Ukraine has a new passion: amber digging. Amber became a currency for which people can buy apartments, cars, just like US dollars or euro. Illegal amber diggers are destroying the country’s natural habitats. The authorities struggle to contain this practice.
Ukrainian amber can be found in the ground in forests.
Rich amber reserves
As reported by Rferl.org, amber reserves in the country are found in Rovno, Volyn and Zhitomir regions. They are primarily located in the northern parts of the regions. Amber is being extracted at a depth of 20-30 meters.
There are no precise estimates of the size of deposits, as there have been little to no studies. State-owned companies are working in only 3 areas of the Rovno region.
The rest of potential mining fields are pretty much uncharted, due to lack of funding for exploration.
What is special about Ukrainian amber?
Ukrainian amber is unique in its range of colors. There are traditional colors: honey-yellow, orange-yellow, orange-red, pink; there is also green amber, which is certified by the Polish Academy of Science.
Ukrainian amber is quite rich with succinic acid, containing up to 6.84%, KP.ua reported. In Baltic amber the percentage is around 3.20-5.28%, in Belarusian amber — 3.25-9.44%.
Specialists claim that there are some really big chunks of amber in Ukraine, up to 1 kg (2.2 lbs) in size. Elena Remezova, PhD in geology, says the percentage of high quality amber in Ukraine is much higher than in Russia or Baltic countries.
Pricing: Ukraine vs. Poland
Buyers are willing to pay a top dollar for amber on the black market in Ukraine. Russian social network VKontakte lists at least 15 groups that are set up for selling and buying amber, KP.ua found.
The price for raw amber depends on the size of its chunks. Larger stones are more expensive.
- Under 5 g fractions: $205/kg
- 5-10 g: $540/kg
- 10-20 g: $1160/kg
- 50-100 g: $2000/1 kg
The official prices listed by the Polish Gdansk market:
- Under 5 g fractions: $500-600/kg
- 5-10 g: $900-1200/kg
- 10-20 g: $2000-2500/kg
- 50-100 g: $5000-5500/1 kg
In other words, there is a lot of profit to be made by purchasing illegal amber in Ukraine, since the prices are 2-3 times lower than the regular market values.
What amber is used for
In addition to making jewellery, amber is used in a variety of tools and instruments. Amber exceeds traditional glass in quality but it’s not as hard and brittle.
Where components made of amber are used:
- Optics: Magnifiers and magnifying glasses, conventional glasses, lenses for microscopes.
- Medicine: Instruments for blood transfusion and storage (amber prevents destruction of red blood cells).
- Electronics: amber is an insulator.
- Manufacturing: melted amber is added into sealers that used in production of high quality wooden furniture, floor coverings, musical instruments. The famous Stradivari violins are covered by sealers containing amber.
Illegal mining of epic proportions
Industrial-scale illegal amber mining in western Ukraine is destroying surrounding forests. This highly profitable business is owned, controlled and run by criminal groups that generate up to half a billion US dollars a year.
Remember the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio “Blood Diamond”? Ukraine is turning into a setting of “blood amber”.
Even though amber mining without a license is illegal and considered to be an act of crime, the gangs don’t even try to mask what they are doing. Unlawful miners continue extracting amber from the ground on a daily basis.
Police officials claim they simply don’t have resources to do anything about it. Local activists allege that officials in the area are being paid by the gangs.
Recently Ukrainian officials reported that they managed to stop mass extraction of amber in the Rovno region.
However, some illegal mining is still taking place. Ukraine is already infected with the amber fever.
Not only Ukrainian and Russian wholesale buyers are interested in getting their hands on the raw amber. Chinese buyers are also very active in purchasing the “sun stone” at a discount.
The future of Ukrainian amber
Elena Remezova states that in order to turn amber mining into a civilized, profitable venture, experts would have to evaluate all of the available amber resources. The government will need to build legal quarries or introduce licensing, which is done in many countries.
The market of raw materials needs to be open and accessible like in nearby Poland. Significant increase of penalties for illegal mining and stronger enforcement of rules should be on the agenda. In Poland, illegal mining is not profitable by definition, as illegal purchase of amber is practically impossible.
In the meantime, there is more amber extracted daily from the ground in Ukraine by unauthorized diggers, while officials are trying to figure out what to do to make this vast natural resource work for the country.