2024

When Ukrainian miner Vasyl Yavorsky donated his own wages to striking Welsh miners in 1984, he never thought that help would one day be returned.

However, a group of Welsh miners have now loaded up on medicine and supplies and driven from south Wales to Kyiv to repay the old favour.

The convoy is supplying much needed aid to miners fighting on the front line, two years after Russian forces invaded.

“They did not forget about us, just like we didn’t in 1984,” said Vasyl.

Communities in Wales affected by the miners’ strike in the 1980s received much-needed support from the former Soviet Union, and from around the world.

“We are mining brothers – I remember the donation box we had, everyone donated as much as they could, and sent it to those miners”, said Vasyl.

“Now 40 years later we are in need, seeking help, and our English and Welsh friends responded, and are helping our soldiers on the frontlines.”

Vasyl Yavorsky of PRUP Coal miners union

Vasyl Yavorsky welcomed the Welsh miners as they arrived in Kyiv with medicine and supplies

It is a four-decades-old bond that bridges a strike and now a war, forged in shared experiences underground.

In Ukraine, there are currently hundreds, if not thousands, of miners fighting on the front lines in the war against Russia.

Wayne Thomas, who organised the trip, said he had “never forgotten” the support from Ukrainian miners during the strikes.

“I was one of the men on strike 40 years ago. I was a young man then, with a wife and child,” said Mr Thomas, head of the Nation Union of Mineworkers in south Wales.

“I am now very proud to have the opportunity to show how grateful I am for the support we received then from Ukrainian miners,” he added.

Wayne Thomas in Kiev

Wayne Thomas was one of the tens of thousands of miners who went on strike in 1984

He was joined on the journey by fellow former miner Carwyn Donovan and Welsh-Ukrainian Member of the Senedd Mick Antoniw, who has had relatives killed in the war.

Mr Antoniw said the gesture was important to commemorate the donations of food and money received from Ukraine during the strikes.

“The people we are delivering these supplies to are not only fighting on the front line, but some of the older ones were the ones collecting money and food for Welsh miners,” he said.

“This is about repaying them and reminding people that Ukraine is the frontline of democracy in the fight against Russian aggression.”

Mick in car

A former lawyer, politician Mick Antoniw represented many welsh miners who were caught up in the battle of Orgreave, one of the most violent clashes in British industrial history

In 1984 miners from all over the world, Ukraine, Germany, Italy, arrived in Britain to support the strike.

Some were hosted by the former Swansea East MP Sian James, who took a group to her local shop in Ystradgynlais, Powys.

She said: “They were from behind the iron curtain, so we took them over to the Golden Save – they were absolutely entranced by it.

“We were saying it’s a shop, it’s a corner shop, it’s a local supermarket. They couldn’t get over how many goods were on the shelves, or the variety of things.”

One of those impacted by their visit to the UK was Mikhailo Volynets, the now-president of KVPU, the independent Union of Ukrainian miners, who welcomed the Welsh convoy in Kyiv.

He said speaking to British miners about their struggles during a visit in the mid-1980s made him realise he “lived in a country without truth”.

“Their brave fight influenced my outlook on life… after seeing how the UK miners behaved, I tried to copy their fight when I came back here.”

Mikhailo Volynets

Mikhailo Volynets is president of the independent Union of Ukrainian miners

Although Mr Volynets said his attempts to set up independent trade union in Ukraine led to an “order to kill me and my family, and my son was kidnapped, but he managed to survive”.

He would eventually find success in 1989, leading over a million miners on strike in the USSR, which preceded the break-up of the Soviet Union.

“We are grateful you are standing with us, we are grateful because you are miners, brave people not afraid to come to a country where you could lose your lives”, he added.

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