Donets Basin (Донецький вугільний басейн; Donetskyi vuhilnyi basein; also known as the Donets Coal Basin, Донбас; Donbas, or Donets region). The most important fuel source and industrial region of Ukraine and all of Eastern Europe, the location of highly developed coal industry, ferrous-metallurgy industry, machine building, chemical industry, and construction industry, enormous energy resources, diversified agriculture, and a dense transportation network. The Donbas lies in southeastern Ukraine and partly in the western Russian Federation, between the middle and lower Donets River in the north and the northeast and the Azov Upland and Azov Lowland in the south. The coal basin extends from west to east through most of Donetsk oblast and the southern half of Luhansk oblast in Ukraine and includes some of the western part of Rostov oblast in the Russian Federation. In Ukraine that basin covers an area of 23,000 sq km.
The Donets Basin or Old Donbas is a territory where the strata of the productive Carboniferous period come to the surface or are overlaid with thin strata of later deposits. It was named the Donets Basin by Yevhraf Kovalevsky, who explored its stratigraphy and geology and studied its coal and salt reserves in 1827. Salt extraction and coal mining expanded in the second half of the 19th century and particularly in the 1930s. In the 1950s more coal deposits were discovered in eastern Dnipropetrovsk oblast (western Donbas) and north, south, and east of the Old Donbas, where the strata of the productive Carboniferous are covered with strata of later geological deposits, 500–600 m and more thick. These coal regions, called the New Donbas, along with the Old Donbas constitute the Great Donbas (Velykyi Donbas), which extends for 650 km from east to west and 70–170 km from north to south. The area of the Great Donbas is 60,000 sq km, of which about 45,000 lie in Ukraine and the remainder in the Russian Federation. The smaller, eastern part of the Donbas lying within the boundaries of the Russian Federation had a narrow western slice that was briefly (1920–4) part of the Ukrainian SSR; it, too, was partly populated by Ukrainians.
The Donbas Industrial Region has expanded in a westerly and northerly direction, and since 1975 has been expanding in a southerly direction as well. With functional linkage to the Dnipro Industrial Region in the west, the Kharkiv Industrial Region in the northwest, and the Mariupol Industrial Region in the south, its growth peaked in the 1980s. All the territory of Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast (53,200 sq km) is often included in the Donbas, although this territory also includes purely agricultural regions north of the Donets River and the Sea of Azov coastal region. This article will focus on the Old Donbas in Ukraine (an area of 23,000 sq km).
The geographical location of the Donbas facilitated industrial growth: it lies only 120–150 km from the Sea of Azov, 350–450 km from the Kryvyi Rih Iron-ore Basin, 300–350 km from the Kerch Iron-ore Basin, 300–350 km from the Nikopol Manganese Basin, and close to the largest consumers of its coal—the metallurgical, energy, and other industrial centers. A dense network of railways and highways served the Donbas and connected it with the main centers of Ukraine, Russia, and Eastern Europe.
After the Euromaidan Revolution of 2013–4 and the flight of President Victor Yanukovych to the Russian Federation (23–28 February 2014), the Russia-curated rebellion in the Donbas established with Russian assistance the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (DPR, 6 April 2014) with its capital in Donetsk and the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ (LPR, 27 April 2014) with its capital in Luhansk. Following the Battle of Debaltseve (16–18 January 2015), the Minsk II Agreement (12 February 2015) and the Russian-aided separatist capture of Debaltseve (12–20 February 2015), an active front separated the Russia-controlled territories of DPR and LPR from the Ukraine-controlled Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast, cutting through the northern and western parts of the Donetsk Basin. The front line and hostilities have impeded links in transport, water and power infrastructure, divided the Donbas politically, disrupted its economy and severely impacted the socioeconomic life of its residents, particularly in the Russia-controlled DPR and LPR. (Map: Donetsk oblast and DPR; Luhansk oblast and LPR.)
Physical geography. The Donbas is an undulating, monotonous plain with a maximum elevation of 369 m. The plain is frequently dissected by gullies and depressions 100 m and more in depth. The most picturesque part is the high bank of the Donets River. The Donets Basin is built of thick Carboniferous strata. More recent geological deposits of the Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods appear only at the periphery. The present Donbas went through several foldings from the Upper Carboniferous to the Paleogene periods, followed by leveling and the advance of the sea. The most recent post-Tertiary uplifting caused accelerated erosion and the present dissected relief. The Donbas gets more precipitation than the adjacent regions and hence constitutes a forest-steppe island within the steppe belt (see Donets Ridge).
The original landscape of the basin has been changed considerably by humans, more than any other part of Ukraine or of Eastern Europe. It bears the typical features of human civilization, from ancient burial mounds to modern industrial structures, mines, giant conic coal-mine tailings, pyramidal coal piles, factories with their high smokestacks and settling ponds for effluents, and densely populated areas with clusters of cities and urban settlements, with their workers’ districts. The land is crisscrossed by high power lines, a dense network of railways and paved highways, and trolley tracks. The original river system has changed: river valleys and gullies are often sites of water reservoirs; a network of canals supplies cities with water; depressions caused by the collapse of old mines have given rise to ponds. The ancient steppe came under cultivation for the most part in the first half of the 19th century, and the rest began to be cultivated in the Soviet period. Much arable land, however, is occupied by industrial and residential buildings. In the Soviet period the small wooded valleys and larger forests along the Donets River were partly destroyed and replaced by cultivated woods and parks. Two man-made landscapes intersect in the Donbas: the agricultural landscape with its grain fields and scattered villages and the industrial-urban landscape, which has been expanding by encroaching on the former.
Ecological damage is a major problem in the Donbas. The inhabitants and industry suffer the consequences of river pollution by the chemical industry and the shortage of clean water. The air here is more polluted than in any other industrial or urban region in Ukraine.
Mineral resources. The Donbas is rich in hard coal (particularly anthracites), rock salt, lignite, marl, limestone, clays and other building materials, mercury, and various ores.
The Donbas has one of the largest coal deposits in the world. The proved reserves of class A, B, and C coal were 55.6 billion t in 1977, or 20 percent of the total USSR reserves. The Ukrainian Donbas contained close to 48.1 billion t. In 2000, proved reserves were raised to 57.5 billion t and probable reserves for additional 18.3 billion t. Methane gas reserves associated with the coal deposits were estimated to exceed 2.5 trillion cubic meters.
Hard-coal deposits reach depths of 1,800 m. Almost 330 coal seams have been discovered, most of them 0.3–0.45 m, but some up to 1.5 m thick. Only the 210 top and middle seams, which lie up to 1,500 m beneath the surface, are thick enough to be worked economically, and only 65 seams are being mined today. The number of commercially exploited seams is declining in the east and north. In the Old Donbas coal is extracted to a depth of 1,000–1,300 m, and plans were made to dig shafts to a depth of 1,500 m. Mining conditions are complex: 95 percent of the mines have challenges with methane gas; 70 percent are prone to coal dust explosions; 45 percent have hazardous gas dynamics; and 30 percent are prone to spontaneous combustion of coal.
Various kinds of coal are found in the Donbas. In the central and southwest districts coking coal, which is the best fuel for metallurgy, occurs. It accounts for 26.5 percent of the coal deposits in the Ukrainian Donbas and 10 percent of the coal in the Russian part. In the northwestern part lies a belt of subbituminous, long-burning coal, which comprises 38 percent of the coal deposits and is used mainly in the chemical industry and partly for coking and fuel. Anthracites (30 percent of the deposits) are found in the central, eastern, and southeastern regions. They are used mostly as high-quality, energy-producing fuel, not for coking. The heating value of long-burning coal is 5,600–7,850 kcal/kg, and of anthracite, 7,600–8,800 kcal/kg. Donbas coal generally has a high ash (up to 30 percent) and sulfur (1.5–3.5 percent) content, which interferes with coking. The thinness of many seams makes them unexploitable.
Of the other useful minerals, the huge deposits of rock salt in the northwestern Donbas in the Bakhmutka River valley (Bakhmut with proved reserves of 5.4 billion t [see Bakhmut rock salt deposits] and Sloviansk with reserves of 3.5 billion) and the Kalmiius River and Torets River valleys are of the greatest value. Near Mykytivka are deposits of quicksilver ore-cinnabar (see Mykytivka mercury deposit), which are largely exhausted now. Mercury and antimony ores have been discovered more recently in the vicinity of Sloviansk and Druzhkivka. Various ores such as zinc and lead, with an admixture of copper, silver, and gold, are found near Sloviansk, Bakhmut, and in the region of Naholnyi Ridge but have not yet been exploited. Rare earth elements are found in the south (Pokrovka–Kyriivka, Petrovo–Hnutove). From the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th the small deposits of poor iron ores (brown ores and siderites) were worked in the northwestern Donbas and near Bakhmut. In the northwestern Donbas near Sloviansk lignite was discovered, and in the north natural gas is found at Lobachivka and Kondrashivka deposits. Both resources remain unexploited.
Building materials are common throughout the Donbas: limestone, dolomite, gypsum, refractory clays, marl, quartz sands, sandstones (particularly gray and black for paving streets), quartzites, chalk, slates, and pottery clay. Some of these are also used in the metallurgical industry. Limestones are used in the chemical industry and metallurgical industry; the main deposits are at Olenivka (Dokuchaievsk) (see Olenivka flux limestone deposit) and Karakuba (Rozdolne). Large marl deposits at Amvrosiivka and in the southern Donbas and smaller deposits along the Luhanka River are the basis of the cement industry. Rich deposits of refractory clays are located in the central Donbas, Chasiv Yar being the best-known deposit. Gypsum is found alongside rock salt in the Bakhmutka River valley, chalk along the Donets River, colored clays in Sloviansk raion, ocher deposits near Izium, kaolin near Volnovakha in the southwest, and quarried stone in Bakhmut.
History of the Donbas. Evidence of human habitation in the Donbas dates back to the Upper Paleolithic Period (the Amvrosiivka archeological site of the Paleolithic bison hunters). The northern part of the Donbas, lying along the Donets River, belonged in the 11th–13th centuries to the sphere of influence of the Pereiaslav principality of Kyivan Rus’. The Donets was an important route from the Sea of Azov to the Chernihiv principality and to the Pereiaslav principality. The salt lakes near Sloviansk were already being exploited at that time. Like all of southern Ukraine, the territory of the Donbas was controlled by nomadic hordes such as the Pechenegs (10th century), Cumans (11th to 13th centuries), and Tatars (from mid-13th century) and was never permanently settled. The first permanent settlements were established by the Don Cossacks from the east and Zaporozhian Cossacks from the west. The encroachments of Muscovy by way of Slobidska Ukraine had an important influence on the settlement of the Donbas. In the second half of the 17th century fortified military outposts—Tor (later Sloviansk) and Bakhmut—were established on the frontier with the Ottoman Empire. The salt deposits also attracted settlers. In the mid-18th century the Russian government allocated the southern bank of the Donets River to Orthodox military refugees from the Balkans (mainly Serbs) to buttress its southern frontier. Two Serbian regiments were organized, and the land allocated to them was called Sloviano-Serbia. But the Serbs did not turn out to be good colonizers. Some of them left the new settlements, and the Russian government again encouraged Ukrainians to settle the region. At the time the Donbas was part of the territory controlled by the Zaporozhian Sich (southwestern part), the Don Cossack Host (southeastern part), and Slobidska Ukraine (northern part). After the destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich and the expansion of the Russian Empire to the Black Sea and to the Sea of Azov, the larger, western part of the Donbas was incorporated into the Katerynoslav vicegerency, later known as Katerynoslav gubernia (Bakhmut and Slovianoserbsk, or Luhansk, counties), while the smaller, eastern part belonged to the territory of the Don Cossack Host (part of Tahanrih and Donets counties). This administrative-territorial division remained in force until the Revolution of 1917 (see also Don region).
