The region now known as the Donbass was largely unpopulated until the second half of the 17th century, when the Don Cossacks settled there. (The river Don flows through both Ukraine and Russia and into the Sea of Azov). The great novel by the Nobel Prize winning author Mikhail Sholokhov "And quiet flows the Don” and its sequel "The Don flows down to the Sea” vividly and unforgettably tell the story of the Don Cossacks, their life on the land, their struggles with nature, almost perpetual wars – against Turks, then Germans, against the Bolshevik revolution and the civil war which followed which pitted Cossack against Cossack.
The name "Cossack,” or "free person,” is a westernized version of the Russian kazak and their stubborn independence and hard work on their land (joined over the centuries by others fleeing serfdom) made them uncomfortable citizens in both pre and post revolutionary Russia and, defeated by the Bolsheviks, they were dissipated towards the East and South. The Bolshevik regime, viewing Cossacks as loyal tsarists, killed or deported an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Cossacks but today in Luhansk there is a monument to the Don Cossacks with the inscription "To the sons of glory and freedom”.
Many Cossacks fought against Communism (unwisely on the side of the – largely – Nazi supporting Chetniks in Yugoslavia during the Second World War) and were notoriously sent back to their deaths in Stalin’s Russia by a British foreign office minister Harold MacMillan in 1945. Later in the early 1960s as Prime Minister Macmillan betrayed the British people by initiating the UK’s surrender to the European Union!
Today Cossacks can be seen accompanying policemen on the beat in Krasnodar (originally named after Catherine the Great on the North East of the Black Sea) as a means of countering the police corruption which was rife before Vladimir Putin came to power.
After the Cossack "Hetmanate” was conquered by Russia in the late 18th century the Cossacks had become a loyal fighting force for the Tsars, defending the southern border of Russia. The Russian Empire called the region it had conquered Novorossiya and the vast coal resources discovered in the early 18th century became a centre of the Russian industrial revolution into which Russians flowed to work in the newly founded industries – coal, steel, armaments and engineering a process which continued into the Communist era. The dominant Russians and Russian speaking Ukrainians of the Eastern Ukraine today cannot accept the extreme nationalist putsch which overturned the elected Government and are today daily bombarded by the nationalist army of Ukraine with thousands of deaths seemingly ignored by the western press.
It was in the founding of the great heavy industries of the Donbas – and in the foundation of the two main towns which are today the centres of conflict, Donetsk and Luhansk – that two British businessmen played a significant role.
JOHN JAMES HUGHES (1814 – 1889) was a Welsh industrialist and entrepreneur and could be legitimately called the founder of the city of Donetsk – which subsequently became the 5th largest city in Ukraine. He became known, after his move to London, for the iron cladding of wooden warships and in 1864 a design of a gun carriage for heavy cannon used by the Royal Navy.
After completing an order from the Imperial Russian Government for the plating of a naval fortress at Kronstadt on the Baltic Hughes accepted a concession from the Russians to develop metal works in the region, and in 1869 acquired a piece of land to the north of the Azov Sea.
He formed the ‘New Russia Company Ltd.’ to raise capital, and in 1870, he moved to Russia. He sailed with eight ships, with enough equipment to establish a metal works and hundreds of ironworkers and miners mostly from South Wales.
During the 1870s, his company built collieries, iron ore mines, brickworks Hughes also built a factory to produce railway-lines. 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 and, perhaps not surprisingly, the subsequent town was named "Hughesovka” (Yuzovka). Later it was called Stalino and then finally Donetsk the surrounding area of which now has a population of 2 million.
After the putsch in 2014 (after many failed attempts by the USA and Germany to change the Ukrainian Government) the region refused to recognise the new Government in Kiev a referendum was organised in the Donetsk region in which 2,252,867 voted in favour of self-rule, with 256,040 against, on a turnout of nearly 75%
The effective founder of the city of Luhansk, that other main centre of the East Ukrainian uprising against Kiev, was the British industrialist Charles Gascoigne (called Karl Gaskoin in Russia) who founded an iron foundry there in 1795. The factory site (Luganskiy Zavod) was later merged with the town of Kamianyi Brid to form the city of Luhansk.
Gascoigne was known for developing the "Carronade”, a short range naval weapon invented by Lieutenant General Robert Melville in 1759 nicknamed the "smasher”. Gascoigne developed it for the Royal Navy in 1779 and supplied the Russian navy. Later he supplied plant and equipment for the manufacture of the latest British guns and traveled to Russia in 1786. There is today a magnificent bust of "Karl Gaskoin” in Luhansk.
Gascoigne lived in Russia for 20 years. He became a Councillor of State and received the awards of Knight of Saint Vladimir and the Order of St Anne and was Head of all the mines and foundries in Karelia in North East Russia and he made big advances in Russian cannon manufacture and set up the first machine presses at the St Petersburg mint.
Luhansk developed into an important industrial center particularly in locomotive-building. The whole area, especially the landed workers, suffered terribly under Stalin’s collectivisation of farms and the resulting famine in 1932-33 (in which Ukrainians, Russians, Tartars and others were all victims) and was occupied by Nazi Germany between July 14, 1942 and February 14, 1943.
During the 2014 protests against the putsch in Kiev the rebels in Eastern Ukraine proclaimed the Luhansk People’s Republic with Luhansk as the capital. An independence referendum was held on May 11, 2014. 92% IN A TURN OUT OF OVER 80% VOTED FOR AUTONOMY and as a result, like the city of Donetsk, the local population has been terrorised by the shelling of civilian areas by the Kiev regime. 85% of the people of Luhansk speak Russian.
Despite there being a mix of Russians (mainly industrial workers) Ukrainians, Tartars, Germans, Greeks and Jews in the Donbas region the vast majority are Russian speakers and a million refugees have fled from the Kiev Government’s onslaught on their own people, despite the basic demand of the region to have no more than the kind of devolved Government which, for example, Scotland enjoys in the United Kingdom!
An indication of which side is the military aggressor in the region is the fact that the million or more refugees have fled, not to other parts of Ukraine, but to Russia!
The Donbass region has always shown stubborn independence but has never sought to replace an authoritarian centralised power in Kiev with the equivalent in Moscow. The Russian industrial workers, the Russian speaking Ukrainians and the descendants of the "freemen” Don Cossacks all seem, by and large, to resent external authority. When the Donbass coal miners went on strike in 1993, a strike leader said that Donbass people had voted for independence because they wanted "power to be given to the localities, enterprises, cities”.
In 1994 a consultative referendum was held and 90% of the people voted that:
Russian should be enshrined as an official language of Ukraine
Russian should be the language of administration in Donetsk and Luhansk
Ukraine should federalise
Ukraine should have closer ties with the Commonwealth of Independent States.
None of these demands were met by the Kiev Government – just as today that Government will not fulfil the terms of the internationally negotiated Minsk agreements which provides for devolved Government in Eastern Ukraine.
There is no doubt where the fault lies for the continuing civil war in Eastern Ukraine – a story of bloodshed and urban destruction quite as horrific as in Syria and Iraq – but strangely unreported in the "free” western media. Even more disgraceful is the support of this tyrannical Government by the UK which has sent troops and training units to Ukraine!
For the situation in the Donbass today see daily reports at: https://dninews.com