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Going East


The city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, the regional center of a vast industrial area known as Donbas, will host the Euro 2012 games, quarter-finals and semi-finals among them, says Denys KUSHNARYOV and goes on to provide more of his comments on Donetsk.


Photos by Halyna Ivashchenko, Oleksandr Lomantsov


It was tempting to begin this essay with a phrase mimicking guidebooks: “The city of Donetsk is located on the picturesque bank of the River Kalmius. It’s a city of contrasts — and of a long history.”

First, archeology has not provided us with any evidence of a long history of Donetsk — the hard fact remains that this city is a sober industrial place that was founded comparatively recently. I am not inclined to embroider history and invent things — let’s face what we have. And we’ll find a lot of things that may be of interest. Besides, Donetsk never stops developing, and development is enrichment, and so let’s operate with facts and not with stereotypes. Some facts about Donetsk my come in handy or be useful for those who come to see the Euro 2012 games.


A bit of history

In the mid-ninetieth century the limitless steppe of the eastern parts of Ukraine began to see some changes. An enterprising gentleman from Britain, named John Hughes and a number of other Brits whom he brought along, came to the steppe to prospect for mineral resources. It did not take him long to discover abundant deposits of coals and ores, and the British prospectors and businessmen settled down with the purpose of coalmining and metal producing. Metalworks they founded soon acquired a village where their workers lived. The village was quickly developing into town which kept changing names until in 1961 it was finally called Donetsk — and the name stuck. Paradoxically enough, the town that was brought into existence thanks to coal and ore got nicknamed “the city of roses” — thanks indeed to a great number of roses which were planted to offset the grimness of industries. There are quite a few of huge, mountain-like cone-shaped piles of coal and ore waste that surround the city of Donetsk — not a very pretty sight, really, but one that affirms the industrial importance of the city.

Travelers, and in the Euro 2012 case — fans, arrive in their multitudes at the terminals. The air terminal in Donetsk has been fully reconstructed to meet the Euro 2012 requirements. Newcomers have to find accommodation if they want to spend several days in the city and Donetsk offers a wide choice of hotels to stay at. One of the more remarkable hotels is called Velykobritania — that is, Great Britain, in honor of those British men who started the whole thing. The hotel has seen a lot of history —and a lot of reconstruction and renovation too — and now it has been pronounced as fully equipped to meet all the UEFA requirements.


Botanical Gardens

Those guests who yearn for nature and greenery are welcome to proceed to the Botanical Gardens which happens to be one of the biggest of its kind not only in Ukraine but in the whole of Europe. You can take leisurely walks there all alone or in the company of your friends, or you can join any of the guided tours that are organized from 10 a.m to 4 p.m., everyday except Mondays. The hothouse is worth a visit too.


Wrought-iron sculpture

Another tourist attraction in Donetsk is a park with wrought-iron sculptures displayed in it. It is the sculptor himself who makes such sculptures and other fancy things too, Viktor Burduk, who initiated the foundation of the park back in 2011. In a few years, the park became a major tourist attraction and the venue of all sorts of applied art festivals. One of the festivals is specifically devoted to the art and skills of blacksmiths whose creations stay as exhibits in the park. Benches, fabulous animals, arches, fairy tales characters, arches and other fancy things, all made of metal, grace the park. The huge metal horseshoe (that is supposed to bring good luck), the metal bicycle (to chase one’s love) and the storks’ nest (helps with producing children and acquiring a cozy home) are the favorite spots for taking pictures. Tourists’ hands, feet and bottoms have polished these objects to a high shine.


Soccer, locally called football

Donetsk is one of the major soccer centers in Ukraine — thanks mostly but not exclusively to its local football club Shakhtar (“Coal Miner” in translation).

It was in Donetsk, almost a hundred years ago, that the first regional football league was founded. The first championship was held in 1913, in which the club from Odesa came out the winner, leaving the club from St Petersburg, then the capital of the Russian Empire, as a runner-up. The central stadium of Donetsk, Donbas Arena, which can seat over 50,000 spectators, cost almost half a billion dollars to build but the expenses made it possible to create a facility that meets all the top UEFA requirements.

Incidentally, if you do not care much for football, it would be still worth your while to pay a visit to this stadium — it is surrounded by a wonderful park, with fountains and exotic (exotic for Ukraine, that is) plants, a Japanese-style section of stones for quiet contemplation; entering the stadium itself you will find a lot of entertainment facilities to choose from: restaurants and cafes, a night club and a fitness center.


Pyvo is Beer

It was not only the coal mining and steel producing that the founding Brits started in the area — John Hughes’ son, Ivor, launched a brewery in the late 1880s. It had its ups and downs over the years of hectic development that followed but beer brewing gradually grew into a large business which caters for a great many thirsty miners and steel workers. Beer pubs complete with billiards, karaoke and live orchestras offer relaxation for those who want to chill out after work and a good time for those who want to enjoy themselves sipping beer and doing silly things.

