Donets Basin

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Donetsk and Luhansk oblast include the major part of Donbass region.
Map of economic activity in Donbass. Unofficial Donbass 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; French: Bassin du Donetz[1]), known commonly as the portmanteau words Donbas (Ukrainian: Донбас) or Donbass (Russian: Донба́сс), is an informal historical, economic and cultural region of eastern Ukraine and southern Russia that previously was a border territory between Zaporizhian Sich and Don Cossack Host. The name comes from the Donets river also known the Siversky Donets and could be confused for the Don River that is located in a close vicinity. A coal mining area[2] since the late 19th century, it has become a heavily industrialised territory suffering from urban decay and industrial pollution.

In March 2014, following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, large swaths of the Donbass became gripped by unrest. This unrest later grew into a war between pro-Russian separatists affiliated with the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, and the post-revolutionary Ukrainian government.

Until the ongoing war, the Donbass was the most densely populated of all the regions of Ukraine apart from the capital city of Kiev. Before the war, the city of Donetsk (then the fifth largest city of Ukraine) was considered the unofficial capital of the Donbass. Large cities (over 100.000 inhabitants) also included Luhansk, Mariupol, Makiivka, Horlivka, Kramatorsk, Sloviansk, Alchevsk, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Now the city of Kramatorsk is the interim administrative center of the Donetsk Oblast, whereas the interim center of Luhansk Oblast is the city of Severodonetsk. On the separatist side, Donetsk, Makiivka, and Horlivka are now the largest cities in the Donetsk People's Republic, and Luhansk and Alchevsk in the Lugansk People's Republic.

The Donbass Euroregion covers the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, and also the Rostov Oblast of the Russian Federation.[3]


Map of the Don Host Oblast (Province), 1833
Map of the Yekaterinoslav Governorate, 1900s
A Soviet propaganda poster from 1921 praises the Donets Basin as the heart of Russia
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".[4] According to the Historical Dictionary of Ukraine:

The first permanent settlements in the Donbass were established by the Don Cossacks. In the second half of the 17th century, Muscovy built fortifications on the Donbass 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.[5]

On the other hand it is known that at least since the 10th century the region was under influence of the Kievan Rus when Sviatoslav captured the Khazar's fortress Sarkel which was renamed in the Ukrainian manner as Bila Vezha (White Tower). There is however no reports of permanent settlements that existed during that period until 16th century. The first traceable reports of permanent settlements around the Don River are dated to the 16th century.

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.

The first town of the Donbass emerged in 1676 - 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.

The coal deposits were discovered in the early 18th century and are being exploited since 1770. The deposits were an important prerequisite for the development of the Russian Railway network towards the end of the 19th century.

Despite the heavy flare of Soviet-time propaganda, the region had always been multi-national and multicultural. Historically it belonged to the Bakhmut, Slovianserbsk and Mariupol counties of Yekaterinoslav Governorate on the right bank of Kalmius River and the western outskirts of Don Host Oblast on the left bank of the river. Before annexation and destruction of the Zaporizhian Sich by Russia, there lived Zaporizhian Cossacks along with cossacks of the neighboring Don Host. The modern Donetsk city itself was founded in 1869 by a Welsh businessman, John Hughes in place of an old Zaporozhian Cossack town of Oleksandrivka. Hughes constructed a steel plant and several coal mines in the region; the town was thus named Yuzovka (Юзовка) in recognition of his role in its founding ("Yuz" being a Russian or Ukrainian approximation of Hughes). With development of extraction industry in the region and arrival of seasonal workers by 1884 the local residents of Bakhmut county accounted only for 11%.[1] Predominantly to Donbass had arrived workers out of the central guberniyas of the Russian Empire and less often from the southern and southwestern regions.[1] Only 5% constituted foreigners, people outside of the Russian Empire.[1] To Yuzovka from Russia arrived often peasants who did not have own land.[1]

The Russian Empire Census of 1897 depicted that population of the region was more Ukrainophone especially outside of urban areas. Much of the Cossack population was subjected to repressions via the Decossackization in 1919-1921 and in the Holodomor in 1932-1933, contributing to the "disappearance of the Cossacks as a nation".[6] In 1922 the region was split between the Ukrainian SSR and the Russian SFSR that became one of founders of the Soviet Union.

Since the early 1930s worked in the mines of the Donbass hundreds of German miners, who had committed there in the face of unemployment in the Ruhr area. As far as they were not returned to 1935/36, they were almost all victims of the Stalinist purges.

After Holodomor swept Ukraine in 1932-1933, the Donbass region was left severely underpopulated, and Soviet rulers moved thousands of poor people from Russia to Donbass cities. This caused severe demographic discrepancy of population in the region, where in rural districts many villages to this day remain Ukrainian-identifying and -speaking, and in cities many are Russian-speaking with strong ties to Russia. For example, in Donetsk oblast in 2001 the ethnic groups within the Donetsk Oblast were: Ukrainians – 2,744,100 (56.9%), Russians – 1,844,400 (38.2%), Greeks – 77,500 (1.6%), Belarusians – 44,500 (0.9%), others (2.3%).[7] At he same time, the languages spoken within the oblast were: Russian — 74.9%, Ukrainian – 24.1%.[7] This is seen by some as one of the roots of today's separatism problems.

At the beginning of World War II large industrial enterprises were dismantled in the Donets Basin and their skilled workers relocated for West Siberia to the Kuznetsk Basin in an attempt to protect them before the German attack. Thus, the Kuznetsk Basin turned into an Armorsmiths for the Soviet Army. Omsk, Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk and other cities after the Ural have become major industrial centers. During World War II the Donets Basin was a major strategic target in Operation Barbarossa because of its rich coal mines. The Wehrmacht conquered it already in the early fall of 1941. Two years later, the Red Army in the Donets Basin-operation retook it.