The Donbas’s small population began to increase at the end of the 18th century. Ukrainian settlers predominated, but in the east, particularly along the Donets River, there were also Russian settlers. As in other parts of steppe Ukraine, animal husbandry was initially the main occupation. By the 1830s it had become commercial grain growing. The little coal mining that went on at what is now Lysychansk since the 1720s, first to supply fuel for the salt refinery at Bakhmut and later for the Luhansk metallurgical plant (opened in 1795 and eventually closed), had an insignificant impact on the environment. Without a transportation system and industrial consumers, coal mining remained unimportant: only 40,000 t were produced in 1796–1806. The industry began to grow beginning only in the 1830s in response to the needs of the imperial navy, the cities on the Sea of Azov, the Petrovsky metallurgical plant near Yenakiieve (1859–64), and the Lysychansk metallurgical plant (1866–70).
1870–1917. The industrial development of the Donbas began in the 1870s when railroads linking it with central Russia and the sea were constructed, and particularly when the first Catherine Railroad (1884, now known as the Dnipro Railroad) and the second Catherine Railroad (1902), which linked the Donbas to the Kryvyi Rih Iron-ore Basin, were built. The demand for coal grew, not only from the railways, but also from the metallurgical industry that arose in the Donbas using the iron ore from Kryvyi Rih. The investment of foreign capital was an important factor in the industrialization of the Donbas. French, British, German, Belgian, and Russian capitalists owned almost all the metallurgical plants and mines of the Donbas. The trusts that operated in the Donbas were mostly foreign-owned and included Produgol (1904), which controlled 75 percent of the coal produced in the Donbas (in 1910), and Prodamet (1902), which controlled 18 metallurgical enterprises. By 1871 the Donbas coal industry had the highest production of anthracite in the Russian Empire (249,600 t or 36 percent of the total). By 1913 production had increased to 25.3 million t or 87 percent, of which 22.8 million t were mined in the Ukrainian part of the Donbas. The level of mechanization in the existing 1,200 mines was low (only 0.5 percent of the coal was mined mechanically). The main consumers of the coal were the railways (28.4 percent in 1914) and the metallurgical plants (21.8 percent). Seventy percent of the coal was used locally.
The ferrous-metallurgy developed rapidly in the Donbas. By 1900 it outproduced the largest metal producer of the Russian Empire—the Urals—and became the principal coal and metallurgical base of the Russian Empire. The first modern metallurgical plant was the Yuzivka plant (now the Donetsk Metallurgical Plant), built by the Welsh industrialist J. Hughes in 1872. Other plants were built: Sulin (now Krasnyi Sulin) in 1872 in the eastern Donbas (Rostov oblast), Druzhkivka in 1894, Alchevsk in 1895 (see Alchevsk Metallurgical Complex), Donetsko-Yurievskyi in 1896, Vilkhivka in 1896, Petrivsk in 1897, Kramatorsk in 1897, Kostiantynivka in 1897 (see Kostiantynivka Metallurgical Plant), Makiivka in 1898 (see Makiivka Metallurgical Plant), and Kadiivka in 1899. These 10 plants produced 1,726,000 t of pig iron in 1913, or 50 percent of the Donbas production (38 percent of the Russian Empire’s production). Non-ferrous metallurgy was confined to a single mercury plant built in 1886 to exploit the Mykytivka mercury deposit (within the city limits of Horlivka). Machine building was poorly developed: there were heavy-machinery plants in Luhansk (1896) and Horlivka (1895). The chemical industry was in an embryonic stage, consisting mostly of coke plants, which did not process the by-products of coking, but also of chemical plants in Kostiantynivka (1897) and Rubizhne (1905). The Lysychansk and Sloviansk (1913) soda plants produced 70 percent of the soda of the Russian Empire.
Rapid industrial growth alternated with decline during the economic crises of 1873–5, 1881–2, and mainly after 1900. Economic instability caused fluctuations in employment: the number of miners fell from 82,400 in 1900 to 58,000 in 1902, but by 1913 it had increased to 168,000. An industrial boom in the Donbas increased the demand for labor, which was not difficult to meet given the overpopulation in the agricultural regions of Ukraine and Russia. Most of the Donbas workers came from Russia rather than Ukraine, particularly from the industrial heartland and the Central Chornozem region. As a result of this migration, the Donbas became the most Russified part of Ukraine.
The workers’ living and working conditions were very difficult. Hence, strikes occurred from time to time, only to be put down by the police and the army. A wave of strikes swept through the Donbas during the Revolution of 1905. In January 1905 the workers of Horlivka staged an armed uprising, which was brutally crushed. (See Map: Industry of the Donets Region in 1913.)
The Ukrainian national movement had little impact in the Donbas. In the 1900s, in addition to the Russian revolutionary press, some Ukrainian publications reached the Donbas. There were also self-organized workers’ groups and Prosvita societies in the region. Some of the Ukrainian intelligentsia who worked there (eg, Spyrydon Cherkasenko and Mykola Cherniavsky) helped to raise the national consciousness of the workers. Lev Yurkevych tried unsuccessfully to publish a Ukrainian newspaper for the workers of Katerynoslav gubernia. Donbas themes appeared in Ukrainian literature for the first time: in S. Cherkasenko’s collection of short stories about workers, Na shakhti (In the Mine, 1908); in M. Cherniavsky’s Donets'ki sonety (Donets Sonnets, 1898), and in Antin Shablenko’s poems. The composer Mykola Leontovych also worked in the Donbas.
1917–41. At the beginning of the First World War the rising demand for coal and metals stimulated industrial growth in the Donbas. New branches of the chemical industry geared to military needs were established.
With the outbreak of the February Revolution of 1917, most workers in the Donbas were led by Russian political parties: the Socialist Revolutionaries, the Russian Social Democratic Workers' party (Mensheviks), and particularly the Bolsheviks. The Donbas Bolsheviks constituted a large part of the party’s membership in Ukraine in 1917. According to the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) census of 1922, only 16.6 percent of the Donbas Bolsheviks were Ukrainian by nationality, and barely 4.3 percent could speak Ukrainian. Ukrainian parties had little influence among the workers, half of whom were Russian. Bolshevik organizations in the Donbas, headed by Artem (F. Sergeev), Kliment Voroshilov, and Oleksander Parkhomenko, with the help of military units sent from Moscow (A. Egorov’s group), gained the upper hand and established Soviet rule in part of the Donbas. The Red Guard organized here fought against General A. Kaledin’s Don Cossack Host and the Army of the Ukrainian National Republic, which tried from the east and west to force the Bolsheviks out of the Donbas. In December 1917, mostly as a result of the support of Donbas Bolsheviks, a puppet Ukrainian Soviet government was established in Kharkiv (see People's Secretariat). In February–April 1918, when the Bolsheviks withdrew from Ukraine under the pressure of the German and Ukrainian armies, the Donets–Kryvyi Rih Soviet Republic continued to exist in the Donbas and to maintain its independence of Ukraine and Russia. But the Bolsheviks were eventually forced out, and the Ukrainian government gained control of the part of the Donbas that until 1917 had belonged to Katerynoslav gubernia and Tahanrih county. Under the Hetman government the treaty of 8 August 1918 between the Ukrainian State and the Oblast of the Don Cossack Host confirmed the eastern boundary of Ukraine to be the boundary of Katerynoslav gubernia, except for a few modifications eastward in the vicinity of Mariupol. To preserve the economic unity of the Donbas, a joint Don-Ukrainian commission was formed in Kharkiv to plan and supervise mutually the industry of the region. The power of the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic in the Donbas was short-lived. The Donbas was seized by the Bolsheviks at the beginning of 1919 and then by the Volunteer Army, which held it to the end of December, when parts of it were captured and held by the rebel forces of the Ukrainian anarchist, Nestor Makhno (see Partisan movement in Ukraine, 1918–22), and then recaptured by the Bolsheviks. The efforts of local and Moscow Communists to form a separate state in the Donbas failed, owing to the opposition of the Ukrainian Communists, and the Donbas became a part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic together with the western sliver of the Oblast of the Don Cossack Host. The Donets gubernia, with its capital in Bakhmut, was formed. In 1924 the boundaries of the Ukrainian SSR were changed, and the eastern part of the Donbas, containing the cities of Shakhty, Sulin, and Tahanrih, became part of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. (See Map: Eastern Donbas in 1924.)
The industry of the Donbas collapsed during the Revolution of 1917. In 1920–1 only 258 mines were in operation. Most mines were flooded. Coal production fell from 25.3 million t in 1913 to 4.6 million t (18 percent of the 1913 production). Metals production fell to 500,000 t (only one blast furnace was working at the Petrovsky Plant). Soon, however, the reconstruction of the economy began. By 1928–9 the prewar production of pig iron, steel, and coal was exceeded. In 1926 the population surpassed the 1910 figure. The cities grew very rapidly: the population of Yuzivka increased from 49,000 to 106,000. As before the First World War the Donbas attracted immigrants from outside Ukraine, particularly from Russia, for the Ukrainian peasants, having gained the lands of their former landowners, were not interested in industry. According to the 1926 census, of 111,139 immigrants to the Donbas, 33, 814 were Ukrainians and 63,910 were Russians.
In the second half of the 1920s and at the beginning of the 1930s the Donbas was Ukrainized (see Ukrainization), although the process did not advance as far there as in other areas of the Ukrainian SSR. Ukrainian elementary schools and secondary schoola were established side by side with Russian schools. The Institute of People's Education in Luhansk was Ukrainized, but a Ukrainian and a Russian division were eventually set up. Some of the press was Ukrainized: the oblast newspaper Luhans'ka pravda was published in Ukrainian. Ukrainian theater groups were formed in the cities and villages, and later drama theaters were organized. Ukrainian theater groups often toured the Donbas. The Ethnographic Commission of the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences studied the folklore of the Donets Basin workers. From 1926 the Scientific Society of the Donets Region was active in Luhansk and was headed by S. Hrushevsky. Ukrainian writers such as Hryhorii Bahliuk, V. Haivoronsky (Vasyl Haidarivsky), Borys Pavlivsky, V. Ivan-Kramatorsky, Kost Herasymenko, M. Ledianko, and Anatol Halan either wrote or began their careers in the Donbas. The writers Volodymyr Sosiura, Pavlo Baidebura, A. Klochchia, Mykola Upenyk, Dmytro Tkach, H. Stetsenko, and others came from the Donbas but lived elsewhere in the Ukrainian SSR. The Donbas writers’ organization Zaboi was founded in 1925 and was later Ukrainized. It published a journal Zaboi. In 1932 the monthly Literaturnyi Donbas began to appear, but it was Russified the following year as many Ukrainian cultural and literary figures in the Donbas were liquidated or exiled. Ukrainization was brought to an end that year, and only some manifestations of national culture were tolerated.
A debate on the role of the Donbas in Ukraine’s economy took place in the 1920s. The Ukrainian side argued for the integration of the Donbas into Ukraine’s, not Russia’s, economy to enable Ukraine to overcome the heritage of tsarist colonialism. That integration, however, did not occur; hence, the development of Ukraine’s economy in the 1930s was uneven.
From the late 1920s industrialization in the Donbas was accelerated under the five-year plans. The old anthracite mines were rebuilt, and new ones were built. Coal production rose to 37 million t (76 percent of USSR production in 1930). The anthracite industry became very concentrated: in 1934, 196 anthracite mines (out of a total of 339) produced 85.4 percent of the coal in the Donbas. Mining became increasingly mechanized: by 1937 almost 90 percent of the coal was mined by mechanized means, but 30 percent of the hardest labor, involving loading, continued to be manual. In 1932 the first combined coal-mining and loading machine in the world was invented in the Donbas.
The construction of thermoelectric stations was speeded up: in 1928–32, 10 stations (DRES) were built, producing 630,000 kW in 1932. The largest of them were in Shterivka, Zuivka, and Lysychansk.
