Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels

The amber “Klondike” of Ukraine provide “jobs” to thousands of people living nearby this gem deposits in the Polissya – North-West part of Ukraine (Volyn, Zhytomyr, and most of all in Rivne region).

A few decades ago one could hardly imagine how to turn the solar stone into profits. People would dig up amber in their vegetable gardens and burn it in stoves to heat their houses.

In 2012-13 a drastic change came along. The hotels of Rivne district centers have never hosted so many Chinese before. The foreigners brought currency and smuggled the amber back to China. The Chinese clientele paid generously, so the amber mining got mechanized, shovels gave way to power pumps.

An estimated 50,000 of Ukrainians of different age and professions are engaged in amber digging: senior grade school pupils, retired people, there are even teachers and clergymen. They operate on more than 5,500 hectares of land.

90 per cent of the Polissya amber is exported to China, the rest is distributed between the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and European countries. China is the key price setter for the Ukrainian amber.

However, prior to reaching the end customer, the Ukrainian amber is legalized in Poland and sold at the Gdansk stock market. It means that the Polish intermediaries receive a lion’s share of profits, investing them in the processing, scientific research, legal trade. The illegality of mining takes a major part of potential profits from domestic amber diggers, but they do not seem to be concerned about it.

In 2016 a new supplier for China and the new competitor for Ukraine emerged. Kaliningrad amber factory has struck a deal with the Chinese jewellery company to supply 680 tons of amber in 3 years. Because of this, the demand for Ukrainian raw amber shrunk more than by half.

While in Kaliningrad mining sites the amber is excavated by machines, Ukrainian amber diggers still use shovels, or power pumps at best.

This competition made the Ukrainian amber price dwindle: a chunk of 100 g, the size of a fist, may cost USD 5-7 thousands. This is twice less than during the lucrative period of 2012-2014, but the amber diggers do not set their shovels and pumps aside. Now Ukraine has a world amber market share of 30-40%.

Environmental impact is the other side of Ukrainian «solar stone» reality. To find the places mutilated by illegal mining, we have screened through several hundreds of thousands of satellite images. Using machine algorithm we detected key amber mining sites in three Polissya regions with total area of 70 thousands square kilometres. Here you can see the most complete interactive map of illegal amber mining of Ukraine to date. It is really the “dark age” for the nature in these areas.

Author: Data Journalism Agency (Kyiv, Ukraine)

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