The coal mines, their steep-sided slag heaps dotting the horizon like dark pyramids, have been a defining feature of eastern Ukraine for well over a century. They provided the Russian Empire, and then the Soviet Union, with much of its raw energy. But the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the past eight years of separatist conflict with pro-Russian militias, and the Kremlin’s new offensive have combined to force most of the mines to close.

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