Ferrous metallurgy developed at a slower pace. New plants were not built, although working ones were rebuilt in Makiivka, Donetsk, and Yenakiieve. This diminished the Donbas’s importance in Ukraine’s production of metal. But non-ferrous metallurgy developed rapidly: an enrichment factory was built in 1934 at the Mykytivka mercury plant in Horlivka, and the Ukrtsynk zinc plant was built in 1930 in Kostiantynivka. Machine building, which had been poorly developed, grew rapidly with the establishment of a mining-machinery plant in Kramatorsk (1930), a coal-mining-machinery plant (1932) and a tractor-parts plant (1935) in Luhansk, and a machine-building plant in Kadiivka (1934). Operating machine-building plants in Donetsk (see Donetsk Machine-Building Plant), Luhansk, Pervomaisk (Luhansk oblast), Horlivka (see Horlivka Machine-Building Plant), and elsewhere were rebuilt. Existing chemical plants were reconstructed, and new ones built, including a chemical-pharmaceutical plant in Luhansk (1932–6), a nitrogen plant in Horlivka (1934), and coke-chemical plants in Yenakiieve, Horlivka, and Novomakiivka. New armaments plants developed quickly, and military production at existing metallurgical and machine-building factories increased.
As the Donbas became more industrialized, the population increased. Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast grew from a population of 2,960,000 in 1926 to 4,940,000 in 1939. (See Map: Donets Basin: Urban Population in 1926.) Along with the growth of urban population there was a change in the ethnic make-up of the population. At the beginning of the 1920s Ukrainians comprised an absolute majority of 64 percent and the Russians a large minority of 26 percent in Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast. In the course of the 1920s and 1930s there was a rapid influx of Russians. From 1926 to 1939 the number of Russians increased by 105 percent whereas that of Ukrainians by 60 percent. Thus, by 1939 the share of Russians increased to 32 percent of the region’s population, while that of Ukrainians declined to 61 percent.
The largest urban concentrations in Ukraine arose in the Donbas. Urban population increased in these years at the cost of its rural parts, whose population suffered from collectivization and the Famine-Genocide of 1932–3. Owing to the fact that in the period of Stalinist terror and collectivization it was easier to survive in the Donbas than in the agricultural countryside, there was an increase in the proportion of Ukrainians in the towns and cities of the Donbas. Thus while in 1923 Russians formed an absolute majority of 53 percent of the urban population, by 1926 they became a relative majority of 48 percent, and in 1939 declined to 37 percent, when Ukrainians assumed a majority of 56 percent. In the two oblast capitals, the proportion of Ukrainians increased in 1926–39 from 26 percent to 33 percent in Donetsk and from 43 percent to 60 percent in Luhansk, respectively. Moreover, between 1939 and 1941 some 35,000 Ukrainians from annexed Western Ukraine were also brought to work in the Donbas (See Map: Ethnic Map of the Donets Basin in the 1930s.)
From 1941 to the mid-1980s. During the Second World War the Donbas was several times the theater of military confrontation and suffered extensive damage. Almost all plants and coal mines were ruined or flooded. Their equipment was evacuated beyond the Ural Mountains and was not returned after the war. During the 22 months of German occupation the Ukrainian part of the Donbas suffered an economic loss of 37 billion rubles (at 1926–7 values). The reconstruction of the Donbas economy was completed by 1949, when coal and metals production reached the 1940 level. In 1950 the Donbas produced 78 million t of coal (84 million in 1940) and in 1955, 116 million. This growth in production is attributable to an increase in the number of mines from 306 in 1941 to 355 in 1955, the modernization of existing mines (including the mechanization of mining and transporting), the deepening of the mines by an average of 100 m every seven years, and an increase in the work force from 200,000 in 1940 to 427,000 in 1955. In the 1960s coal mining was intensively mechanized and automated (in 1960 there were 5 complex mechanized mines, while in the 1950s there had been none, and by 1965 there were 56) and became more concentrated (in 1955, 138 t were extracted daily per mine; in 1965, 1,214 t were extracted). These trends led to greater labor productivity and a decrease in the number of miners from 522,600 in 1963 to 399,000 in 1967, while the number of mines fell to 350. In 1967, 176.6 million t of coal were mined in the Donbas; this accounted for 88.8 percent of all the coal mined in Ukrainian SSR and 29.7 percent in the USSR.
The metallurgical industry, which in 1955 produced 7.4 million t of pig iron (21.6 percent of USSR production), 8.3 million t of steel (18.3 percent), and 6.8 million t of rolled steel (22.2 percent), grew as a result of expanded production and improvements in technology. At the end of the 1950s, four blast furnaces were constructed, and almost all the plants were converted to the modern methods of smelting, which use natural and coke gas and oxygen. Ferroalloy and non-ferrous metallurgy developed at the same time: in 1962 a ferroalloys plant was built in Almazne and a non-ferrous–metals plant in Bakhmut; as well, the Mykytivka mercury production complex in Horlivka was reconstructed. The shortage of fresh water for metallurgy and thermoelectricity was partly overcome by the building of the Donets-Donbas Canal (1954–7) and the Dnipro-Donbas Canal. The latter, begun in 1969 to supplement the Donets River, was completed in 1981, but the triple pipe connection from its Krasnopavlivka Reservoir south to Karlivka Reservoir 20 km west-northwest of Donetsk was partly built but suspended in 1996.
In the 1960s the growth rate of the metallurgical industry slowed somewhat. Production increased in absolute terms (21.8 million t of pig iron were produced by 1970), but no new plants were built because of the Soviet economic policy of accelerating the development of industrial complexes beyond the Urals and decelerating Ukraine’s industrial growth.
What is peculiar to the postwar economy of the Donbas is the accelerated growth of the machine building (particularly in the area of mining equipment and machinery), the chemical industry, the power industry, and the building-materials industry. Since the mid-1960s light industry and the food industry have also developed rapidly, improving local supply of consumer goods and providing a more gender-balanced employment. At the same time the relative weight of the coal industry in the economy of the Donbas had diminished.
Although the Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast were economically the most highly developed in Ukraine, reaching their peak in terms of employment in 1985, the economies and populations of Dnipropetrovsk oblast and Zaporizhia oblast on the Dnipro River, better supplied with water and more centrally located in Ukraine, began to grow at a faster rate. At the same time, the economic integration of the Donbas with Ukraine decreased in the 1980s. A large number of firms in the Donbas were under the jurisdiction of all-Union ministries. Hence, the government of the Ukrainian SSR had little control over the development of the Donbas and the role it played in the development of Ukraine’s economy.
The electrical-energy foundation of Donbas industry was strengthened by the construction of large thermoelectric stations beginning in the 1950s: at Myronivskyi (500,000 kW), Sloviansk (2.1 million kW), and Starobesheve (2.3 million kW; since 1967 the largest in Ukraine). Existing stations—Zuivka, Shterivka, etc—were modernized. To connect the operative electric stations with the Volga Cascade 400 km of transmission lines were installed in 1965.
As industry developed, the Donbas became an important scientific research and development center of Ukraine. In 1964 a branch of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR with 30 research and planning institutions was established in Donetsk. There were 19 institutions of higher learning, with many branches, where tens of thousands of students were taught.
Although the relative weight of its Ukrainian population grew in the 1960s and 1970s, the Donbas remained at the fore of Russification processes in Ukraine. Lectures in higher schools and secondary schools were given in Russian. Most of the oblast newspapers published in the Donbas appeared in Russian. Ukrainian textbooks were not available, and most of the publications of Donbas publishers were in Russian. Opposition to the destruction of the Ukrainian culture in the Donbas was spreading, however. This was evident from the examples of the Ukrainian human rights activists Ivan Svitlychny, Oleksa Tykhy, Ivan Dziuba, Nadiia Svitlychna, Vasyl Stus, and Mykola Rudenko, who were born or studied and worked in the Donbas. After the Crimea, the Donbas remained the most Russified region of Ukraine, with its schools, theater, and mass media in Russian. Of all of the regions of Ukraine, places named after Soviet leaders were most numerous in the Donbas.
From 1986 to 1991. The economic stagnation of the Soviet Union in the 1980s as well as a shift from coal to hydrocarbons reduced the need for mining expensive Donbas coal. By 1985 the share of the Donbas coal output of all types to the total of the USSR declined to 20 percent in favor of the more productive open-pit mines in Siberia, but still accounted for 35 percent of the coking coal and 60 percent of the anthracites. Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of openness or transparency (glasnost), intended to encourage re-structuring (perestroika), however, emboldened the Donbas coal miners to strike for the creation of a republican management of the coal mining industry that would, they hoped, safeguard their jobs and working conditions. Thus the Donbas coal miners, with strikes to safeguard their own economic interests, contributed to the break-up of the Soviet Union.
After Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalization of the perestroika period, both the Ukrainian Catholic church (UCC) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church (UAOC) gained legal status in December 1989. In response, the Russian Orthodox church, fearing defections, declared them heretical and non-canonical, and re-named its Ukrainian exarchate the Ukrainian Orthodox church, gaining the designation Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in 1992, when the breakaway, Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP), emerged. Since the UCC and the UAOC had most of their supporters in western Ukraine and the UOC-KP in central Ukraine, the UOC-MP with its Imperial Russian tradition and advocacy of the so-called ‘Russian World’ (Russkii mir), in time would become the dominant establishment church in the Donbas.
Glasnost also allowed for the emergence of Ukrainian civil organizations not controlled by the Communist Party. In the Donbas, these were: 1) the Donetsk Oblast Shevchenko Society of Ukrainian Language (est January 1989), 2) the Memorial historical-educational organization in Donetsk (30 March 1989) and Luhansk (then called Voroshylovhrad, 23 December 1989), and 3) the Donetsk regional organization of ‘Rukh’ (the Popular Movement of Ukraine, convened on 20 August 1989 at Donetsk University, chaired by Volodymyr Biletsky, with other academics and miners attending), opening its local branches by the end of 1989 in 6 other cities besides Donetsk: Bilytske, Dmytrov (now Myrnohrad), Horlivka, Yenakiieve, Krasnoarmiisk (now Pokrovsk), and Mariupol. While the first promoted Ukrainian language and literature, the second brought to light forbidden pages of history, like the Famine-Genocide of 1932–3, or the concealed casualties of war in Afghanistan, and the third focused on political action to promote Ukrainization and the independence of Ukraine.
The permission of civil organizations to propose candidates for election to the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR in March 1990 led to the emergence of the non-Communist Democratic Bloc that made up 111 or 26 percent of all the 450 delegates, mainly from western Ukraine. In that context, Donbas produced 11 delegates not affiliated to any party and 1 Rukh delegate. The resentment of centralized control from Moscow and Russification compelled the Supreme Soviet in Kyiv to adopt the Declaration on the State Sovereignty of Ukraine on 16 July 1990.
Donbas emerged as a battleground in opposition to the Popular Movement of Ukraine and its aspirations for Ukraine’s independence. The International Movement of the Donbas (Interfront Donbassa) was founded (18 November 1990) in Donetsk, electing Dmitrii Kornilov as its leader. This and other front organizations, promoted by the KGB to counteract nationalist aspirations in the Estonian SSR, Latvian SSR, and Ukrainian SSR, fomented regional pro-Russian separatism.
After an unsuccessful coup against Mikhail Gorbachev by Communist hardliners and the KGB (19–21 August 1991) who formed the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP), the Supreme Council of Ukraine adopted the 1991 Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence (24 August 1991). In Donetsk, the Rukh demonstrators (led by Illia Shutov, Mykola Tyshchenko and about 1000 activists) at the Donetsk city hall condemned the coup plotters (GKChP) as criminal and anti-constitutional, and succeeded in securing the city council’s support for Ukraine.
To counteract this declaration, the Interfront Donbassa convened a congress of the Donbas deputies from all levels of government in Donetsk, where delegates demanded the federalization of Ukraine or the separation of Donbas to remain in the USSR. But in the crucial national referendum (1 December 1991), the Donbas voters (a turnout of 76.7 percent in Donetsk oblast and 80.7 percent in Luhansk oblast) overwhelmingly (83.90 percent in Donetsk oblast and 83.86 percent in Luhansk oblast) confirmed their support for Ukraine’s independence.
Independent Ukraine. The 1991 Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence (24 August 1991) and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union (31 December 1991) did not change the political power structure in Ukraine generally and in Donbas in particular. The majority in the Supreme Council of Ukraine comprised members of the former Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU). Although the Communist Party was banned throughout the Soviet Union and its property nationalized on 30 August 1991, it was allowed to re-emerge in Ukraine on 19 June 1993. The CPU renewal congress, led by Petro Symonenko (3 June 1993), was held in Makiivka, Donetsk oblast under the protection of the OMON security forces. It was confronted by protesting Donetsk region Rukh activists, led by Illia Shutov and Volodymyr Biletsky, who were apprehended and charged for disturbing peace. The Donbas remained a stronghold of the CPU. In 1998 its members were elected in all the ridings of both Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast to the Supreme Council of Ukraine.
