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Witness
Heroes
Miners in Ukraine toil away amid brutal conditions in abandoned coal seams in the snowy Donetsk valley.
Last Modified: 06 Mar 2008 14:46 GMT

Director: Michael Glawogger

Award-winning documentary-maker Michael Glawogger introduces us to Ukranian miners, illegally digging for coal in abandoned seams in the snowy Donetsk valley.

Heading home from the coal face
It’s cold, dirty and dangerous work as the men crawl on their bellies in the cramped conditions of the mine to hammer away at the rock and extract chunks of coal.

After a hard day’s labour, the men recall the old Soviet propaganda which idealized hard, manual labour as a personal vocation and a national duty.

“I’m not getting rich or making a profit,” says one miner. “I’m doing this to survive, no more no less.”

This is a film of few words but plenty of indelible images of men risking their lives with hardly a second thought.

As the men seemingly go to hell and back, day after day, year after year, to eke out subsistence livings, the viewer is struck by their exuberance, vitality and teamwork in discharging backbreaking duties with a minimum of complaint.

Dirty work
The simple act of doing the work, no matter how dangerous, seems to give their lives structure and purpose; triumphing over fear adds to their sense of accomplishment.

This film is part of a longer film by Michael Glawogger entitled Working Man’s Death which depicts those toiling away at some of the world’s most mind-bendingly agonizing professions.  Each film is a harrowing and visually-stunning excursion into the brutal realities of life for manual labourers across the world. Witness is airing another film from this work entitled Brothers. 

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