Friday, June 08, 2012

Hughesovka - Dreaming a City

Wales inevitably haven’t qualified for the 2012 European Championship finals but we are there in spirit – well, in Donetsk, at least. For that industrial city was originally named Hughesovka in honour of its founder John Hughes, an entrepreneur from Merthyr Tydfil. In 1869 he bought some land out there and set up New Russia Company Ltd. The following year he emigrated, taking with him a team of 100 highly skilled miners, metal workers and engineers, mostly from Wales. Hughes’s company quickly established itself producing iron for the expanding Russian rail network. A town soon sprang up around the ironworks in order to house the local workers. By WW1 Hughesovka was producing over 70% of Russia’s total iron output. Most of the Welsh families, however, left the town with the arrival of the Bolshevik revolution. It was renamed Stalino in 1924 after you know who and it was now part of the Soviet Union. The name would change again in 1961 to Donetsk when it became a Ukrainian city. The story of Hughesovka, which reflects in microcosm the political upheavals of the region as a whole, is told by Colin Thomas in his excellent book Dreaming a City. The book also contains a DVD of a documentary Thomas made with Welsh Marxist historian Gwyn Alf Williams, entitled Hughesovka and the New Russia.

*Dreaming a City by Colin Thomas is published by Y Lolfa and costs £9.95.