Under President Leonid Kravchuk (1991–4), who steered Ukraine’s course towards a peaceful separation from RSFSR and stability in Ukraine, the administration, including the leaders of most oblasts, remained intact. Thus the chairman of the Executive Committee of Donetsk oblast (now the equivalent of governor), Yurii Smirnov (1990–2), was made representative of the president (now called governor) in Donetsk oblast (1992–4), until the next president, Leonid Kuchma, replaced him with the former deputy mayor of Donetsk, Volodymyr Shcherban (1994–6). Similarly the chairman of Executive Committee of Luhansk oblast (then Voroshylovhrad oblast), Eduard Khananov (1990–1), was made representative of the president there (1992–4) until Leonid Kuchma replaced him with the former first secretary of the CPU of Luhansk oblast, Petro Kupin (1994–5).
Ukrainian cultural institutions revived in the Donbas. These included song and dance ensambles, with professional venues: in Donetsk, the Donetsk Ukrainian Music and Drama Theater (in Donetsk since 1933), the Donetsk Philharmonic Orchestra (est 1933), and the Donetsk Puppet Theater (est 1933); and in Luhansk, the Ukrainian Academic Music and Drama Theater and the Luhansk Oblast Philharmonic Orchestra. A world-renowned tenor, Anatolii Solovianenko (1932–99), was born and educated in Donetsk.
Ukraine’s independence allowed for rapid growth of various cultural-national associations of its ethnic minorities. In Donetsk oblast there were 31 such organizations in 1995, increasing to 94 in 2002, 137 in 2005, 148 in 2007 and 158 in 2009; in Luhansk oblast, from 15 in 1995 to 40 in 2008. They included ethnic groups of Germans, Greeks, Jews, and Poles, with support from outside Ukraine. The largest number among them was Russian, particularly in Luhansk oblast, where Russian investments were most prominent.
Organizations that promoted the Cossack myth also began to appear at this time, becoming significant later in the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation. The Kalmiius Palanka of Donetsk (est 1991–2), having become part of the Ukrainian Registered Cossacks (2002), would join the Ukrainian Armed Forces during the 2014 conflict. On the other hand, the Sievierodonetsk branch of the Ukrainian Don Cossacks (est 2009) under the patronage of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, had a pro-Russian orientation; in 2011 it would join the Great Don Army (historically, of the Don Republic [1918–20] which, led by General Petr Krasnov, had annexed the area); and in 2014, it would participate jointly with the Don Cossacks from the Russian Federation (under the command of M. Kozitsyn) in the seizure of government buildings and military action in southeastern Luhansk oblast.
Ukraine’s independence fostered the revival of religion and eased the penetration of missionaries of various faiths into the Donbas. These included Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, and a variety of other religions and sects. The Roman Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox (Kyiv Patriarchate) churches also sent their priests to cater to their faithful in the Donbas and establish parishes there. In 1992 in Donetsk oblast alone there were 49 different religious communities registered, increasing to 61 by 2003. In 2006 there were 1,367 religious organizations in Donetsk oblast alone, of which 1,308 were parishes, 18 administrative centers, 10 monasteries (of which 7 belonged to UOC-MP, 2 to UCC, 1 to the UOC-KP and 1 Buddhist), 20 missions, 1 brotherhood (UOC-KP), and 10 divinity schools. The Muslims had 22 mosques, the Jews 8 synagogues, the Buddhists 10 temples, the Krishna 6 places of worship. Of the Christian faiths, the Protestants were well represented with 183 organizations, including 20 missions; the Roman Catholic church had 2 parishes, the UCC, 7, and the UOC-KP, 9. The dominant UOC-MP, had at the time 4 eparchies (two each in Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast) with 176 parishes. By 2013 it added a third eparchy in Luhansk oblast.
Publishing in Ukrainian was limited. In Donetsk oblast by 2005 out of 990 periodicals only 18 were published in Ukrainian, of which the most prominent newspaper, the Donetsk oblast administration’s Donechchyna (originally Kolhospnyk Donechchyny, 1936–41, then Radians’ka Donechchyna, 1945–91, and Sil’s’ka Donechchyna, 1991–2), printed 20–25 thousand copies per month by 2005. Publishing with political pro-Ukrainian messaging was more problematic. The Skhidnyi chasopys, a weekly newspaper (editorial board included M. Tyshchenko, V. Biletsky, S. Yeremenko, I. Shutov, and H. Butko), was a case in point. Established by the Donetsk region Popular Movement of Ukraine and the Donetsk oblast Shevchenko Society of Ukrainian Language, and with financial support from the George Soros Foundation, the Ivan Bahriany Fund, and the Oleh Olzhych Foundation, it published (10,000 copies, 4–6 pp per issue) from 1992 until 1997; the lack of professionalism and focus on the Donbas interests in 1996 caused it to lose readership and led to its demise.
Academic publications in Ukrainian were rare. For example, papers of the inaugural congress held in Kyiv of the International Ukrainian Economic Association, titled Ekonomika Ukraïny: Mynule, suchasne i maibutnie (The Economy of Ukraine: Past, Present, and Future, 1992), included a paper (in Russian) by three Donetsk authors on the need for modernization through regional self-management of the Donbas.
Nearly all education in the Donbas was conducted in Russian. Only in outlying rural areas there were some schools where lessons were given in Ukrainian. The percentage of students instructed in Ukrainian grew slowly: in Donetsk oblast, 3 (1991/2), 5 (1993/4), 7 (1996/7), 10 (1998/9), 14 (2000/1), and in Luhansk oblast (with more rural areas), 7 (1991/2), 8 (1993/4), 10 (1996/7), 13 (1998/9), 17 (2000/1). The postsecondary instruction followed suit: Donetsk oblast, 2.8 (1992/3), 4 (1994/5), 14 (1998/9), and Luhansk oblast, 2.8 (1992/3), 7 (1994/5), 17 (1998/9). At universities, humanities and social sciences were being developed, with components relating to Ukrainian language, literature, and the history of Ukraine. Business and economics became important areas of specialization. Business in the Donbas however, as in most of Ukraine, continued to be conducted exclusively in Russian.
Meanwhile, the end of the Soviet centrally-planned economy disrupted the former inter-republican management of supply chains. This, plus the government’s reluctance to force market reforms, plunged Ukraine and its industrial Donbas into the deepest and longest economic depression experienced by any of the post-communist transition economies. Between 1990 and 1999 Ukraine lost 60 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year.
The region’s economy deteriorated severely. Industrial output in Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast, in terms of Gross Value Added (GVA), declined from 1990 to 1993 by 8.5 and 9.6 percent per year and then more steeply until 1995 by 16.8 and 23.1 percent per year, but less than the average decline for Ukraine’s GVA as a whole. Even so, by 1993, the average wages in the Donbas had fallen by 80 percent since 1990. The Donbas fell into a crisis, with many accusing the government in Kyiv of mismanagement and neglect. The Donbas coal miners went on strike in 1993. One strike leader proclaimed that the Donbas people had voted for independence because they wanted power to be given to their localities, enterprises, and cities, not because they wanted centralized power moved from Moscow to Kyiv. The crisis was diffused by the government in Kyiv offering the miners higher pay. President Leonid Kravchuk also promised the region economic autonomy, but his proposal was revoked by the majority in the Supreme Council of Ukraine.
In the Ukrainian parliamentary elections that followed (27 March 1994), upon the urging of the Interfront Donbassa, the Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast authorities included four constitutional questions to whet the appetites of the majority Russian speakers: whether Russian should be enshrined as an official language of Ukraine; whether Russian should be the language of administration in Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast; whether Ukraine should federalize; and whether Ukraine should have closer ties with the Commonwealth of Independent States. Although nearly 90 percent of the voters in the Donbas supported these propositions, none of them were adopted by the government in Kyiv. To their and the Russian Federation’s chagrin, Ukraine remained a unitary state, Ukrainian was retained as the sole official language, and the Donbas gained no autonomy.
Because the World Bank on condition for its aid insisted on reforms, the Ukrainian government eliminated some subsidies to the Donbas heavy industries and closed many coal mines. Thus the steepest decline in Gross Value Added, both in the Donbas and Ukraine as a whole, occurred from 1993 to 1994. Within the two oblasts, greatest declines were observed in small cities and towns that depended on a single enterprise or coal mine that were closed. Large cities with diversified industries and institutions fared the best.
In the ensuing presidential elections (26 June 1994), Leonid Kuchma promised economic revival through reforms and improved economic relations with the Russian Federation. He won with the support from the Donbas and other areas in eastern Ukraine. Kuchma gave economic aid to the Donbas and established Special Economic Zones there to promote direct foreign investment. Using development money to gain political support in the region with the largest vote potential (numbers of electoral ridings), he was re-elected in 1999. Not surprisingly, besides Kyiv, the eastern and southern regions, notably Donetsk oblast, economically did better.
The Donbas economic performance was largely determined by its main industries: coal and energy, steel, heavy machine-building and chemicals. These industrial enterprises, formerly subordinated to directions from Moscow, became state properties of Ukraine after 1991. Their managers tried to retain their former inter-enterprise links, coping with financial disruption by means of barter and then adjustment to new currencies and international market forces. Diminished domestic demand for their finished products and lack of state financial support led to a severe drop in production, capital investment and worker pay.
Restructuring of industrial enterprises, already contemplated during the perestroika period, accelerated with the break-up of the USSR. Managers of state-owned, subsidized enterprises created small subsidiary enterprises to supply them with goods and services to profit themselves at the expense of the state (a process called ‘skimming’). In the Donbas the majority of these were in the fuel and energy sector and the metallurgical industry. For example, an intermediary business would supply steel, equipment, conveyor belts and other materials to coal mines in exchange for coke coal, which was then supplied to coke chemical plants, metallurgical enterprises and power stations. Later these ‘small surrounding enterprises’ were transformed into independent private firms that became the basis for the accumulation of capital. Moreover, regional administrators could appoint managers of state-owned enterprises for kickbacks.
The Ukrainian government, lacking funds to modernize state enterprises, was eager to convert them into collectively owned entities by issuing shares to its managers and workers. The managers of such entities took advantage of the lack of shareholder oversight, stripped the assets and then bought the shares from their employees for pittance. Later, profitable state enterprises were sold off to individuals of influence in the Donbas.
The production of ferrous metals was profitable in the Donbas. Based on cheap natural gas imported from the Russian Federation and local coke coal subsidized by the government of Ukraine, ferrous metals were profitably exported at below world prices. Powerful ‘finance industrial groups’ emerged from the interdependent industrial enterprises and intermediary firms. They formed commodity chains such as ‘coking coal–coke–metal’ and ‘thermal coal–power–metal.’ By 1996 a new commodity chain, ‘gas–metal–gas pipes,’ emerged, supplanting the other two. The largest finance industrial groups in Donetsk supplied gas to steel plants and established, with the Donetsk oblast authorities, the Donbas Industrial Union, headed by Serhii Taruta. It not only sold gas to all steel plants in Donetsk oblast but also controlled the commodity chain of metal products and pipes for gas.
Power in the Donbas became concentrated in its managerial-political elite, also known as the Donetsk ‘clan’. It sought ways to accumulate private wealth, control people through patron–client relationship, channel coal miners’ strikes to support their own interests, and thwart competition in the region and beyond. It gained control of mass media and established (26 October 1997) its own political party: the Party of Regions. It funded, often by obliging workers to donate one day’s pay, to grow the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate in the Donbas. The coal tycoon, Viktor Nusenkis, for example, founded 35 churches in the towns of his enterprises. The elite promoted the prestige of Donetsk oblast by elevating (2004) the Sviati Hory Dormition Monastery to the rank of a Lavra (third in Ukraine, after the Kyivan Cave Monastery and Pochaiv Monastery). It boosted pride among the miners and steel workers by nurturing regional political identity of its population with the Soviet myth that the Donbas economically supports the whole country. Its wealthiest and most influential members became known as the oligarchs. Its wealthiest oligarch in Ukraine, Rinat Akhmetov, founded (in 2000) System Capital Management, a holding company with over 100 businesses, including Ukraine’s largest steel company Metinvest and the largest private power and coal producer, DTEC.