If you want to try dishes from the local cuisine, kotleta po-donbaskomu could be a good start. It is made of minced beef and pork with a piece of butter inside; the butter melts while the kotleta is cooked and it requires careful handling when the dish is served.

There are three basic variations of this dish but all of them are delicious enough to have it for the entree.

A similar, butter-containing dish is made in Kyiv, and is generally known as “Chicken a la Kiev” (Chicken Kiev) but it is made not from minced meat but of chicken breasts rolled into a sealed cylinder. In addition to the butter inside, there is another similar feature that needs mentioning — caution in cutting.



Donetsk, being a town with not so long history, boasts little ancient architectural and historical landmarks, but there are lot of monuments to people and events. At the latest count, there were over 250 of them in Donetsk. Probably the best known one is Mertsalov’s Palm.

Back in 1896, someone named Oleksiy Mertsalov from Donetsk (which was called differently then), made a sculpture out of an oblong chunk of metal which was to symbolize “the industrial progress.” The Palm was exhibited at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900 and was honored with a prize. It became a symbol of Donetsk and was included into its coat of arms. Now there are even two monuments honoring the skill of making a fragile palm out of sturdy metal to be found in Donetsk — one is near the local history museum (Cheluskintsi Street) and the other one stands near the local administration (Pushkin Boulevard).

The monument to Anatoliy Solovyanenko, an opera singer of great world distinction who came originally from Donetsk, stands close to Opera House (where else such a monument could stand?). The singer is represented wearing a stage dress — that of the Duke from Verdi’s Rigoletto.

It would be strange if Donetsk would do without a monument to its founder — and indeed there is one, erected in 2001 in Artem Street near the Technical University. One would expect something on a grandiose scale but the monument is rather modest in size and execution.

There is a monument in Donetsk to a living person — Serhiy Bubka, the athlete who perfected the pole-vaulting technique and jumped higher than any other human being before him. Mr Bubka won world championships many times over and he is the recipient of the Olympic gold medal award as well.

The monument to him (in Artem Street) rests on the plinth which is 6 meters 15 centimeters (over 18 feet!) high — it symbolizes the height that the athlete “conquered” in one of his spectacular jumps. Bubka’s fame in Donetsk made him “an honorary citizen”, whatever it may mean for him. He is long retired from pole-vaulting but continues to work as a sports official of high ranking.

The monument to The Glory of Coal Miners’ Labor (“toil” would be probably a better word to use) is part of the legacy from the soviet past (of which there is a lot in Donetsk). This monument at Shakhtarska Ploshcha (Square) is much less a curious thing than an old-time cannon which stands a stone throw away from the City Administration (City Hall).

It is not a century-old like the one in Moscow – it is just a replica of the Tsar Cannon (that never fired a single shot) to be seen in the Kremlin. The Cannon is believed to have been presented to the city of Donetsk by Moscow. My journalistic investigation led to the discovery that the story about this gift to Donetsk is rather a piece of wishful thinking. It turns out that for some obscure reason, a number of influential people in Moscow, one of the most popular singers of the soviet era Iosif Kobzon among them, who were of Donbas descent (here I want to remind the readers that Donbas is the region of which Donetsk is the center) suggested that a replica of the Tsar Cannon be made and sent to Donetsk as a gesture of good will. The replica was made — but not in Moscow but in Donbas, and then officially presented to Donetsk as though it were a gift from Moscow.

As a curious piece, it is probably worth seeing and even taking a photo of — you don’t see cannons of that ancient kind too often.

There are many more monuments and sights to be mentioned — but probably you will find it more fun to make discoveries of your own.




There are many pit refuse heaps in the vicinity of Donetsk.


John Hughes was the founder of the town of Yuzivka (derived from the name "Hughes" pronounced in Ukrainian or Russian), which was later called Donetsk.


The Cathedral of Transfiguration is located in Artema Street, downtown Donetsk.


Donbas Arena is surrounded by a wonderful park, with fountains and flowers, and houses an interesting museum devoted to FC Shakhtar Donetsk, a winner of the UEFA Cup in 2009.






Donbas Palace, one of the most luxurious and expensive hotels in Ukraine.


Mertsalov's Palm, made of a whole oblong chunk of metal.





Park of Wrought Iron Sculpture, which boasts over 130 sculptures, has become one of the main attractions in Donetsk.


The monument to The Glory of Coal Miner's Labour is a part of the legacy from the soviet past, of which there are a lot in Donetsk.


A replica of the Tsar Cannon from Moscow presented to Donetsk by the Moscow city authorities but manufactured thanks to the combined efforts of the people of Donbas descent who live in Russia.




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