Monday, October 12, 2009


Donetsk began as a small Cossack village late in the 17th century. Initially, farming and raising cattle were principal industries, with the settlement and adjacent lands being named Oleksandrovka in 1779. By 1820, small scale coal mining began, with annual output of about 7,000 metric tons by the mid-1850's. The local economy further diversified in 1869 when the New Russia Company was formed to mine coal, smelt iron, produce rails, and operate a railroad. Skilled workers and technicians were brought from Britain to expand the coal mines and build a steel mill. A new settlement, Yuzivka (from the company's owner, Welshman John Hughes), was built to house workers. In 1924, the town was renamed Stalino, and finally Donetsk, in 1961.

Blast furnaces and other equipment were imported from Britain and smelting started in 1872. Proximity to iron ore, high quality coal, water from the Kalimius River, and construction of local railroad lines all contributed to rapid industrial growth. By 1876, the plant produced more iron than any other in the Russian Empire. The company introduced Martin furnaces in 1879, and by 1899 annual output of pig iron reached 289,926 metric tons. While Yuzivka was a Hughes company town, there were other companies as well--several coal mines were owned and operated by individual proprietors, some by a French mining company, and a factory manufacturing mining equipment was established by foreign investors. [Belgians, British and French were the leading investors in the region, but no data are available on the nationality of foreign investors in the city.] Plants that produced food and other consumer goods were owned by native entrepreneurs.

In Yuzivka, living conditions were difficult. Working class families lived in cottages near places of work and single men frequently lived in barracks. Only the most affluent areas had any street lighting. The town was unsanitary, with unpaved streets and unclean drinking water causing outbreaks of cholera, abdominal typhoid and dysentery. Medical facilities were inadequate, with just a 12 bed clinic (opened in 1871) until a public hospital opened in 1911.

A skeletal education system was another problem. The first school opened in 1877 and 2 years later had eighty pupils. There was also a school for English workers. By 1904, there were only four elementary schools with 800 pupils, in a town of 210,000. The situation improved just before the war, with enrollment increasing to over 2,000 in eleven schools by 1913. Elementary education was supplemented by four secondary schools (three academic and one commercial).

Poor working conditions, low wages, and leftist agitation provoked labor unrest. Strikes occurred first among miners in 1874 (for higher wages), and in 1898, steel mill workers demanded a shorter workday (the agreement reduced the workday from 12 to 10.5 hours). Stoppages became more common during the 1900-03 recession, with nine strikes. Unrest peaked during the 1905 Revolution, as armed workers repeatedly battled troops and Don Cossacks. From 1906 to 1917, strikes and labor unrest abated.

The fall of the Tsarist regime in March 1917 plunged what is now Donetsk into prolonged chaos and civil war. Armed workers (Red Guards) seized control of the city in November 1917 by disarming police of the Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks organized a force of 3,000, aided by arms and ammunition from Russia; and with the help of other Red forces in the region captured the city. Their control of the region and the city were short-lived, as the Germans occupied Donetsk in April 1918. Prior to that, the Bolsheviks shipped coal, equipment from weapon factories, and other assets, and sent them by rail to Russia. After the Germans evacuated in November 1918, the city changed hands several times between the Reds and Whites until the Red Army finally prevailed in January 1920.