The Party of Regions achieved not only local political power but also power at the national scale.
One prominent member, Viktor Yanukovych, began his political career under President Leonid Kuchma as governor of Donetsk oblast (1997) and then as prime minister of Ukraine (2002–4). He campaigned for the presidency of Ukraine in 2004, in which his main opponent, Viktor Yushchenko, was vilified as an anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalist and was poisoned. Yanukovych’s rigged run-off win set off the Orange Revolution in Kyiv which challenged the outcome. This prompted the Party of Regions Donbas authorities to call a convention on 28 November 2004 in Sievierodonetsk to threaten separatism should Yushchenko prevail. There, Yanukovych convinced the delegates to preserve the integrity of Ukraine. In resolving the crisis, the Supreme Court of Ukraine ordered a revote under the scrutiny of international observers, in which Yushchenko won. Some in the Donbas remained vengeful of Yushchenko’s victory, dubbing it an ‘Orange plague.’
At the end of 2004 a political organization ‘Donets Republic’ was conceived and by 6 December 2005 was officially established in the city of Donetsk (led by Aleksandr Tsurkan, Andrei Purgin, and Oleg Frolov) and three days later for Donetsk oblast (Gennadiy Prytkov). Its purpose was to attain an independent status for the eastern regions of Ukraine similar to the Donets–Kryvyi Rih Soviet Republic in 1918. In November 2006 they organized meetings and collected signatures to establish the Donetsk Republic. On 11 May 2007 they even held a public meeting in Kyiv. On 12 November 2007 the Donetsk Court ruled the organization illegal, charged its leaders with sedition and sentenced them to 2–5 years imprisonment. After their release, they would move to Moscow to establish in 2012 their ‘Donetsk Republic’ embassy in the ‘Eurasian Union of Youth’ headquarters to give out passports of their imagined country.
Under President Viktor Yushchenko, who under pressure agreed to a parliamentary-presidential system with less presidential power, Viktor Yanukovich led the Party of Regions in the opposition. He and the Donbas elite opposed Yushchenko’s policies of Ukrainization (the promotion of the Ukrainian language in schools and media, the remembrance of the Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people), closer relations with NATO, and distancing from the Russian Federation (intent to remove the Russian Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol by 2017).
Even so, it was during Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency (2005–10), with local effort, that the Ukrainization of the Donbas accelerated. The Donetsk branch of the Shevchenko Scientific Society (est 1997 by V. Biletsky and others) augmented scientific publication in Ukrainian: 1) the analytical-informational periodical Skhid (Donetsk, 1995–; relocated to Mariupol in 2014); 2) the Donetsk Herald of the Shevchenko Scientific Society (Donets'kyi Visnyk Naukovoho Tovarystva im. Shevchenka), producing 41 volumes (2001–; relocated to Mariupol in 2014), and 3) other books and brochures. By 2005 the Donetsk branch conducted balanced scholarly and civic activities in scholarly research and education. It promoted the use of professional Ukrainian language, commemorated names of outstanding Ukrainians of the past, established and supported Ukrainian periodicals and serials, helped teachers in the Donbas and conducted research and cultural-educational programs. The percentage of students instructed in Ukrainian grew: in Donetsk oblast, 26 (2004/5), 33 (2006/7), 43 (2009/10), and in Luhansk oblast (with more rural areas), 30 (2004/5), 37 (2006/7), 47 (2009/10).
The Donbas establishment, however, opposed this trend. Ihor Zhytynsky, a Donbas politician, in the Soviet fashion denigrated Ukrainian nationalism and patriotism as fascism. Viktor Yanukovych sought political support from the Russian Federation by signing an accord with the governing United Russia party. After the Party of Regions gained parliamentary majority in 2006, President Viktor Yushchenko appointed Yanukovych prime minister (2006–7) and the latter supported Donbas economically.
In other parts of Ukraine, the Donbas (with its oligarchy and corruption) came to be perceived as the least democratic and the most sinister region in Ukraine: a ‘Soviet cesspool,’ ‘backward’ and with a ‘thug culture.’ Political commentator Viktor Tkachenko wrote in Narodne slovo (in Kirovohrad, 2005) that the Donbas was a home to ‘fifth columns,’ and that speaking Ukrainian in the region was ‘not safe for one's health and life.’ Such reports, though based on facts, further alienated some in the Donbas.
In 2010 Viktor Yanukovych became president of Ukraine. He reverted to the presidential-parliamentary system of President Leonid Kuchma. His appointed members of the Donetsk ‘clan’ to the government and took control of the cash flow through the Ministry of Income and Taxation, thus appropriating billions of dollars from the state. To obtain a lower price on Russian gas, Yanukovych extended the lease of the Sevastopol base to the Russian Black Sea Fleet beyond 2017 for another 25 years to 2042. To please his supporters in the Donbas, he facilitated the adoption of the ‘law on regional languages’ (introduced by Vadym Kolesnychenko and Serhii Kivalov, adopted in 2012), which provided for the official use of Russian or another minority language where at least 10 percent of the population used it. Geopolitically, he articulated a neutral position between east and west, but included two Russian-Ukrainian citizens in the security portfolios (Pavel Lebedev, Minister of Defense [24 December 2012 to 27 February 2014], and Vitalii Zakharchenko, Minister of Internal Affairs [7 November 2011 to 21 February 2014]), who degraded the Ukrainian military and directed Ukrainian security.
Meanwhile, the promotion of separatism and unification with the Russian Federation accelerated in the Donbas. Vladimir Kornilov, head of the Ukrainian branch of the Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States, in his widely disseminated book (Donetsko-Krivirozhskaia respublika. Rasstrelanaia mechta [Kharkiv 2011]), promoted the Donets–Kryvyi Rih Soviet Republic as the model and objective for the Donbas in uniting the lands of bygone Kyivan Rus’ state. This was followed by a roundtable (Luhansk, February 2012, with participation from Donetsk oblast, Luhansk oblast, and Rostov oblast) to form a Ukrainian-Russian civil initiative ‘Donbas for the Eurasian Union’ and to join ‘International Russia’; then demonstrations in Donetsk (13 May, 4 November) for closer cooperation with the Russian Federation; and a scientific-practical conference ‘Donbas in the Eurasian Project’ (Donetsk, 24–25 November 2012) with a vision of the Donbas as an organic part of the ‘Russian World’ and the last stronghold of support for the union of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
When Viktor Yanukovych initially seemed to favor integration with the European Union, but then backed off from signing the Association Agreement, this volte-face led to a mass protest in Kyiv. This protest, called the Euromaidan Revolution (aka Revolution of Dignity) lasted 94 days (20 November 1913 to 22 February 2014). Its brutal repression by hired thugs and the Berkut security forces, however, not only failed to disperse the Euromaidan but also infuriated people all over Ukraine. With his political support crumbling, Yanukovych accepted an EU-brokered deal that promised early elections and the implementation of a unity government, but fearful of retribution, he and his entourage escaped to the Russian Federation. After Yanukovych fled, the Supreme Council of Ukraine, having elected Oleksandr Turchynov its speaker (22 February 2014), impeached Yanukovych and designated Turchynov acting president of Ukraine (23 February 2014). His acting Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov disbanded (25 February 2014) the Berkut security forces, who then returned home, mostly to the Donbas and Crimea. Many of the former members of the security forces and the Party of Regions accepted Yanukovych and the Russian government’s narrative that the Euromaidan Revolution was a ‘coup d’état’ supported by the United States of America and carried out by the Ukrainian ‘fascists’ who then immediately repealed the ‘law on regional languages.’ Fearing, as the narrative went, that the Euromaidan activists ‘threatened the very existence of Russian speakers’ in Ukraine, these Yanukovych backers turned for support from the Russian Federation.
Russian intervention with separatism, war and partition of the Donbas, 2014–. Pro-Russian activists in the Crimea, Donbas, as well as Kharkiv and Odesa, secretly curated by President Vladimir Putin’s advisor, Sergei Glazyev, staged protests against the ‘fascist coup’ and called on the Russian Federation for assistance. Russian volunteers arrived to help seize some key oblast administrations. With the help of the Russian military, the Crimea was annexed outright (between February 22 and March 18, 2014). In Kharkiv and Odesa the Russian agents failed to win. In the Donbas the pro-Russian militants, led by Russian volunteers Igor Girkin (nom-de-guerre Strelkov, former GRU officer and ‘supreme commander of the DPR,’ 12 May 2014 to 14 August 2014 ) and Alexander Borodai (prime minister of the DPR, 16 May 2014 to 7 August 2014), sanctioned by the Kremlin and funded by the Russian imperialist, oligarch, and founder of ‘Marshal Capital’, Konstantin Malofeev, met little resistance from local authorities, took control, and declared their Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic (DPR and LPR respectively, held referendums on 11 May 2014, validated by the Russian Federation the next day). Opponents to their takeover, identified as Ukrainian speakers, were terrorized, driven out, or killed.
The Ukrainian provisional government in Kyiv, not to provoke an all-out Russian invasion, declared the Donbas an Anti-Terrorist Operation Zone. It appointed acting governors (Serhii Taruta of Donetsk oblast and Mykhailo Bolotskykh of Luhansk oblast) and dispatched the Ukrainian military and volunteer regiments to drive back the advances of the pro-Russian forces. It also arranged for a snap presidential election (25 May 2014) in which Petro Poroshenko, a supporter of the Euromaidan Revolution, won in all but one electoral district in Kharkiv oblast. Only in the Donbas where battles raged, and in the occupied Crimea, elections could not be held. Poroshenko provided effective leadership domestically and internationally, appointed new governors (Oleksandr Kikhtenko [2014–5] in Donetsk oblast and Hennadii Moskal [2014–5] in Luhansk oblast) and strengthened the Ukrainian army. The Ukrainian forces liberated a number of Donbas cities, but were stopped by the pro-Russian militants, Russian volunteers (including the Wagner Group, a company of professional soldiers owned by Yevgenii Prigozhin) and other mercenaries, supported by the Russian military. At the same time, the Kremlin propagated the idea that it was an internal Ukrainian civil war. After the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a Russian Buk missile (17 July 2014), an act for which the Russian Federation blamed Ukraine, the Kremlin changed the leadership from Russian operatives Borodai and Girkin to Ukraine-born pro-Russian warlords (Aleksandr Zakharchenko of the DPR, August 2014 to 31 August 2018, and Ihor Plotnitsky of the LPR, 14 August 2014 to 24 November 2017).
After the Ukrainian forces lost to the Russian military and their proxies at the Battle of Ilovaisk (7 to 31 August 2014), a cease-fire along the line of contact between the two sides was agreed upon (the Minsk Protocol 1, 19 September 2014), but violated and then imposed (Minsk Protocol 2, 12 February 2015) while the assault by pro-Russian forces on Debaltseve (17 January to 20 February 2015) raged. While pretending to be a mediator, the Russian Federation insisted that, as a condition for peace and re-integration of the Donbas, Ukraine negotiate directly with DPR and LPR, and change its constitution to federalize the country, with DPR and LPR as self-governing entities within Ukraine able to veto legislation and make agreements with foreign states. This position was rejected by the Ukrainian side. The subsequent balance of military power between the two sides determined the line of contact that has lasted since 2015, with negotiated cease-fires, monitored by unarmed OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, repeatedly violated.
The war in the Donbas, using tanks, artillery, rockets and aircraft, resulted in significant losses to the military and civilian population and destruction of the Donbas infrastructure. The Ukrainian military lost 22 aircraft, 524 armored vehicles, 365 infantry fighting vehicles, and confirmed as of November 2021 over 4,600 soldiers killed, 70 missing and over 10,000 wounded; the other side was estimated to have lost over 5,500 militants killed and about 14,000 wounded. The US Department of State estimated that by early March 2015, 400 to 500 Russian soldiers had died. Civilians suffered at least 3,500 deaths (including 298 passengers and crew of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17) and 9,000 wounded.
