Donets Basin

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"Donbas" and "Donbass" redirect here. For other uses, see Donbas (disambiguation).
Simplified map of the Donets Basin on the map of Ukraine.
Map of economic activity in Donbas. Unofficial Donbas region is pink; official oblast borders are shown as black lines.

The Donets Basin (Ukrainian: Донецький басейн, translit. Donetskyi basein; Russian: Донецкий бассейн, transliterated Donetskiy bassein), known commonly as the Donbas (Ukrainian: Донбас) or Donbass (Russian: Донба́сс), is a historical, economic and cultural region of eastern Ukraine and southwest Russia. The name comes from the Donets river. A coal mining area[1] since the late 19th century, it has become a heavily industrialised territory suffering from urban decay and industrial pollution.

The Donbas Euroregion covers the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, and also the Rostov Oblast of the Russian Federation.[2]

Until the ongoing war, the Donbas was the most densely populated of all the regions of Ukraine (excluding the capital city of Kiev).

Before the war, the city of Donetsk was considered the unofficial capital of the Donbas. Now the port city of Mariupol remains the largest functioning city of the region and interim administrative center of the Donetsk Oblast. The interim center of Luhansk Oblast is the city of Severodonetsk.


Donbas covers three administrative oblasts (provinces) in the east of Ukraine: the easternmost part of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast around the city of Pavlohrad (the so-called "Western Donbas"), the northern and central part of Donetsk Oblast (the southern part is perceived to be Pryazovia coastland) and the southern part of Luhansk Oblast (the northern part is perceived to be Slobozhanschyna). In Russia, the northwestern portion of the Rostov Oblast is part of the region.

Before the intensive industrial development, the Donbas area was a typical part of the vast Great Eurasian Steppe.

Donbas is a heavily-urbanized territory with several conurbation areas. It is reflected in the region's complicated administrative division which is characteristic of small "cities" (towns) being subordinated to larger neighboring "cities", and so on to higher levels.

"Donbas" refers to a larger supranational region including a part of neighbouring Rostov Oblast in Russia (the "Russian Donbass") also specialized in coal mining. This is explained by the fact that the Donets Coal Basin geographically extends into that area. But the "Russian Donbass" is of lesser economic importance compared with the part belonging to Ukraine since 1991.

Natural resources[edit]

Despite history of extensive extraction, the Donets Basin still contains coal deposits suitable for decades of further mining. However, estimates on overall longevity of the large-scale mining in the region vary due to mounting costs, international competition and environmental concerns. In the Russian part 32 coal mines were operating in 1999 and produced about 10 Million t, the number declined to 14 until 2004.[3] The part in Ukraine produced 36 Million t coal in 1999.[4]


A monument to Don Cossacks in Luhansk. "To the sons of glory and freedom"

From the mid-15th century onwards, the Mongol-Tatar slave raids largely depopulated the region, which became part of the "Wild Fields".[5] According to the Historical Dictionary of Ukraine:

The first permanent settlements in the Donbas were established by the Don Cossacks. In the second half of the 17th century, Muscovy built fortifications on the Donbas frontier with the Ottoman Empire. In the mid-18th century, both banks of the Donets were settled by Serbian colonists, and the region was known as Sloviano-Serbia. Subsequently, when many Serbs left the area, the Russian government began settling Ukrainian peasants. ... At the beginning of the region's industrial boom, most workers came from central Russia rather than Ukraine.[6]

The name of the region originates from the coal-field discovered in late 19th century. The area became known as the Донецкий каменноугольный бассейн (Donetskii kamenougolnyi bassein - "Donetsk coal basin") after the Donets river flowing across the region.

In 1676, the first town of the Donbas emerged: Solanoye (now Soledar) which was built for the profitable business of extracting newly discovered rock-salt reserves. In 1721 vast and rich coal fields were found, which started the "industrial boom" which allowed the region to flourish into the first half of the 20th century.

Native languages of the population as per the All-Russian Empire Census in 1897:[7]

Language The city of Lugansk The city of Mariupol Donetsk district
Russian 13,907 19,670 273,302
Ukrainian 3,902 3,125 177,376
Total Population 20,404 31,116 455,819

The Krug - the assembly of Don Cossacks - proclaimed the independence of the Don Republic on May 18, 1918. The Don Republic ceased to exist in 1920 after the Don Cossacks, who formed an essential part of the White Army, were defeated by the Red Army in the Russian Civil War of 1917-1922. Much of the Cossack population was subjected to a genocide via the Decossackization in 1919-1921 and in the Holodomor in 1932-1933, contributing to the "disappearance of the Cossacks as a nation".[8]

In 1922 most of the region became part of the newly formed Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic within the Soviet Union.

