Pavlo Holota is a leading activist of the NGPU (Independent Trade Union of Mineworkers of Ukraine), which is an affiliate of the KVPU (Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine). The mine where Pavlo was a union leader is in the city of Novovolynsk which saw the first major protest of workers in Ukraine since the Russian invasion. Christopher Ford interviewed Pavlo for the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign – Translation by Serhiy Girik.
How long have you worked in the mines?
I worked more than 12 years in the Lviv-Volhynia basin mines. In January 2022 I was injured in the leg whilst underground. Then I had to leave the job.
Please explain your own position in NGPU?
I became a NGPU member in 2013. It was not a mistake. This union and especially its head Mykhailo Volynets actively defended the miners’ legitimate rights and interests.
In 2018, when I understood the union’s role and challenges it was facing, I started to take an active part in the trade union movement. I became a NPGU deputy head for Volhynia and Lviv region. There are more than one thousand miners in these regions.
I had regular contact with trade unions from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. We were always in solidarity with one another. I took a direct part in organizing non-violent protests against the arbitrary activities of the Ministry of Energy, e.g. delay of paying wages or appointments of incompetent individuals or people without relevant experience to the post of mine directors.
What were the main issues facing the union before the current Russian invasion?
I want to mention that the union always faced numerous challenges. The main ones are late salary payments and safe working conditions. Prior the full-scale Russian invasion the main issue was to discuss changes to labour legislation and to prevent the elimination of the trade union movement as such. We also tried to resist the reduction in workers’ rights in any industry who would then become unprotected and therefore their employer will be able to fire them at any time.
What has been the impact of war on conditions of life in the mines and the mining community of Novovolynsk?
I worked at the mines of “Lvivvuhillya” (Lviv region) and DP ‘Mine N. 9’. Novovolynska” (Volhynska region). They are located in the neighboring cities. Both my former workplaces were coal mines, so their problems are similar.
After the Russian full-scale invasion, the main challenge that all the mines face (especially in Novovolynsk) is to survive in conditions of wart. A lot of miners were drafted into the army. A mine needs a qualified workers. Therefore there was a very real threat of the mines stopping working. Many suppliers of necessary equipment for the mines are totally destroyed. The manufacturers of spare parts from the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions has stopped.
What are the biggest challenges for NGPU Novovolynsk since the invasion?
The greatest challenge is the fact that many of the union’s members were mobilized into the Armed forces of Ukraine. They are on the frontline of defence. Every day they need our help, to buy cars, quadcopters, and much more. These things are very expensive, for the union, so we ask for help everywhere. Our members on the frontline told us that a car used in a combat mission usually remains intact from a few hours to several days. So, there is ALWAYS a need for new cars! Our military will not be so mobile without them.
How is your union dealing with employers companies who have sought to exploit workers during the invasion?
Unfortunately, what is happening today, is some representatives of the Ministry of Energy act in their own interests in this time of war. For instance, in September 2022 they tried to appoint an incompetent director of one of the Novovolynsk mines an that has a criminal record. One of the ministry officials lobbied for this appointment and used a private security firm to help him to take his position. Our trade union, together with members of the trade union movement did not allow this to happen. (http://bug.org.ua/news/novovolynsk/na-shahtu-%E2%84%969-novovolynska-pryyihav-novyj-kerivnyk-praczivnyky-kopalni-stverdzhuyut-shho-cze-rejderske-zahoplennya-694553/)
You can find some examples below:
https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/ukraine-coal-miners-strike-corruption/ — Corruption in the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine
https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/first-labour-protest-war-ukraine-mine-corruption/ — Old days of corruption return in the wartime
https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/ukraine-miners-strike-number-nine-russia-war/ — Workers defended their right to employment
At the same time, my colleagues in the NPGU branches continue defend workers’ rights through negotiations with employers, social dialogue or in the courts.
What has been the role of NGPU in organising the resistance to invasion?
The main NGU’s aim after the full-scale invasion is to help our members who were drafted into the army and the members of their families as well as displaced persons and those who live under the shelling near the frontline. NPGU has helped military and displaced persons since 2014. After the full-scale invasion the scale of this work has greatly increased.
My colleagues from NPGU resisting the occupation of the part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions for the last 9 years, and their organization was banned in the so called “republics.” As of now, a lot of miners defend Ukraine and struggle for peace and democracy in the ranks of the Armed Force of Ukraine. Regretfully, some of my fellow NGPU members, miners and friends died in battle against Russian invaders. They could to live peacefully, raise their children, contribute to the economy of their regions and Ukraine in general. But Russia has started this terrible war. We have to struggle to restore peace and ensure a peaceful and democratic future for our children.