Destruction of the infrastructure in the Donbas included roads, railways, bridges, 2 airports, energy networks, water supply, and housing, especially along the line of contact. Hostilities in the area interrupted or curtailed the functioning of many enterprises. Power and water supplies were cut off. Coal mines were neglected and the shafts flooded. Fields and roads were mined, endangering farming and innocent passage of civilians.
The war and collapsed economy of the region generated an outflow of refugees. By the summer of 2016, the Ukrainian Ministry for Social Policy registered up to 1.8 million internally displaced people inside Ukraine. Another one million fled the conflict zone to the Russian Federation, where they would be directed to fill needed jobs or resettle remote areas.
The militants drove out Ukrainian patriots from the cultural and educational institutions of the Donbas. From these institutions, concentrated in Donetsk and Luhansk, the pro-Ukraine faculty relocated their institutions as follows: the Donetsk National University (now in Vinnytsia, with a branch campus in Mariupol), the Donetsk National Technical University (now in Pokrovsk, Donetsk oblast), the Donetsk National Medical University (now in Kropyvnytskyi, and branch campuses in Donetsk oblast at Mariupol and Lyman), the Donetsk State Music Academy (now in Kyiv), the Donetsk National University of Economics and Trade (now in Kryvyi Rih, with branch campuses in Donetsk oblast at Kramatorsk and Mariupol), and the Donetsk State University of Management (now in Mariupol); from Luhansk, the Eastern Ukrainian National University (to Sievierodonetsk), the Luhansk National University (to Starobilsk, with satellite campuses at Kreminna, Lysychansk, and Poltava), the Luhansk National Agricultural University (established new campuses at Starobilsk, Sloviansk, and Illinivka near Kostiantynivka in Donetsk oblast), the Luhansk State Medical University (to Rubizhne). The Alchevsk-based Donbas State Technical University moved its Ukrainian head office to its only campus under Ukrainian control at Lysychansk. From Luhansk, the Ukrainian Academic Music and Drama Theater and members of the Luhansk Oblast Philharmonic Orchestra relocated to Sievierodonetsk.
Hostilities along the line of contact made living nearby impossible. In February 2015 the Ukrainian government introduced Military-Civilian Administrations for Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast under its control for improved security. President Petro Poroshenko’s appointees were: in Donetsk oblast, Pavlo Zhebrivsky (2015–8) and Oleksandr Kuts (2018–9); in Luhansk oblast, Heorhii Tuka (2015–6), Yurii Harbuz (29 April 2016 to 22 November 2018), and Serhii Fil (acting, 22 November 2018 to 5 July 2019). The appointees of the next president, Volodymyr Zelensky, were: in Donetsk oblast, Pavlo Kyrylenko (5 July 2019–); in Luhansk oblast, Vitalii Komarnytsky (5 July to 25 October 2019) and Serhii Haidai (25 October 2019–). Meanwhile, in the DPR, Aleksandr Zakharchenko (assassinated in Donetsk on 31 August 2018) was replaced (11 November 2018) by an even more pro-Russian, Denis Pushilin. In the LPR, Ihor Plotnitsky resigned, under pressure, on 24 November 2017, and was replaced (21 November 2018) by the LPR Minister of Security, Leonid Pasechnik.
The line of contact partitioned the Old Donbas into Russian-controlled and Ukrainian-controlled sides. The Ukrainian government, not recognizing the legitimacy of DPR and LPR, called the lost territory as the ‘separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts’ (ORDLO). Having lost its institutions there that paid pensions to Ukrainian citizens living in that territory, the Ukrainian government would pay only internally displaced persons on the Ukraine-controlled side. This prompted an estimated 350,000 people to cross the line of contact at checkpoints into Ukraine-controlled areas to establish bogus addresses to get paid, creating hazardous tourism for double-dipping to supplement the miserly DPR or LPR pensions. The owner of largest enterprises in the Donbas, Rinat Akhmetov, stayed neutral and paid taxes to both sides with the hopes of maintaining his Metinvest and DTEC operations intact. It worked, until the supply chains were broken and the idled operations were seized by the DPR and LPR in 2017.
The DPR and LPR display their symbols of statehood: flags, anthems, government documents and motor vehicle plates. Having switched to the Russian schooling system with Russian nationalistic education, they indoctrinate children to hate ‘fascist’ Ukraine, teach military arts in schools and social clubs, and send children to summer training camps in the Russian Federation. Since they started paying pensions to their retirees in 2015 in rubles, the ruble prevails in their economy. In 2021 the Russian government encouraged residents of the DPR and LPR to obtain Russian passports and vote in the Russian Federal elections; their presidents, Pushilin and Pasechnik, were personally inducted by Dmitry Medvedev into the Russian ruling party United Russia at its congress in Moscow. All of these were steps towards the political integration of DPR and LPR into the Russian Federation. By January 2022 Russian military amassed over 130,000 troops on the borders of Ukraine and conducted publicized war exercises; the threat to invade was intended to prevent Ukraine’s future membership in NATO. At the Donbas front, there was a dramatic increase of shooting by the militants on February 18. On February 20 Russia evacuated women and children from DNR and LNR, retaining men for combat. On February 21, when shooting peaked and a provocation staged in Rostov oblast (for which Ukrainian military were blamed), the Russian Federation recognized the republics as independent states and brought its regular troops to the line of contact in the Donbas. On February 24, Vladimir Putin ordered a launch of a full-scale war against Ukraine.
The Russian government, while claiming DPR and LPR were independent subjects, used four verticals of control: 1) strategic, from the President’s Office (Vladislav Surkov, 2014–20; Dmitri Kozak, since 2020); 2) economic management, by the vice prime minister of the Russian Federation and deputy ministers of finance and economic bloc of the Russian government, with direct management delegated to the closed joint-stock company ‘Vneshtorgservice’, set up specifically for this purpose; 3) security service, by the Federal Security Service (FSB), headquartered in Moscow, to ferret out ‘spies’, monitoring some 160 interrogation torture chambers and concentration camps, like the ‘Izolatsiia’ in Donetsk; and 4) the military, by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation – Southern Military District – 8th General Army; its two entities, the 1st army corps and 2nd army corps, with snipers, artillery, drones and electronic warfare, stationed in DPR and LNR, respectively.
The Russian-controlled side now occupies the central part of Old Donbas along with its former oblast capitals, Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine controls the northern and western parts of Old Donbas, plus large areas of Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast beyond Old Donbas.
Within Donetsk oblast (26,517 sq km, with an estimated 2019 resident population of 4,153,000), the DPR presently occupies 7,853 sq km (29.6 percent of the oblast area), of which about 2,300 sq km, is a mostly rural area, extending beyond Old Donbas south along the border with the Russian Federation to the Sea of Azov. DPR reported 2,277,000 residents (54.8 percent of the oblast population), of which about 2,226,000 live in Old Donbas. Ukraine controls 18,038 sq km (68 percent of the oblast area), of which about 7,450 sq km comprise the northwestern part of Old Donbas. The remaining 626 sq km of the oblast area is contested in the contact zone. Within Ukraine-controlled Donetsk oblast in early 2019 lived 1,876,000 people (45.2 percent of the oblast population), of which about 1,193,000 were residents of Old Donbas.
In Luhansk oblast (26,683 sq km, with an estimated 2019 resident population of 2,114,000), the LPR holds a territory of 8,377 sq km (31.4 percent of the oblast area), all of it within Old Donbas, and an estimated 1,453,000 residents at the start of 2019. Ukraine controls 18,247 sq km (68.4 percent of the oblast area), of which 1,637 sq km includes the northern outlier of the Old Donbas. The contact zone, a contested area, occupies the remaining 59 sq km. The estimated number of residents of Luhansk oblast controlled by Ukraine at the start of 2019 was 661,000 (31.3 percent of the oblast population), of which about 333,000 lived in the northern part of Old Donbas.
Metallurgy. The leading branch of the Donbas economy is metallurgy. The Donbas was the largest producer of metals in Ukraine: in 1975 plants in Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast (including the two in Mariupol, south of ‘Old Donbas’) produced 23.2 million t of cast iron (50 percent of Ukraine’s production, 24.9 percent of the USSR’s production); 25.8 million t of steel (48.6 percent and 18.3 percent respectively); and 21.7 million t of rolled steel (49.1 percent and 18.9 percent). By 1989 the share of the value of all ferrous metallurgy of the Donbas was 43.1 percent of Ukraine’s total. It was surpassed by the Dnipro Industrial Region (Dnipropetrovsk oblast and Zaporizhia oblast combined) where greater production of pipes and specialty steel brought the latter’s share up to 52.2 percent. In 1990 the output of cast iron in Donbas remained at 22.5 million t (50.1 percent of Ukraine’s production), while steel increased to 26.3 million t (remaining at 50 percent of Ukraine’s production and 17 percent of the USSR’s production); rolled steel dipped to 20.7 million t (45.6 percent of Ukraine’s output); the production of steel pipes in the Donbas was only 0.44 million t (6.8 percent of Ukraine’s output). After Ukraine’s independence, by 1995, the output of cast iron, steel, rolled steel, and steel pipes in the two oblasts combined declined, respectively, to 10.8 million t, 12.8 million t, 9.6 million t, and 0.37 million t (increasing their shares, however, to 60.0 percent, 57.4 percent, 57.8 percent and 23.1 percent of Ukraine’s output), partly recovering by 2000 to 13.8 million t, 17.0 million t, 10.8 million t, and 0.40 million t (53.7 percent, 53.5 percent, 47.8 percent, and 23.1 percent, respectively). In 2013, before the outbreak of hostilities, Donetsk oblast alone produced (percent of Ukraine’s output in brackets) 12.9 million t (44.3) of cast iron, 13.3 million t (40.0) of steel, 7.5 million t (42.1) of rolled steel and 0.41 million t (22.8) of steel pipes; Luhansk oblast produced 0.83 million t (2.5) of steel and 0.105 million t (5.8) of steel pipes.
A high degree of concentration is characteristic of the metallurgical industry: the four largest plants produced over 50 percent of Donbas steel. The metallurgical plants were large territorial-manufacturing complexes with their own coke-chemical plants, slag-cement plants, and refractory-products factories. They were closely linked to coal mines (the Makiivka Metallurgical Plant controlled over 40 of them). Besides cast iron, various high-quality steel alloys and rolled steel (70 percent in the form of profiled steel) were made here. Steel pipes also gained in importance.
Most of the steel plants, once state property, were acquired by financial-industrial groups (FIGs). By 2000, some steel plants (in Alchevsk, Donetsk, and Yenakieve of Old Donbas, as well as the Mariupol Azovstal Metallurgical Complex) were partly owned by the Industrial Union of Donbas (IUD), others were property of the state (Makiivka) or of their employees (Illich in Mariupol), until acquired by Metinvest.
The main centers of the ferrous-metallurgy industry in Old Donbas—Donetsk, Makiivka, and Yenakiieve, are now in the DPR, Alchevsk is now in the LPR; and in the Ukraine-controlled northwestern part of Old Donbas, Kramatorsk is restructured, and Kostiantynivka in ruins. The two most viable plants making steel for export, the Mariupol Azovstal Metallurgical Complex and the Illich plant (both now owned by Metinvest) are under Ukrainian control in Mariupol, a southern industrial outlier beyond Old Donbas, its maritime access now controlled by the Russian Federation at Kerch Strait. A large steel pipe plant in Khartsyzk (part of Old Donbas, acquired by Metinvest) was seized by DPR in 2017.
Ferrous metallurgy was based on the iron ore of the Kryvyi Rih Iron-ore Basin, the manganese of the Nikopol Manganese Basin, and the fuel and limestone of the Donbas. Hostilities since 2014 have damaged some plants and disrupted the supply of Ukrainian iron ore and manganese to plants seized by rebels in the DPR and LPR (Makiivka, Donetsk, Yenakiieve, and Alchevsk); some have stopped production, others switched to alternate sources from the Russian Federation, their viability uncertain.
