Country Risk

Illegal amber mining in northwestern Ukraine likely to continue causing armed confrontations with police in one-year outlook

20 April 2017

Key Points

  • Amber mining is unlikely to be regulated by new legislation until mid-2018, thus facilitating continued illegal mining on a large scale.
  • Confrontations between the miners' gangs and the law enforcement agencies will likely remain violent, as miners are often armed with small firearms.
  • Government's attempts to deploy law enforcement agencies in the region will likely lead to violent protests road blockades, disrupting ground cargo.


On 18 April 2017, Ukraine's Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko claimed that the law enforcement agencies "had dealt a decisive blow" to the 'Amber mafia' but further effort was required to stop illegal amber mining in northwestern Ukraine.

Ukrainian police deployed to provide security during a potentially violent protest on 10 April 2017. (PA)Ukrainian police deployed to provide security during a potentially violent protest on 10 April 2017. (PA)

Lutsenko reported that in the past 12 months, the law enforcement agencies had held 183 raids linked to the illegal amber mining in Rivne region alone, and prosecuted 31 individuals, leading to 25 prison sentences.

'Amber Belt' in northwestern Ukraine

The illegal amber mining by small local gangs in northwestern Ukraine increased significantly within the last three years as a result of growing demand for semiprecious gemstones in China. The amber prices have grown by 400% and now often reach USD10,000 per kg, depending on the size and quality of amber stones.

Ukraine's amber deposits are concentrated in the northwest, stretching through three regions: Zhytomyr, Rivne and Volyn, close to the Belarus-Ukraine border. About 380,000 hectares in this mostly rural and heavily forested region are estimated to have amber deposits. In this "Amber Belt", numerous small gangs, typically of 20-50 people, dig shafts and flood them with water from nearby rivers to extract the gemstones. This practice causes significant environmental damage, destroying the forests and polluting rivers, and in some instances damaging infrastructure, including railways and roads. Due to the ongoing weak economic conditions in Ukraine and very scarce employment opportunities in the rural areas of the "Amber Belt", an estimated thousands of local residents switched to illegal amber mining and trade.

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