Hand back Donetsk its original British name
“Donetsk is a British city! God Save the Queen!” – so an online social media referendum campaign, slightly tongue-in-cheek, promulgated earlier this year. The link with Britain comes from John Hughes, a Welsh businessman, the city’s founder, who launched the first iron-works at the end of the 19th century and subsequently built a steel plant and opened several coal mines in the region. The town was consequently named Yuzovka, or Hughesovka (“Þç” being a Cyrillic approximation of Hughes).
Today, the eastern Ukrainian city of 1 million residents is seeing intense military confrontation, where Ukrainian troops are fighting off and closing in on the Russian backed and funded mercenaries and terrorists.
During the 19th century, Hughesovka received numerous immigrants from Wales, especially from the town of Merthyr Tydfil. By the beginning of the 20th century its main district was named English Colony, with the British origin of the city reflected in its layout and architecture.
During Soviet times, the city’s steel industry expanded and in 1924 it was renamed Stalino. In 1961, Nikita Krushchev, in order to distance it from the out-of-favour former leader Joseph Stalin, gave the city a new name – Donetsk, named after the Seversky Donets River. Apart from today being twinned with Sheffield in the UK, it is also twinned with the US steel city of Pittsburgh.
During the 21st century, a number of Donetsk natives have left the the City of a Million Roses, as it is known locally, for the shores of Britain. Ukraine’s richest man and owner of the Shakhtar Donetsk football club purchased the most expensive penthouse in London for over $200 million dollars. During the EuroMaidan Ukrainian revolution protests, his One Hyde Park property in Knightsbridge became a venue for demonstrations against the corruption of the Yanukovych oligarchic regime.
Russia’s hybrid war in Donetsk will soon come to an end. The people of Donetsk should be given a chance to shed themselves from the city’s past kleptocracy and corruption brought on by Viktor Yanukovych and his cronies, who have since deserted their hometown.
The time has come, once again, to take on a new name, this time restoring that of its founder – John Hughes. The city of Hughesovka can have a bright future, by turning its back on the years of terror and decay, initially brought on by Stalin, and later Yanukovych, and start afresh by returning to its British roots.
Andy Hunder is Director of the Ukrainian Institute in London
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