Mr. PIETUKHOV’s commentary for the Telegraf.Ua edition

During the four years of the new rules, the volume of legal amber mining in Ukraine has increased almost nine times. Andrii Pietukhov, the operations director of the “Sonyachne Remeslo Center ” LLC, provides TELEGRAF UA with information about the current state of the amber industry in Ukraine.

The law on amber mining has been in force in Ukraine for several years. It allowed the creation of a legal market and reduced the scale of land damage from illegal fishing. With the beginning of a full-scale war in Ukraine, the activity of “black” diggers decreased significantly.

“Telegraf” found out how the amber fishery works in Ukraine despite the war and whether it is now possible to resist barbaric mining.

The peak of amber fever has passed

Since the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine, the activity of “black” amber miners has significantly decreased. This is widely confirmed by representatives of regulatory authorities and law enforcement agencies. Last year, almost nothing was heard about massive illegal mining. However, in the spring of 2023, the media again filled with reports of the discovery of illegal amber consignments and the activity of “black” miners.

Back in February, police in Rivne region documented two cases of illegal amber mining during raids in Sarny and Varas districts of the region, seizing three vehicles, four motor pumps and other traditional “equipment” for illegal fishing.

On May 11, in the Varas district, police found 20 bags filled with coarse amber with a total weight of 455 kg in a local resident’s garage. One of the stones, which weighed 1.2 kg, can “pull” 230 thousand hryvnias. UAH, security officials say. The total amount seized was almost UAH 7 million.

On June 29, law enforcement officers also exposed four miners in Varas district and seized amber, a motorized pump and other equipment.

At the same time, law enforcement officers and employees of local forestry branches of the State Enterprise “Forests of Ukraine” assure that the situation with illegal amber mining is under control. It is not as critical now as it was in 2015-2017, for example. At that time, there was a peak in mass production and a price boom. There were numerous cases of clashes with law enforcement officers, even with the use of firearms, in the then peaceful Ukraine.

Currently, law enforcement officers, together with foresters, conduct regular raids and set up photo traps on access roads to record unauthorized vehicles entering the mining areas.

Oleksandr Kvatyrko, director of the Polissia Forest Office of the State Enterprise “Forests of Ukraine”, which unites the forests of Volyn and Rivne regions, told Business Telegraph that the most massive case of unauthorized mining that Rivne law enforcement officers have recently detected was a group of 15-20 people washing “sun stones” with three motor pumps.

According to him, in the current military situation, one can also observe a change in the attitude of the local population towards “black” miners.

“Now, I think, the fact that the local community condemns the actions of the diggers is also working. There is a lot of condemnation, and people themselves have begun to react sharply to such things,” says Kvatyrko.

Another factor is that amber prices have fallen and its “black” mining is no longer as profitable as before the full-scale war. In addition, control on the roads, especially in the border areas, has been tightened. A large number of checkpoints and intensified checks of documents and vehicles are hindering smugglers, he adds.

The history of gem mining

Amber is a naturally fossilized fossilized resin of coniferous or deciduous trees. Amber is used to make jewelry, in electricity, as well as in perfumery and folk medicine.

Ukraine ranks third in the world in terms of deposits of “sun stone”, the main ones being concentrated in Rivne, Zhytomyr and Volyn regions.

At the end of 2021, the largest amber stone in Ukraine, weighing more than 5 kg, was found in the Rivne region. It is among the ten largest amber stones in the world.

Amber pieces weighing more than a kilogram are among the unique finds. In addition, Ukrainian amber is unique in its range of shades. Semiprecious dull, transparent and translucent stones can be millions of years old.

The Ukrainian gemstone is shallow, with most of the crystals located at a depth of 3 to 10 meters. Therefore, for many years it was washed out of the ground in a barbaric way. “Black” miners left devastated territories after illegal mining.

Consequences of illegal mining

Rivne region is considered to be the most affected region by the barbaric actions of amber miners.

As Vitaliy Koval, head of the Rivne Regional State Administration, told Business Telegraph, there are currently more than 6.5 thousand registered in the region. hectares of land damaged by illegal amber mining. Of these, 5.6 thousand were in the field. hectares of forest land and about 1 thousand. ha – agricultural land.

“The period of restoration of land damaged by illegal amber mining depends on the reclamation mechanism and the amount of funding, but in general it is at least five years,” he says.

There are also areas in the region that can take decades to recover due to untimely reclamation or other factors, Kvatyrko adds. These areas will still be desert for up to 10 years. In other areas, young plantations are already growing, but for them to become a high-quality forest, it is necessary to supplement them with the main species and take care of them.

In the spring of this year, specialists of the Polissya office and branches of the State Enterprise “Forests of Ukraine” examined all the damaged areas in detail. On a large part of these lands, it is already possible to restore them, and this work has already begun.

Foresters are actively preparing for the fall campaign. We planned to create forests in all areas where possible, which is about 250 hectares within the borders of the Polissia Forestry Office branches.