A line to enter a polling place in the Donetsk and Luhansk status referendums on 11 May 2014. These referendums were characterized by Kiev as illegitimate and undemocratic.

On April 8, 2014, following the 2014 Crimean Crisis, pro-Russian activists 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.[8] As the Luhansk Parliamentary Republic ceased to exist, the so-called "local militia" head by FSB operative Igor Girkin (Strelkov) with support of Russian occupation forces 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.[9] Ukraine does not recognize the referendums, while the EU and US declared the polls illegal.[10] Since mid-April 2014 the pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army have fought in the War in Donbass.[11]


For the heavy industry of Ukraine the Donbass today is as important as the iron ore occur the Kryvbas west of Dnepr. [(Unit) [ton | t]] coal promoted[12] on the Russian side, the production has declined; it was in 1999 still about 10 million tons of coal [13]

Population, language and politics[edit]

proportion of residents who speak Russian as their mother tongue, by region (census 2001)

The population of Donbass is mainly Russian-speaking. The Ukrainian language here is much less common, although Ukrainians represent a plurality. In politics the Party of Regions is the largest party with about 50% of the vote (in 2009).

The residents of Russian origin are mainly concentrated in the larger urban centers. In larger cities and especially in the oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk dominates Russian s as their mother tongue, which is also used by many Ukrainians, Russian as a lingua franca. The importance of the Russian language in the cities of eastern Ukraine is because in the course of industrialization, many Russians immigrated in the newly founded cities of this area (in particular from the Kursk Oblast). So were about in the census in 1897 63.17% of the population of the city of Kharkiv Russian descent. The extent to which the rural e was forced Ukrainian population in the aftermath of the Soviet Union to emigrate and / or put her death by an allegedly systematic, organized by the regime of Stalin famine (Holodomor) into account, is a subject of continuing Research controversies, but is usually completely denied in these two oblasts. Nearly the entire Jewish population, unless fled, was wiped out during the German occupation in World War II.

The proportion of those who speak Russian as their mother tongue is higher than the ethnic Russians, since there are ethnic Ukrainians and other nationalities that indicate Russian as their mother tongue. The proportion is 74.9% in Donetsk, Luhansk in at 68.8%[14] in the Ukrainian regions in 2001 there were large Russian minorities of 39 percent in Luhansk and 38.2 percent in Donetsk[15]

Donbass has a sizable amount of Muslims, up to 20% in some areas.[16]

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 Donbass ethnic Ukrainian population[17] - 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).[18]

Surveys of regional identities in Ukraine have shown that around 40% of Donbass residents claim to have a "Soviet identity".[19] In May 2014 Roman Horbyk of Södertörn University concluded that "incomplete and archaic institutions" had prevented the Donbass 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".[17]

Coal mining-related issues[edit]

Main articles: Coal in Ukraine and Coal mining

Occupational safety in coal industry[edit]

The coal mines of Donbass 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.[20]

Despite these, even more hazardous illegal coal mines have massively appeared across the region in recent years.[2][21]

Environment destruction[edit]

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

Intensive coal mining and smelting in Donbass 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 Donbass 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 c d e Klinova, O. If instead of head, there is a gunshell. How the Donbass identity was formed. Ukrayinska Pravda (Istorychna Pravda). 11 December 2014
  2. ^ a b "The coal-mining racket threatening Ukraine's economy". BBC News. April 23, 2013. Retrieved September 18, 2013. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Mikhail Kizilov. "Slave Trade in the Early Modern Crimea From the Perspective of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources". Oxford University. 
  5. ^ "Historical Dictionary of Ukraine". Ivan Katchanovski, Zenon E. Kohut, Bohdan Y. Nebesio, Myroslav Yurkevich (2013). pp.135-136. ISBN 081087847X
  6. ^ "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 Russia, it was one of the main factors which led to the disappearance of the Cossacks as a nation. [...]' 
  7. ^ a b (2001 Census) — Donetsk region URL accessed on January 13, 2007
  8. ^ "Ukraine crisis: Protesters declare Donetsk 'republic'". BBC News. 7 April 2014. Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "Ukraine's Eastern Region of Luhansk May Now Hold Referendum on Joining Russia". Business Insider. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  10. ^ East Ukraine separatists seek union with Russia, BBC News (12 May 2014)
  11. ^ Ukraine crisis: Putin, Poroshenko meet in Minsk amid border violence, CBC News (26 August 2014)
  12. ^, 1999, in the Donets year 36 & nbsp; & nbsp million. /p0005.htm
  13. ^ Kurakov / Samofalov / Malikov / Kolomiets. Coal mining in the Russian Donetsk Basin. Coke and Chemistry, April 2010, Volume 53, Issue 4, pp 121-123 [1] (English)
  14. ^ census 2001: Languages.
  15. ^ [http:. //2001.ukrcensus / eng / results / general / nationality / 2001 Census: Nationalities]
  16. ^ [http:. //2001.ukrcensus / eng / results / general / nationality / 2001 Census: Nationalities]
  17. ^ a b Games from the Past: The continuity and change of the identity dynamic in Donbass from a historical perspective , Södertörn University (May 19, 2014)
  18. ^ Language Policy in the Soviet Union by Lenore Grenoble, Springer Science+Business Media, 2003, ISBN 978-1-4020-1298-3 (page 84)
  19. ^ Soviet conspiracy theories and political culture in Ukraine:Understanding Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Region by Taras Kuzio (23 August 2011)
  20. ^ Grumau, S. (2002). Coal mining in Ukraine. Economic Review.44. Retrieved from
  21. ^ Panova, Kateryna (8 July 2011). "Illegal mines profitable, but at massive cost to nation". Kyiv Post. Retrieved 18 September 2013. 

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