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Illеgal mining of amber: map and recommendations


Data Journalism Agency has presented an online map with marked locations of illegal amber mining in Polissya. The map covers the territory of three Ukrainian regions – Zhytomyr, Volyn and Rivne. The places where severe mining is going on have been detected from satellite photos by Google Maps and Bing Maps. The photos chosen were of high quality dimension that provided an opportunity for monitoring.”

“This map provides true overall scale of the problem for the first time. By programming and machine learning we’ve taught a computer model to discern the positive samples - the spots with the active mining going on, from the negative ones – the spots without mining works. This model has analyzed about 500 thousand of images and found out around a thousand of places with illegal amber mining going on” – says Anatoliy Bondarenko, the author of the project, presenting it at Ukrainian Crisis Media Center. The project is name “Leprosy of the Land”.

The map depicts the situation actual for the years of 2015-2016: around 50% of the pictures were collected in 2015, a large part – in 2016, and the smallest part – in 2014. The spots where the mining took place are marked with yellow color. By enlarging the map scale one can closely examine the satellite photos of this area.

According to this map the approximate area of illegal mining coincides with data provided by state forestry service and covers at least 5 thousand hectares of land. Part of this land is situated in a natural reserved fund. “If mining of amber is performed in a legal career way of extraction it will still take another 4-5 years before the forestry planting can be restored again”, says Petro Tiestov, an expert of the environmental protection and the author of the recommendations, developed for governmental agencies, on how to deal with the problem of illegal amber mining. “At legal amber mining, done in a career way, the damage caused to the environment does exist, but it can be minimized. In case of illegal mining it is really hard to predict the time needed for the territory to restore – it can be 5 or even 10 years”, the expert said.

Petro Tiestov also added that besides the direct environmental damage the situation with illegal mining also gives rise to serious social consequences such as lose of legitimacy by local state authorities, criminalization of local population, normalization of illegal activities and non-payment of taxes.

“If only everything was legal – the whole industry would develop here, manufacturing would develop, taxes would be paid. Today Ukrainian amber is transported into Poland where its extraction is performed on a legal basis. What remains is low-paid, dirty, illegal work for Ukrainians. And it is their fault because the state does not take any measures and locals are afraid of legalization thinking that in this case they will be deprived of any income” – points out Roman Kulchynsky, CEO of Data Journalism Agency NGO.

The first of the recommendations for the government is to simplify the procedure of getting the permission for legal mining, which is too complicated and nontransparent now. There are only eight enterprises operating legally in amber mining industry. This is the responsibility of The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and The State Service of Geology and Subsoil of Ukraine. The latter do not agree with the idea of licensing liberalization. According to Ivan Martynenko, deputy head of the Department of Geology, Oil, Gas, Ore and Non-Ore Minerals of The State Service of Geology and Subsoil, it would be better if the extraction was performed by fewest number of players and if these were the large enterprises.

The second of the recommendations is to guarantee the inevitability of punishment in case of illegal mining. “In August there were seven new sentences. All of them were either one year probation period or 6000 UAH fine. That means even if guilt is proved the punishment will a minimum one. Here is the situation in which we should draw the National Police and the prosecutors, to add necessary changes into criminal and procedural codes” – Petro Tiestov explains.

The third recommendation is to organize stricter control by The State Fiscal Service and The State Border Guard Service in order to prevent the sale of the illegally extracted stones. “To solve this problem is about having a desire to do it at the first place. Since 2015 I have not seen any consistent approach… We need to create a working group and to make all the necessary changes in legislation step by step. This could be done within half a year. We are appealing to state bodies asking them to react and to find a comprehensive solution for this problem” – said Petro Tiestov.

Data Journalism Agency emphasized that the invitations to join the discussion had been sent to all the state bodies, engaged in this problem, but only The State Service of Geology and Subsoil accepted it and came to the event.

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