Mining became an artisanal labour in Ukraine. Wherever the coal came close to the surface, the villagers simply dug a hole in the ground or used the abandoned mining shafts. Like a hundred years ago, the hammer and chisel became the primary instruments of the miner, clawing himself into the ground wherever he finds a modicum of coal.A network of improvised underground coal mines envelops the Donbass region like a spider web, running beneath railway lines, residential houses, cemeteries, shops and administrative buildings.They have changed the landscape, and they have changed lives. The illegal mining industry has sparked a spontaneous boom in enterprise in the local villages. A bucket of potatoes costs three buckets of coal; a bottle of homemade liquor— a sack.Amateur coal mining in the Donbass is becoming increasingly professional. Mines are being privatized and licenses for the exploration of new deposits handed out, while the amount of coal excavated illegally is reaching industrial levels. A diversified infrastructure is booming, including transport, retail and security contractors, who guard the mines and quarries.I also witnessed many who decided to leave the mining settlements in search of a better life, promising themselves never to return to that arduous and dangerous labour underground. Some stayed true to themselves, but most came back. I was told that the mine is like a magnet that draws the miners to it and doesn’t let them go.After all, for the miners coal is not just a mineral: it is black gold lying buried beneath their feet.