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Deep underground in southeastern Ukraine, miners work around the clock extracting coal to power the country’s war effort and provide civilians with light and heat.

Coal is central to meeting Ukraine’s energy needs following the Russian military’s campaign to destroy power stations and other infrastructure, the chief engineer of a mining company in Dnipropetrovsk province said.

Elevators carry the company’s workers underground to the depths of the mine. From there, they operate heavy machinery that digs out the coal and moves it above ground. It is hard work, the miners say, but essential to keep the country going.

“Today, the country’s energy independence is more than a priority,” said Oleksandr, the chief engineer, who, like all the coal miners interviewed, spoke on the condition of giving only his first name for security reasons.

Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s nuclear, thermal and other power stations continue to disrupt electricity service as the war grinds on for a second year.

Before the war, the Ukrainian government planned to reduce the country’s reliance on coal-fired power stations, which contribute to global warming, and to increase nuclear energy and natural gas production. But when Russian attacks damaged thermal plants in the middle of winter, it was coal that helped keep Ukrainian homes warm, Oleksandr said.

The work of the coal miners cannot fully compensate for the loss of energy from nuclear power plants, but every megawatt they had a role in generating reduced gaps.

While many miners from the area joined the armed forces when Russian troops invaded and are now fighting at the front in eastern Ukraine, nearly 150 displaced workers from other coal-producing regions in the east joined the team in Dnipropetrovsk.

A man named Yurii left the embattled Donetsk province town of Vuhledar, where he worked as a coal miner for 20 years. “The war, of course, radically changed my life,” he said. “It is now impossible to live there and the mine where I used to work.”

“Life begins from scratch,” he said.