Just Transition: Second Mission of Special Envoy Stanislaw Tillich to Ukraine

What is the real situation of the state-owned mines in Myrnohrad? What do the residents think about the situation in the town and what are their personal stories related to coal mining? What are the prospects for the town's development in the post-mining era? These and many other questions were posed to the German special envoy Stanislaw Tillich, who carried out his first mission to the coal-mining regions of Eastern Ukraine.

During a two-day field visit on 16-17th September 2021, the German Special Envoy for Structural Change in Ukraine's coal regions, Stanislaw Tillich, met with key stakeholders in Myrnohrad. His circle of meetings included representatives of the municipality and city council as well as mining companies and trade union leaders. These intensive exchanges helped him better understand the social needs, conditions and financial situation of the local mining company as well as the future potential of the town of 50,000 people in the Donetsk region.

Myrnograd Mayor Oleksandr Brykalov, in office since 2015, has repeatedly stated his ambitious plans to transform the town, backed by precise investment projects in municipal infrastructure or future business sectors, all together to ensure a self-sustaining and livable future for his town. Myrnograd has a century-long history of coal mining and currently employs more than 3,500 people at its three mining companies – Kapitalna, Tsentralna and Mine 5/6.

During the first round, together with residents, city and regional representatives, Mr. Tillich highlighted the advisory role of the project “Supporting Structural Change in the Coal-Mining Regions of Ukraine”, funded by the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). As a basis, the project will set up an inclusive process for gathering ideas on how the town could look in the coming decades to create a strong consensus for structural change.

Starting from the end, Mr. Tillich has repeatedly suggested to define, after intense debate with all stakeholders, a deadline for the use of coal in energy production, hence the end of coal mining in Ukraine. The deadline setting exercise was once already completed in Germany in 2019, when the German “Coal Commission”, co-chaired by Mr. Tillich, concluded to set a final date of 2038. However, this date provided certainty in planning and gave municipalities, energy companies, but especially people in the sector, a reliable transition period to take the necessary steps and ensure the independence and future of the communities and the people living there.

In another trilateral roundtable with a local coal mining company and trade union representatives, the Special Envoy drew attention to Myrnohrad's situation as a “coal-mining monotown”, exacerbated by its proximity to the contact line with the non-government controlled areas of Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast. Mine operators made it clear that many local mines have been in decline for decades, with ever-decreasing production, efficiency and capital costs. The unions supported this view and highlighted the overall weak concept of technical closure and the lack of a policy for future development. They also stressed their expectation that the transformation process should also help create new economic opportunities, thereby providing the necessary resources to maintain and renew the social infrastructure and achieve a “renaissance” of the town, without allowing it to “simply fall asleep”.

Mr. Tillich and the project delegation were given the opportunity to gather their own impressions of the town's infrastructure, including promising concepts for the use of the Palace of Culture, leisure and recreational facilities. The progress of the Myrnohrad’s initiative, together with the European Investment Bank and other international partners, to refurbish the hospital and educational facilities also demonstrates the shared idea of making the town fit for the future. 

The visit was a sincere expression of joint efforts in an equal German-Ukrainian cooperation based on learning, listening and taking shared responsibility with the pilot communities in creating safe mine decommissioning plans, all working together to ensure a decent future for the coal regions and their inhabitants.