In the past, large reserves of fuel and cheap electricity in the Donbas stimulated the growth of non-ferrous metallurgy, which utilized local quicksilver in Horlivka (of the Mykytivka mercury complex, now in ruins) and zinc concentrates from the Far East (at the Ukrtsynk plant in Kostiantynivka, destroyed in 2014). A plant of non-ferrous metals is also located in Bakhmut. One user of non-ferrous metals, the state-owned Luhansk Ammunitions Plant, was taken by the LPR in 2014, had its equipment stripped and removed to the Russian Federation (See Map: Dnipro–Donbas Metallurgical Complex.)
Coal mining. In the Donbas economy this industry is second in importance. Although other bituminous coal fields operated in the former USSR, those of the Donbas had the highest production, yielding in 1976, 191.4 million t (26.9 percent of the USSR production). In 1975 there were 325 mines here. The largest of these were the Abakumov (in Donetsk); Kapitalna (in Krasnoarmiisk, now Pokrovsk, controlled by Ukraine), the largest in the former USSR (13,500 t daily); Prohres (in Torez); and n-21-bis (in Makiivka). The deepest of the mines were the Kirov (in Donetsk) at 1,033 m, and the V. Bazhanov (in Makiivka) at 1,012 m. Sixty-eight enrichment plants were in operation. Coal mining in the Donbas had a high degree of mechanization: by 1975 cutting was 100 percent mechanized; loading in drifts, the most labor-intensive process, was 92 percent mechanized; and haulage and loading onto railroads was 100 percent mechanized. The degree of mechanization was higher than in France, Belgium, or West Germany. Ninety mines had a complex mechanized or automated system of extraction; in 1975 these produced 73.8 million t or 41 percent of the underground production. Production became more concentrated: a single mine produced 1,805 t of coal per day in 1975. The territory that is mined has expanded north, west (a group of mines in the Pokrovsk [then called Krasnoarmiisk] coal-industry region), and south. Close to 640,000 people were employed in the coal industry, yet constant shortage of labor occurred because of the high level of worker fluidity (almost 40 percent of the average work force). Relatively high wages were provided and in 1976 a shorter, 30-hour, work week was introduced to encourage workers to stay in one place.
The cost of coal mining became relatively high in the Donbas because mines had to be sunk deeply. The average depth of extraction was 292 m in 1956 and 437 m in 1968. Forty percent of the proved reserves of coal were in seams 0.5–0.8 m thick; 13 percent of the seams were inclined, and 20 percent were vertical. Consequently, some mines were closed, with the numbers declining from 325 in 1975 to 276 in 1991 and then 160 in 2008.
The mining of coal (both anthracite and bituminous coal) began to decline in Ukraine from a peak of 206.3 million t in 1976 to 188.2 million t in 1980, and 155.5 million t in 1990, of which 80.5 million t (51.8 percent) was mined in Donetsk oblast and 51.6 million t (33.2 percent) in Luhansk oblast. Coal mining declined steeply in Ukraine after 1991, to 80.7 million t by 1995, stabilizing to a creeping decline: 79.5 million t in 2000 (Donetsk oblast, 44.2 million t [55.6 percent of Ukraine’s total] and Luhansk oblast, 21.6 million t [27.2 percent]; 50.0 million t in 2013 (Donetsk oblast, 31.8 million t [49.5 percent of Ukraine’s total] and Luhansk oblast, 18.2 million t [28.3 percent]. With the partition of the Donbas in 2014, many coal mines producing anthracite (used for thermal power generation) were lost to Ukraine. Mines with coking coal (used in metallurgy) were largely retained by Ukraine. Of the functioning coal mines, 69 were lost and 33 were retained on the Ukraine-controlled side. Production in Ukraine-controlled Donbas dropped from 50 million t in 2013 to 14.5 million t in 2015 (Donetsk oblast 10.4 million t [45.7 percent of Ukraine’s total] and Luhansk oblast 4.1 million t [18.0 percent] and then to 10.8 million t in 2020 (Donetsk oblast 10.5 million t [43.6 percent of Ukraine’s total] and Luhansk oblast 0.3 million t [1.0 percent]. Thus coal production declined by nearly 80 percent, mainly as a result of the loss of mines to the Russia-controlled DPR and LNR, and Ukraine has become a net importer of coal. Unemployed coal miners now earn wages by serving in the DPR and LNR military.
Machine building. The Donbas was the second-largest producer in Ukraine of machines: in 1975 it produced 44.9 percent of Ukraine's metallurgical equipment, 97 percent of the coal-mining machines, and 95.2 percent of the locomotives built in the former USSR. Based on the local metallurgy and energy, branches of the heavy-machine-building industry were organized first to supply the metallurgical industry, the coal industry, the coke-chemical industry, the chemical industry, the railway industry, and the construction industry. By 1989 both the Dnipro Industrial Region (combining Dnipropetrovsk oblast and Zaporizhia oblast) and Kharkiv oblast produced more machinery of different kinds than did the Donbas (Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast combined).
Following the break-up of the USSR and the decline of coal mining in the Donbas, the state procurement for locomotives, rolling stock and mining equipment dropped, resulting in a major decline in the kinds of machines built in the Donbas. Whereas all industrial production in the Donbas (valued in 1999 prices) declined by 2000 to 71 percent of what it was in 1990, the production of machine building and metal-working declined even more: to 29 percent of what it was in 1990, a drop significantly more than the decline to 41 percent in machine building and metalworking for Ukraine as a whole. In 2000, when machine-building enterprises began to be privatized, regional finance-industrial groups began to acquire them to produce machinery for their coking-chemical, coal and metallurgical industries. They proposed the establishment of a Technopark in the Donetsk Free Economic Zone where, under the auspices of the Innovation Center of the Donetsk Regional Administration, machine-building plants would collaborate with research and project institutes of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine to foster restoration of the industry, provide well-paying jobs, and move into high technologies.
After the 2014 war in the Donbas, with the loss of some factories, the drop was even greater. In Donetsk oblast alone, machine building by value of production (in billion hryvni) and share of the oblast’s value of industrial production (in percent) declined from 27 billion Hr. in 2011 (10.2 percent) to 9.6 billion Hr. in 2014 (5.3 percent) and 8.1 billion Hr. in 2015 (4.2 percent).
Plants specializing in mining machinery were located in coal-mining regions. The largest of them, in order of capacity (control of territory after 2014 is shown in brackets), were the plants in Horlivka (DPR), Luhansk (LPR), Donetsk (DPR), Druzhkivka (UkrDon), Yasynuvata (DPR), and Debaltseve (DPR). The largest machine building plants for ferrous metallurgy were in Kramatorsk (UkrDon) and Kadiivka (formerly Stakhanov, LPR). The largest machine-tool construction enterprises were the Chubar Plant in Kramatorsk (UkrDon), the Frunze Plant in Krasnorichenske (formerly Kabannie, UkrLuh), and the Ivanivka Plant (LPR).
A number of plants in Torez (DPR), Kostiantynivka (UkrDon), Donetsk (DPR), Luhansk (LPR), and Sloviansk (UkrDon, see Sloviansk Heavy-Machine-Building Plant) served the electrotechnological industry and the power industry. Transport machinery were built in Kadiivka (formerly Stakhanov, LPR, railway cars) and Luhansk (the Luhansk Locomotive Works, formerly the October Revolution Steam Locomotives Plant, the largest in Ukraine, now in LPR, its equipment removed to the Russian Federation, its office relocated to Moscow). As well, equipment for the chemical industry and agriculture and various complex instruments were produced in the Donbas. In Donetsk, the radio-electronics Topaz plant (est 1987) made the Kolchuga mobile radar targeting system for missile launching; in 2014 its production equipment was seized and removed to the Russian Federation. In Kramatorsk, the Fuhrlander Windtechnology Company (FWT, est 2010) makes modern windmill generators and builds wind farms in Ukraine.
Chemical industry. Led by the coke-chemical industry, which developed mostly after the Revolution of 1917, this is an important part of Donbas industry. Fourteen enterprises, located near mines and metallurgical plants, produced almost half of the coke-chemical output of the former USSR. The largest are the plants of Donetsk (DPR), Yenakiieve (DPR), Kramatorsk (UkrDon), Alchevsk (formerly Komunarsk, LPR), and Avdiivka (UkrDon, the largest in Europe). The other branches of the chemical industry that are highly developed are those producing mineral fertilizers (50 percent of Ukraine's production), synthetic tars, plastics, polymer materials, sulfuric acid, and caustic and soda ash. The Khimprom complex in Sloviansk (UkrDon) and the Lenin Soda Plant in Lysychansk (UkrLuh, now in ruins) produced all of Ukraine’s soda. The large chemical firms include Styrol in Horlivka (DPR), Azot in Sievierodonetsk (UkrLuh, see Sievierodonetsk Azot Manufacturing Consortium), Krasytel in Rubizhne (UkrLuh, the sole manufacturer of synthetic dyes in Ukraine; see Rubizhne Krasytel Manufacturing Consortium), Zoria (explosives and organic chemistry) in Rubizhne (UkrLuh), the Lysychansk petroleum refinery and petrochemical complex (UkrLuh, the largest in Ukraine, acquired by Rosneft in 2012, stopped refining in 2014), and plants in Kostiantynivka (UkrDon, now in ruins), Donetsk (DPR), and elsewhere.
Electric power. The enormous electric power supply required by Donbas industry was provided by thermoelectric stations organized into the most powerful energy system in Ukraine—the Donbasenerho. The largest thermoelectric station in Europe—the Vuhlehirsk State Regional Electric Station (DRES), with a capacity of 3.6 million kW—is located at Svitlodarsk (UkrDon, within the triangle: Bakhmut, Horlivka and Debaltseve). Four of its seven generating units were damaged by fire in 2013; now on the front line of the 2014 war, it sustained more damage. Several stations here are among the largest in the former USSR: the Zuivka 1 and 2 in Zuhres (DPR, 2,780,000 kW), the Luhansk near Shchastia (UkrLuh, 2.3 million kW, on front line, damaged in 2014), the Sloviansk (UkrLuh, 2.1 million kW, damaged in the 2014 war and repaired), and the Kurakhove (UkrDon, 1,460,000 kW). Almost all of the stations are fired by crushed anthracite, the by-products of the enrichment plants, and partly by natural gas and mazout. District heating stations also generate some electricity. Since 2010 a wind farm was built in Donetsk oblast east of Mariupol to generate electricity; it is now in the DPR.
In 1975 the Donbas produced over one-third of Ukraine’s electric power. With the addition of nuclear power stations elsewhere, the Donbas share of Ukraine’s output declined to one-quarter by 1989, and after independence, with economic decline, to less than one-fifth in 2005–13. Damage from the war in 2014 and the resulting loss of fuel supply and some stations to ORDLO brought the Donbas under Ukraine’s control share down to a little over one-tenth of the country’s electricity output.
The main consumers of electricity were the coal industry (over 40 percent), the metallurgical industry (20 percent), machine building, and the chemical industry. Most of the power was used in the Donbas itself, and some was exported to the Russian Federation and East European countries. Given the current state of affairs, power is no longer exported from the Donbas.
Building materials. The Donbas is rich in the raw materials needed for industrial and residential building. In 1975 it produced one-third of Ukraine’s building materials (see Building-materials industry); by 1989 its share declined to 16.6 percent and by 2005–9 to less than 10 percent. The main branches of the industry were cement (at Amvrosiivka [DPR]); window glass (at Kostiantynivka [UkrDon], Lysychansk [UkrLuh], and Makiivka [DPR]: 93.5 percent of Ukraine’s glass came from the Donbas); and refractory materials (at Chasiv Yar [UkrDon], Krasnohorivka [UkrDon], and Dokuchaievsk [at front line, in DPR]). The manufacture of reinforced-concrete structures, ceramic facing, and thermo-insulating products of brick, etc, was well developed and usually done in regions of industrial and residential construction. The mining of natural stone material such as limestone or basalt, in the Sloviansk (UkrDon), Volnovakha (UkrDon, near front line), and Dokuchaievsk (at front line, in DPR) raions, also played an important role in the economy of the area.