Russification process in Donetsk Oblast: the upper three columns depict language change over time, the lower three - nationality proportions.   Russian,   Ukrainian,   others (according to official censuses in 1897, 1926, 2001

According to linguist George Shevelov, in the early 1920s the proportion of secondary schools teaching in the Ukrainian language was lower than the proportion of the Donbas ethnic Ukrainian population[9] - even though the Soviet Union had ordered[when?] that all schools in the Ukrainian SSR should be Ukrainian-speaking (as part of its Ukrainization policy).[10]

Surveys of regional identities in Ukraine have shown that around 40% of Donbas residents claim to have a "Soviet identity".[11] In May 2014 Roman Horbyk of Södertörn University concluded that "incomplete and archaic institutions" had prevented the Donbas residents who in the 20th century "[a]s peasants from all surrounding regions were flooding its then busy mines and plants on the border of ethnically Ukrainian and Russian territories" from "acquiring a notably strong modern urban – and also national – new identity".[9]


The referendum organized by pro-Russian citizens. A line to enter a polling place in Donetsk, 11 May 2014

On April 8, 2014, following the 2014 Crimean Crisis, pro-Russian citizens occupying the Luhansk Oblast administrative building planned to declare independence as the Luhansk Parliamentary Republic, declared a Donetsk People's Republic in the Donetsk Oblast on April 7. As the Luhansk Parliamentary Republic ceased to exist, declared the Luhansk People's Republic and held referendums on separating from Ukraine on May 11, 2014. Neither of the referendums have been legitimized by any outside governments.[12] Ukraine does not recognize the referendums, while the EU and US declared the polls illegal.[13] Since mid-April 2014 the pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army have fought in the War in Donbass.[14]

Coal mining-related issues[edit]

Main articles: Coal in Ukraine and Coal mining

Occupational safety in coal industry[edit]

The coal mines of Donbas are some of the most hazardous in the world due to enormous working depths (down from 300 to 1200 m) as a result of natural depletion, as well as due to high levels of methane explosion, coal dust explosion and rock burst dangers.[15]

Despite these, even more hazardous illegal coal mines have massively appeared across the region in recent years.[1][16]

Environment destruction[edit]

Coal-mining spoil tips along the Kalmius river in Donetsk.

Intensive coal mining and smelting in Donbas has led to severe multi-faceted damage to the local environment and residential comfort. The most common threats throughout the region include:

Additionally, several chemical industry waste grounds in Donbas have become undermaintained and pose a constant threat of major emissions to the environment.

One unusual threat is the result of the Soviet-era 1979 project of nuclear-explosion mining in Yenakieve.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The coal-mining racket threatening Ukraine's economy". BBC News. April 23, 2013. Retrieved September 18, 2013. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Kurakov/Samofalov/Malikov/Kolomiets: Coal mining in the Russian Donetsk Basin. Coke and Chemistry, April 2010, Volume 53, Issue 4, pp 121-123 [1]
  4. ^ "An MBendi Profile: Ukraine - Mining: Coal Mining - Overview". Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  5. ^ Mikhail Kizilov. "Slave Trade in the Early Modern Crimea From the Perspective of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources". Oxford University. 
  6. ^ "Historical Dictionary of Ukraine". Ivan Katchanovski, Zenon E. Kohut, Bohdan Y. Nebesio, Myroslav Yurkevich (2013). pp.135-136. ISBN 081087847X
  7. ^ The First General Census of the Russian Empire of 1897.
  8. ^ "Soviet order to exterminate Cossacks is unearthed". University of York. University of York. 2010-11-19. Retrieved 2014-09-11. "'Ten thousand Cossacks were slaughtered systematically in a few weeks in January 1919 [...] 'And while that wasn't a huge number in terms of what happened throughout the Russias, it was one of the main factors which led to the disappearance of the Cossacks as a nation. [...]'" 
  9. ^ a b Games from the Past: The continuity and change of the identity dynamic in Donbas from a historical perspective , Södertörn University (May 19, 2014)
  10. ^ Language Policy in the Soviet Union by Lenore Grenoble, Springer Science+Business Media, 2003, ISBN 978-1-4020-1298-3 (page 84)
  11. ^ Soviet conspiracy theories and political culture in Ukraine:Understanding Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Region by Taras Kuzio (23 August 2011)
  12. ^ "Ukraine's Eastern Region Of Luhansk May Now Hold Referendum On Joining Russia". Business Insider. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  13. ^ East Ukraine separatists seek union with Russia, BBC News (12 May 2014)
  14. ^ Ukraine crisis: Putin, Poroshenko meet in Minsk amid border violence, CBC News (26 August 2014)
  15. ^ Grumau, S. (2002). Coal mining in Ukraine. Economic Review.44. Retrieved from
  16. ^ Panova, Kateryna (8 July 2011). "Illegal mines profitable, but at massive cost to nation". Kyiv Post. Retrieved 18 September 2013. 

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