The Welshman and the City of Roses

As England face France, and Euro 2012 co-host nation Ukraine take on Sweden, a little-known and improbable story links Wales with the city of Donetsk. Even more, there’s also a direct footballing connection.

John Hughes Donetsk

The Welsh founder of Donetsk

Donetsk, in the south-eastern corner of Ukraine, was founded in 1869 and developed in the 1870s by a Welshman. John James Hughes was an iron-master from Merthyr, a south Wales town at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. With an initial squad of about 100 Welsh workers, Hughes built a manufacturing centre, complete with new coal and iron ore mines, brickworks and blast furnaces, to produce metal plating for a Russian naval base.[1,2]

He also constructed an entire, internationally-populated community – from housing to social amenities, some of which (the VelikoBritaniya Hotel, for example, built in 1883) still stand today. They included “a 12 bed hospital as early as 1870 and there were soon schools, churches, a fire brigade and tea houses. The Company also gave money towards the Orthodox church and other religious institutions for the cosmopolitan population. It also paid for the settlement’s police force. There were also five inns,  ten wine-cellars, four beer halls and a vodka wholesale outlet”.[3]


The new community was named Hughesovka (Yuzovka) in honour of its founder. The ambitious industrial enterprise prospered, becoming the largest works in the entire Russian Empire. Following his death in 1889, Hughes’ four sons continued the business, which flourished again and expanded during WWI, only to be closed down in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1919.

The city was renamed Stalino in 1924, before becoming Donetsk in 1961. The legacy of Hughes is still present in the region, with its continued importance as a heavy manufacturing and metal production centre. The core of his pioneering development lives on as the poetically named Donetsk Metallurgical Plant.

And, what of football?

In a Communist propaganda drive in the 1930s, a coal-miner at the works, Aleksei Stakhanove, was publicised as a ‘celebrity’ Russian worker; allegedly, he mined a world record of 227 tons of coal in a single shift. The city of Stalino founded a football team in 1936, named Stakhanovets in his honour. This team gradually metamorphosed into Shaktar Donetsk.[4]

So, Wales may not be represented at Euro 2012; but there remain many historical traces in the city of Donetsk (‘The City of Roses’) and the Donbass region.

Post-script: I was pleased to find some information on the Donetsk official guide site (in English). I was not so happy to read that Hughes was described there as “English”. If I called a Ukrainian a Russian, I’d be out on my ear in no time![5]

John Hughes grave in Donetsk

John Hughes commemorated


I just came across some more information reading the football connection. Plus, an intriguing reference to a Scottish pioneer who beat Hughes to the region (not checked yet).[6]

[1]: BBC online

[2] BBC online audio

[3]:  Hughesovska (with old photos)

[4] Football connection

[5]: Donetsk city guide

[6]: More on football


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