This is straight out of a Victorian adventure story. A successful Welsh steel magnate was invited by the Imperial Russian government to set up a steel mill in Ukraine in 1870 after they’d seen his designs for iron-clad battleships.
John Hughes was 54 when he set off with his wife and eight children and 100 steel workers and miners. After an arduous 2,000 mile journey they then had to endure frozen winters and scorching summers as well as cholera epidemics as they created a town in the wilderness.
He invested £24,000 of his own money to build a town based on those found in the Welsh valleys complete with teashop, pub, hospital and churches dedicated to St George and St David. The town was called Hughesovka.
After the Russian revolution it was renamed Stalino in 1921, removing the link to a foreign entrepreneur.
In 1961 it was give its present name Donetsk, home of Shaktar Donetsk football team, football having been introduced by the Brits who went to work in the steel plant. From humble beginnings the city is now the 5th biggest in Ukraine with a population of almost a million.
Now, to mark the 200th anniversary of Hughes’s birth in Merthyr Tydfil (he died on a business trip to St Petersburg and his sons ran the business until the communists forced them out) Ukraine is issuing a stamp and running a series of tributes.
The Ukrainian ambassador to Britain, Volodomyr Khandogiy, said “John Hughes exported to our country his skills and inspiration. He proved that the technology migrating through political frontiers can bring remarkable changes, modernisation and development”.
To close the circle the Welsh Assembly member for Pontypridd is Mick Antoniw whose father came to Britain from Ukraine.
Source: This is based on a report in The Times on 16 November 2013