Has there been a mobilisation within Novovolynsk to organise and assist each other since the invasion?
I can say with confidence that our people are united. There was an understanding that Russia seeks to destroy Ukraine as a state and Ukrainians as a nation! To destroy our culture and history. Therefore, the Ukrainian people not only united ourselves. We also united with other peoples around them in the understanding that current Russia is an evil. If it will conquer Ukraine, it will not stop. If we will not stop it here and now, it will never STOP!
Are different trade unions working together?
Yes. Prior the full-scale invasion we had some disagreements but after the full scale invasion of 24 February, we all work for the victory of Ukraine!
The all-out invasion has now lasted a year, can Ukraine sustain another year or more of resistance in such hardship to liberate the whole country?
Unfortunately, the war is not over. Every day Ukraine struggles for its existence. Ukrainians struggle for their lives. It is not a secret that Ukraine needs more military aid to defeat Russia. We are grateful to everybody who provides humanitarian aid for Ukrainian civilians or helps our military. Amongst whom are many ordinary workers and various professions among them. It is also important to help our refugees. Most of them are women with their children, older people, and people with disabilities… We believe in our victory but we need help in this.
With a growing ‘cost of living crisis’, some people in the UK have argued that there should be a ceasefire and peace now– how do you respond to such a position?
I feel sorry for people who think that Russia will stop. Current Russia is a beast that constantly wants blood. If it will defeat Ukraine it will move on. I understand that some are is “tired” of the news on the war in Ukraine. But imagine that missiles are flying at you, that the bodies of your relatives and friends lay in the ruins. When kids learn in bomb shelters instead of going to school. When factories are destroyed, and with them the country’s economy in general. We do not wish anyone to feel the pain and fear which Ukrainians feel today. But , as they say, if this evil is not stopped, it will spread.
How can the labour movement in the UK help Ukraine to win the war?
I know that British trade unions did their best to help Ukraine. As of now, NPGU needs help assistance in purchasing cars, drones and other things for the front. Our military on the frontline needs them right now. We are aware that your trade union movement faces its own challenges and needs to defend rights of British workers. So, we deeply appreciate your help and resources!
Are the weapons being provided enough? Should we campaign to send more weapons to Ukraine?
I am not competent in this matter, whether it is enough or not. However, I consider it necessary to campaign for the provision of more arms to Ukraine, to stop murderers.
I also thank the cross-party alliance of MPs, including Labour MPs, that tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM 808) calling for a significant increase in heavy weapons to Ukraine. This call has been backed by Ukrainian trade unions and by Labour’s sister party in Ukraine, the Social Democratic Platform.
The Ukrainian government has introduced new Labour laws. What is your view of these new laws?
The Ukrainian MP Mykhailo Volynets, who heads the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU), has repeatedly raised this issue in the Ukrainian Parliament. He stated that lobbyists of employers and a big business within the parliamentary majority have already achieved adoption of six laws that reduce workers’ rights in Ukraine. About 30 draft laws are registered and may soon be adopted by the majority. Which will actually lead to the establishment of an employers’ dictatorship.
So, our trade unions face numerous challenges related to adopting laws. Sure, the work for the victory over Russia is a top priority. But we cannot remain silent about the problems of the workers either.
I know that recently the head of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) Mykhailo Volynets as part of the group of Ukrainian MPs met the Director-General of the International Labour Organization Gilbert Houngbo and other officials in Geneva.
What do you think Ukrainian trade union’s (KVPU) priorities for the reconstruction of Ukraine should be?
First of all, after the inevitable victory of Ukraine, during the reconstruction, the main task of the trade unions will need to be an improvement of labor legislation, ensure decent wages and safe working conditions.
In addition, the top priority will be to help demobilized soldiers who will return to their old jobs after the work
There is a popular movement to resist the invasion – how do you think experience of this struggle will shape what kind of Ukraine working people want after the war?
WAR HAS CHANGED OUR LIVES AND IS CHANGING OUR PRIORITIES. We have united, rallied, all for a victory. All for our future.
What should be the priority for solidarity by union’s in the United Kingdom
The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky argued that Russian leadership expects that Ukrainians, Europeans and the rest of the world will tire of the war. He emphasized that we should do everything in order to achieve the situation when it is not us, not our friends and partners who will tire, but our enemy.
Therefore, I believe, the main task for our trade unions of Ukraine and Britain – is a reminder that the war is not over.
Glory to Ukraine !!! Glory to the heroes!!!