Some areas still need soil remediation. The plan of further actions will be formed on a site-by-site basis, Kvatyrko emphasizes.

In Volyn, the vandals affected much less land – about 16 hectares.

Ivan Naumyuk, a forest protection officer in the Kamen-Kashyr district of Volyn Oblast, told Business Telegraph that thanks to the joint actions of foresters and law enforcement agencies in 2015-2016, the region managed to stop massive deforestation in time. In particular, in Manevychi forestry, just over 13 hectares of land have been damaged. At all these sites in 2014-2016. illegal amber miners were operating.

These areas are currently being monitored, and despite isolated attempts to erode the soil, no new facts of massive illegal mining or an increase in damaged areas have been recorded, Naumyuk summarizes.

Legal amber market

Legislative changes adopted in November 2019 to the amber subsoil use regulations helped legalize the business and increase production. Amber has become the most popular mineral at electronic auctions announced by the State Service of Geology and Mineral Resources of Ukraine. The demand for such special permits is consistently high.

Today, most legal amber is mined in Rivne region. As Andriy Petukhov, the chief operating officer of Solar Craft Center LLC, told Business Telegraph Andriy Petukhov, his company became the first private enterprise in Ukraine to obtain a special permit for the development of these minerals in 2009 and started commercial production in 2014. The company extracts amber by quarrying, after which it reclaims the land and hands over the restored areas to foresters for rapid reforestation.

“According to our reclamation project, we plant 8,000 pine seedlings as the main species and 2,000 birch seedlings as an accompanying species per hectare of the mined area. According to the special permit, we have a total of 84 hectares of the deposit. As of today, we have planted 330,000 tree seedlings on 33 hectares,” says Petukhov.

According to him, these events were held in three stages: 2017, 2021 and 2023. The work involved specialists from the Rafalivka forestry of the State Enterprise “Forests of Ukraine” who grew seedlings and planted them at the request of the “Solar Craft Center” LLC. In particular, the trees that were planted in 2017 are now about 2 meters high. The survival rate of seedlings in these areas is 95-99%, he says.

According to Petukhov, by the end of 2022, the company will occupy almost 40% of the legal amber market in Ukraine. With the outbreak of a full-scale war, logistics schemes for selling products have become more complicated, but despite staffing difficulties and other challenges, the company plans to produce about 10 tons of “sunstones” by the end of 2023.

According to the Rivne Regional State Administration, amber production in the region has increased significantly since the emergence of the legal market: In 2019, it amounted to 948.7 kg, in 2020 – 3448.4 kg, in 2021 – 8102.9 kg, in 2022 – 15 862 kg (almost 17 times more than in 2019).

According to the State Customs Service, in 2020-2022. exports of rough amber from Ukraine amounted to 35.4 tons. Of this amount, 70% was produced in the Rivne region.

“As of the beginning of August 2023, 69 special permits for the use of amber sites have been sold through electronic auctions in the region. Of these: 61 for a site with an area not exceeding 10 hectares for geological exploration with subsequent amber extraction at the deposits, 8 – with an area from 100 to 560 hectares for geological exploration, including pilot amber extraction. Business activity in electronic auctions proves the effectiveness of the amber law.” – said Koval, head of the Rivne Regional State Administration.

The volume of legal amber mining in Ukraine

According to the State Service of Geology and Mineral Resources of Ukraine, 87 special permits for the use of amber subsoil worth UAH 129.88 million were sold in 2020-2023. These are plots in Rivne and Zhytomyr regions with a total area of 3732 hectares. The special permits were granted with the obligation to carry out land reclamation after its completion.

With the introduction of new rules, the volume of legal amber mining in Ukraine is growing every year. Thus, in 2019, 2,819 kilograms of the “sun stone” were mined, in 2020 – 6,354 kilograms, in 2021 – 19,466 kilograms, and in 2022 – already 24,174 kilograms. That is, the growth over four years was more than 8.5 times.

Source: State Service of Geology and Subsoil of Ukraine

The agency emphasized that as a result of the reform, the budget and local communities where amber is mined began to receive additional funds: 10% of the cost of each kilogram of amber mined is paid to the state budget in the form of resource rent. In 2022, according to the State Tax Service, about UAH 20 million of rent for the use of amber subsoil was received, 30% of which was allocated to the budgets of territorial communities.

The Criminal Code of Ukraine was also amended to significantly increase liability for illegal extraction, sale and processing of minerals and evasion of land reclamation – up to 170 thousand UAH. UAH fine (or restriction or imprisonment for up to 8 years with confiscation of property).

In addition, in 2022, a new methodology for calculating damages for unauthorized mining was approved, and starting in April 2023, the State Service of Geology and Mineral Resources was granted the right to calculate them (Law 2805-IX).

So, despite the war and the difficult economic situation in the country, the legal amber market is functioning. It is hoped that increased control and accountability will increase the transparency of this activity, not drive it back into the shadows, but discourage the desire to destroy nature through barbaric land use. Or it will make amber predation unprofitable.


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