Dozens of people are unaccounted for and feared dead after gas sparked an explosion at a mine in a separatist-controlled part of eastern Ukraine. There has been conflicting information about the number of victims.
The explosion ripped through Zasyadko mine in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk early on Wednesday, trapping dozens of workers underground, officials said.
"A terrible tragedy took place this morning at Zasyadko. There are victims, currently numbering 32," the chairman of Ukraine's parliament, Volodymyr Groysman, told lawmakers in Kyiv.
Mykola Volynko, head of the Miners' Union of Donbass, confirmed that figure, telling news agency AFP "we know of 32 people dead. We don't know how many people are still in the mine."
However, a statement from separatist officials in Donetsk put the death toll much lower, saying that only one person had been confirmed dead and more than 30 were missing.
Later, Groysman backtracked on his earlier comments, and told Ukraine's parliament that "according to the latest information," he could only confirm one death.
Dozens trapped below ground
Many of the 230 workers who were reportedly underground at the time of the explosion have been safely evacuated, but dozens remained unaccounted for on Wednesday afternoon. A spokesman for Ukraine's Trade Union of Coal Miners told AFP rescue workers were trying to locate around 45 miners, adding that the chances of finding them alive were "practically zero."
The blast occurred at a depth of more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), according to a statement released by separatist authorities in Donetsk, and was caused by a mixture of gas and air - a common cause of industrial mining accidents.
"Fourteen people have been sent to medical treatment centers in Donetsk," the statement said.
The Zasyadko facility, one of Ukraine's largest mines, was also the scene of a 2007 explosion which left more than 100 people dead.
The shaft lies in the outskirts of Donetsk, a city held by pro-Russian separatists who have been fighting forces loyal to the government in Kyiv for almost a year. A ceasefire deal was signed three weeks ago, under which all sides must pull back their heavy weapons from the frontline. The United Nations says more than 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
nm/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)