In recent years, the Donbass region was once famous for being an industrial hub of Ukraine. The regional capital of Donetsk was nicknamed the city of a million roses, playing host to the UEFA European Championship in 2012 and boasting one of Ukraine’s most modern airports. Today, Donetsk is shelled and bullet-riddled, the brand new airport practically obliterated after a vicious, prolonged, close quarters battle.
The region has declared autonomy from Ukraine and erupted into a brutal civil war costing tens of thousands of lives. Today both Donetsk and Luhansk have declared as People’s Republics. And as a result, Donbass is becoming one of the world’s youngest unrecognised countries.
“Today both Donetsk and Luhansk have declared as People’s Republics. And as a result, the Donbass is becoming one of the world’s youngest unrecognised countries.”
The Donbass is the coal-mining, heavy-industry heartland of eastern Ukraine. Once branded by the Soviet propaganda posters as ‘’The Heart of Russia’’, due to the immense amount of coal and steel it produced. It comprises of three oblasts/regions: Donetsk, Luhansk and Dnipropetrovsk.
It may be hard to believe, but the largest city of the region, Donetsk, which is mainly associated with Soviet industrialisation, USSR relics and being the heartland of Russian rebels, was actually founded by a Welshman called John Hughes from Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. As a result, the city has previously had two interesting names: Hughesovka, followed by Stalino.
“The region was also home to Shakhtar Donetsk, the triumphant team who were the first club in independent Ukraine to win the UEFA Cup in 2009.”
Unfortunately, the team have mostly left the region to escape the war. But their impressive stadium – the Donbass Arena – remains, with a capacity of 50,149, has had the honour of a UEFA five star rating, the highest rating achievable. The region is now infamous for the war in Ukraine which began in late 2014, between the soon-to-be self-declared People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and the Ukrainian government.
Following the Euromaidan movement and coup of the Yanukovych government in Kiev, the country was divided into East and West. The East, historically of Russian origin, desired to remain Russian whilst the West began to aim for a Western, pro-EU government.
This led to pro-Russian protests in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, an area known as the “Donbass”, the heavy-handed Ukrainian response rapidly escalated into an armed conflict between the separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and the Ukrainian government.
Whilst initially beginning as an internal/civil war, it quickly turned into an international war, with an influx of foreign fighters on both sides, arms flow from foreign powers, with various countries supplying equipment and weapons to opposite sides. A deadly influx of weapons, from small arms to armoured personnel carriers, tanks and sophisticated missile systems, have flooded into the region since 2014, fueling the onslaught of violence.
Trips to conflict zones do create dangers all of their own and whilst we want you to have as much freedom as possible we must state that the tour leader has the final word with regards to changes in the itinerary for safety reasons. Whilst the route we have chosen passes through areas which we consider to be stable things can change and we may have to alter the route or cancel sections of the trip at short notice.
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If the group tours don’t fit your schedule we can arrange independent tours.
The photographs used in this article are all the incredible work of Donetsk based photographer, Dan Levy.