Donetsk (Original Name Hughesovka –Hugestown) Was founded by a Welshman John Hughes
In 1869, John James Hughes, an engineer from the South Wales industrial town of Merthyr Tydfil, travelled to Imperial Russia. There, on the wide empty plains (the steppes) he set up an ironworks which developed into a huge industrial complex. Around the works grew up a town: Hughesovka.
By the first decade of the twentieth century, the population of Hughesovka was around 50,000 people, most of them working for or dependent on the works. The city’s industry continued to expand however.
In 1924, during the Soviet period, the city was renamed Stalino (Сталино), and by 1932 had become the centre of the Donetsk region. Finally renamed Donetsk in 1961, the city became a notable centre for coal mining and the steel industry with a population of over 982,000 inhabitants and a metropolitan area of over 2,000,000 people.
In 2014, Donetsk and its surrounding areas became a centre of political unrest with separatists and Ukrainian military forces fighting for control of the city and surrounding areas. As of May 8, 2018, the Donetsk People’s Republic now has full control of the city, with Ukrainian and DPR forces still engaging in combat however outside of the city.
1869 to 2019
2019 will mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of Hughesovka / Donetsk, and the 130th anniversary of the passing of John Hughes. A number of events will be held throughout 2019 to mark both these anniversaries, and Hughes’ significant achievements, through a series of cultural events in Hughes’ hometown of Merthyr Tydfil, and throughout South Wales and beyond, beginning in April.
John James Hughes (1814 – 17 June 1889) was a Welsh engineer, businessman and founder of the city of Donetsk. The village was originally named Yuzovka or Hughesovka (Russian: Юзовка) after Hughes, (“Yuz” being a Russian approximation of Hughes). The village became a town in May 1917, which was later renamed Stalino (Russian: Сталино) in 1924. In 1961 the name was changed again to Donetsk.
Hughes was born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, where his father was head engineer at the Cyfarthfa Ironworks. It was there that Hughes started his career, under his father’s supervision. He later moved to Ebbw Vale, before joining the Uskside Foundry in Newport, Monmouthshire in the 1840s. It was here than Hughes made both his reputation and fortune, patenting a number of inventions in armaments and armour plating. The resultant revenues allowed him to acquire a shipyard aged 28, and by the age of 36 he owned a foundry in Newport. It was also during this time that he married Elizabeth Lewis. Together they had eight children: six boys and two girls, all born in Newport.
In the mid-1850s, Hughes moved to London to become manager of C. J. Mare’s forges and rolling mills, which was then taken over by the Millwall Iron Works & Shipbuilding Company, part of the Millwall Iron Works, Shipbuilding and Graving Docks Company. Hughes was a director of the company when it floundered, and resultantly became manager of the residual Millwall Iron Works Company. During this period, the various companies and successors won worldwide acclaim for the iron cladding of wooden warships for the British Admiralty, for which Hughes was given much of the credit. In 1864 he also designed a gun carriage for heavy cannons, which came to be used by the Royal Navy, as well as the navies of some other European countries.
In 1868, the Millwall Iron Works Company received an order from the Imperial Russian Government for the plating of a naval fortress being built at Kronstadt on the Baltic Sea. Hughes accepted a concession from the Imperial Russian Government to develop metal works in the region, and in 1869 acquired a piece of land to the north of the Azov Sea from Russian statesman Sergei Kochubey (son of Viktor Kochubey).
He formed the ‘New Russia Company Ltd.’ to raise capital, and in the summer of 1870, at the age of 55, he moved to the Russian Empire. He sailed with eight ships, with not only all the equipment necessary to establish a metal works, but also much of the skilled labour; a group of about a hundred ironworkers and miners mostly from South Wales.
He immediately started to build metal works close to the river Kalmius, at a site near the village of Alexandrovka. The state-of-the-art works had eight blast furnaces and was capable of a full production cycle, with the first pig iron cast in 1872. During the 1870s, collieries and iron ore mines were sunk, and brickworks and other facilities were established to make the isolated works a self-sufficient industrial complex. He further built a railway-line-producing factory. All of Hughes’ facilities were held under the ‘Novorussian society for coal, iron and rails production.’
The Hughes factory gave its name to the settlement which grew in its shadow, and the town of Hughesovka (Yuzovka) grew rapidly. Hughes personally provided a hospital, schools, bath houses, tea rooms, a fire brigade and an Anglican church dedicated to the patron saints St George and St David. The land around the metal works quickly grew to become an industrial and cultural centre in the region; the population of the city founded by Hughes later exceeded 1 million.
Over the next twenty years, the works prospered and expanded, first under John Hughes and then, after his death in 1889, under the management of four of his sons. Amazingly, John Hughes was allegedly only semi-literate, it being stated he was unable to write and could only read capital letters.
Hughes died on 17 June 1889 during a business trip to St Petersburg at the Angleterre Hotel. His body was immediately repatriated to the UK for burial; his wife had predeceased him in 1880 and he was buried beside her at West Norwood Cemetery. Several of Hughes’ sons were later also buried there.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Hughes’ works was the largest in the Russian Empire, producing 74% of all Russian iron by 1913. A period of relative decline in the early years of the twentieth century was followed by expansion during World War I. Many of the men who accompanied John Hughes settled in Hughesovka and brought their wives and families. Over the years, although a Russian workforce was trained by the company, skilled workers from the United Kingdom continued to be employed, and many technical, engineering and managerial positions were filled by British (and especially Welsh) emigrants. A thriving expatriate community was established, living in good quality company housing, and provided with an English school and an Anglican church. Despite the cold winters, hot summers and occasional cholera epidemics, some families remained in Hughesovka for many years.
The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 ended the Hughes family’s connection to the works. The Hughes brothers and almost all of their foreign employees returned to Britain, but a few stayed on, and their descendants still live in Donetsk today. The works were assumed by the Bolsheviks in 1919. The town of Hughesovka was renamed Stalino in 1924, and then Donetsk in 1961. The works survived and prospered, and Donetsk remains a major metallurgical industries centre.
In March 2014, a period of unrest began in modern day Donetsk, during which time a campaign actually advocated for a period that Donetsk join the United Kingdom, because of the city’s connection to Hughes. Shortly afterwards, Ukraine lost control of Donetsk and it is currently known as the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, independent of Ukraine and advocating further integration again with Russia.