Light industry. This branch, comprising textile, sewing, knitting and footwear-making, developed rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s. It provided needed consumer goods and employed women in a region of predominantly male employment. By 1989 the Donbas accounted for 13.6 percent of Ukraine’s output of light industry by value, slightly less than its share of Ukraine’s population (15.8 percent). In the post-Soviet period, the light industry in Ukraine declined, partly due to world competition.
In the 1980s the cotton textile plants in Donetsk and Lysychansk, the woolen mills in Donetsk and Luhansk, and the synthetic silk mills of Luhansk, produced 25 pecent of Ukraine’s textiles. The knitting mills of Donetsk, Luhansk and Shakhtarsk, and the sewing enterprises in Avdiivka, Bakhmut (then called Artemivsk), Donetsk, Kadiivka (then called Stakhanov), Kramatorsk, Luhansk, Lysychansk, Makiivka, Sloviansk and Torez produced clothing. Leather and shoe factories operated in Donetsk, Kramatorsk, Makiivka, Luhansk, Pokrovsk (then called Krasnoarmiisk) and Sloviansk (see Light industry). By 2003 the cotton textile mills were in Donetsk and Makiivka, a woolen mill in Donetsk, and a synthetic textile mill in Lysychansk. Knitwear was made in Horlivka, Luhansk, and Rubizhne. Sewing clothes was ubiquitous, and footwear was produced in Bakhmut, Donetsk, Makiivka, Pervomaisk, Luhansk and Rovenky. In 2005 footwear production in the Donbas amounted to 4.6 percent of the footwear produced in Ukraine; by 2013 it declined to 1.4 percent.
Food industry. In 1988 the value of production of the food industry in the Donbas was 10.4 percent of the total for Ukraine, less than the share of its population at the time (15.8 percent). The best-developed sectors of the food industry in the Donbas were meat and milk processing for the cities. Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast processed 9.6 percent of all the meat (1988) but a larger share of the sausages (18 percent , 22.3 percent ) produced in Ukraine, There were over 50 meat-packing plants, with the largest in Donetsk, Kamianka near Luhansk, Yenakiieve, Kostiantynivka, and Lysychansk. Dairies accounted for 5.3 percent of the butter (1988) but more of liquid milk (10.6 percent  to 6.2 percent ) and of fermented milk products (12.1 percent  to 9.5 percent ) in Ukraine. The bread industry had over 100 large bakeries, which produced 15.2 percent (2006) to 12.5 percent (2013) of the baked goods produced in Ukraine. There were large breweries in Donetsk, Lysychansk, Luhansk, and Rovenky, and liquor and spirits distilleries in Donetsk, Makiivka, Yenakieve and Luhansk. The champagne and wine plant in Bakhmut was one of the most famous distilleries in the area. The 2014 war and subsequent partition of the area have complicated the supply chain for food processing plants, notably in the DPR and LNR.
Agriculture. Farming in the Donbas differs somewhat from that of the rural Ukrainian steppe region (which includes the northern half of Luhansk oblast and the northwestern strip and southern quarter of Donetsk oblast). It is hindered by the poorer soils and greater erosion that result from the higher relief and frequent dry winds. Interspersed among cities and mining towns, it mainly takes the form of suburban cultivation, specializing in garden vegetables, potatoes, orchards (particularly apple orchards), dairying, and poultry raising. Many miners who live on the city outskirts raise their own domestic animals and poultry and cultivate small gardens.
(See Map: Industry of the Donets Basin.)
Transportation. The Donbas has the densest and, until 2014, had the most heavily used railway network in Ukraine. There were, until some consolidation in the 1990s, 3,000 km of main track and nearly 3,000 km of side track serving various industries. The largest active railway junctions were Yasynuvata, Lyman, Popasna, Luhansk, Ilovaisk, Rodakove, and Debaltseve. Lines serving suburban areas were very important in the Donbas. The main railroad lines were the meridional line connecting the Donbas with Kharkiv and Moscow and with the Sea of Azov coastal region (Mariupol, Tahanrih, Rostov-na-Donu) and the latitudinal line connecting the Donbas with the Dnipro Industrial Region (Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Kryvyi Rih) and with the Don River, the Volga River, and the Caspian Sea. Since 2014, lines crossing the front have been deactivated and traffic generally declined.
The freight transported in the Donbas constituted in the 1980s half the freight in all of Ukraine. Coal, metal, machinery, and chemical products were carried out of the Donbas, and iron ore (from the Kryvyi Rih Iron-ore Basin and the Kerch Iron-ore Basin), manganese ore (from the Nikopol Manganese Basin), lumber, petroleum, food products, and textiles were brought in.
Automobile transportation is well developed: Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast had 15,000 km of roads in the 1980s (of which 9,700 km were paved), consolidated to 14,000 km by 2013 (all of which were paved); they connected all the cities of the region. The main highways through the Donbas are Kharkiv–Kostiantynivka–Bakhmut–Debaltseve–Antratsyt–Rostov-na-Donu (M-3, severed since 2014 northwest of Debaltseve), and the Dnipropetrovsk–Pokrovsk–Selydove–Donetsk–Debaltseve–Luhansk–Volgograd (M-4, severed since 2014 northwest of Donetsk). Trolleybus and trolley-car transport have developed considerably, providing intraurban transportation in urban clusters.
Until 2014, civilian airports in Donetsk, Mariupol, Sievierodonetsk, and Luhansk connected the Donbas with many cities in Ukraine, Europe, and the former USSR. They are now destroyed (Donetsk, Luhansk), too close to the front (Mariupol), or unsafe (Sievierodonetsk). The military airfield at Kramatorsk was damaged in 2014.
The Donbas is dissected by various pipelines, including the Soiuz main gas pipeline from Orenburg and the Stavropol–Moscow pipeline, which has branches to Luhansk, Kadiivka (formerly Stakhanov), Lysychansk, Horlivka, Sloviansk, and other places. Given the hostilities with the Russian Federation, supply of gas is now problematic for Ukraine and the areas of the Donbas it controls. Donetsk receives natural gas from Krasnodar krai, and Sloviansk gets gas from Kharkiv oblast.
Water for domestic and industrial use is supplied by large water reservoirs such as those in Vuhlehirsk, Starobesheve, Vilkhivka, and Staryi Krym, and by the Dnipro–Don Canal and the Donets–Donbas Canal, which extend from the Donets River to the heartland of the Donbas. Since 2014, an active front crosses the Donets–Donbas Canal just northwest of Horlivka and affects the safety of its filtration and pumping station on the Ukraine-controlled side near Toretsk (formerly Dzerzhynsk).
Population. The Donbas is the most densely populated region of Ukraine and, after the Moscow region, of all of Eastern Europe. At its peak, in 1993, about 6.67 million people lived in an area of 23,000 sq km, that is, 290 people per sq km.
In the 1860s scarcely 400,000 people lived in this area, and the density was similar to that in steppe Ukraine. The rapid development of industry brought about the great population increase: in 1897 the population was 1.1 million; in 1926, 1.7 million. A large natural increase (27.7 per 1,000 annually in 1924–8 as compared to 23.2 in all of Ukraine) and in-migration into the area accounted for the swift growth. In 1926 only 23 percent of the Donbas population was born there. Primarily Russians of the Central Chornozem and Central Industrial regions moved to the Donbas. Ukrainians migrated in much smaller numbers, mainly from neighboring districts. In 1897, for example, only 45 percent of the migrants to the Donbas were born on Ukrainian territory, and in 1926 only 32 percent, while barely 12 percent of workers migrating to the Donbas came from other parts of Ukraine. By 1902 half of the workers in the Donbas were non-Ukrainian. The reason for this was the reluctance of Ukrainian peasants to change their way of life and their work. They preferred to emigrate (see Emigration) as farmer-colonists to southwestern Siberia and the Far East rather than to go to the mines and factories of the Donbas. Most of the migrants to the Donbas were men of working age. In 1926 they outnumbered the women 100 to 96 (the ratio was 100 to 106 for all of Ukraine). Thirty-five percent of the men were between the ages of 20 and 39 (30 percent in Ukraine).
The ethnic composition of the Donbas has also been influenced by its location on the Ukrainian-Russian ethnic border and the presence of a number of Russian peasant islands in the Ukrainian Donbas. In 1926 Ukrainians constituted 58.4 percent of the region’s population; Russians, 33.4 percent; Jews, 2.2 percent; Germans, 1.6 percent; Belarusians, 0.8 percent; and Poles, 0.5 percent. In the cities, Russians, at 48.9 percent, outnumbered Ukrainians, who made up 40.4 percent of the population. In the larger cities the difference was even larger: in Donetsk the figures were 56.6 percent and 26.2 percent; in Makiivka, 64.5 percent and 28.5 percent.
The population of the Donbas grew particularly rapidly in the period of the first five-year plans at the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s. In six years (1927–32) the population increased by 25 percent: in the cities by 13.9 percent and in the countryside by 11 percent. In 1933–8 the population increased by 56 percent. Having reached a peak in 1993, population of the Donbas and of Ukraine as a whole began to decline. TABLE 2 shows the growth and subsequent decline of its 13 largest cities (with their current and Soviet names, where applicable).
In contrast to the past, in the 1930s most of the migration to the Donbas was from other regions of Ukraine, particularly from the countryside, because the demand for labor and better working conditions made survival easier in the Donbas than elsewhere during the collectivization, the Famine-Genocide of 1932–3, and the Stalinist terror.
The German-Soviet war (see Second World War) caused a sharp decline in the population: part of it was evacuated by the Soviets, about 320,000 people were deported as Ostarbeiter to Germany, about 420,000 perished, and some scattered into the countryside where food was easier to come by. The 1940 population size was reached again only in the mid-1950s. The population changes in the period from 1926 to 2020 are presented in TABLE 3, which applies to Luhansk oblast and Donetsk oblast together (53,200 sq km) rather than to the Donbas itself.
The population growth was most rapid during the first two five-year plans (1928–37), when the average rate of growth was 4.2 percent annually. It slowed down in the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s (to 1.5 percent) (see Map: Population of Donets Basin, 1956); since then growth has constantly decreased (to 0.3 percent in 1976–9). In the 1980s population began to decline in the rural areas, with in-migrants, coming mostly from the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, compensating for the lack of natural increase. According to the 2001 census, of the residents who arrived from other places between 1989 and 2001 in Donetsk oblast, 57.3 percent came from outside Ukraine, 38.4 percent from the Russian Federation; in Luhansk oblast, 58.8 percent came from outside Ukraine, 42.1 percent from the Russian Federation. Net in-migration ended after 1992, and the Donbas population peaked in 1993. In the 1990s the demographic transition resulted in aging population and deaths exceeding births resulting in a decline of population, both in rural and urban areas. Net out-migration contributed to faster population decline.
Economic decline accelerated Ukraine’s and particularly the Donbas’s long-term demographic crisis. By 1995 Ukraine’s crude death rate of 15.4 deaths per thousand people exceeded the war-ravaged sub-Saharan Africa (15.0), while the country’s total fertility (1.1 child in 2002) and population growth rates (–7.6 per 1,000 in 2002) reached some of the lowest levels in the world. In the Donbas, the growth rates were even lower than the national average (–10.6 per 1,000 in both Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast in 2002). Net out-migrations were also higher (–2.0 and –3.3 per 1,000, respectively, than the national average of –0.7 per 1,000). By the beginning of 2014, Donbas lost 20 percent of its inhabitants from its peak in 1993, with Donetsk oblast losing 19 percent and Luhansk over 22 percent.
The population estimates for the Donbas proper in 1926, 1979, 1994 and 2020 are shown in TABLE 4.
The Donbas is the largest densely populated region in Ukraine. Ninety-five percent of its population is urban. Villages survive only on the periphery of the region and sometimes among the large urban concentrations, where they have become increasingly urbanized. (See Map: Donets Basin: Cities and Towns.) The present cities and towns (smt) have developed from former small industrial or mining settlements, which at first consisted of primitive, unsanitary barracks and workers’ earthen huts (shankhaiky, sobacheivky, pekinynky) scattered chaotically around factories and mines. Only a few of the older towns, such as Bakhmut, Luhansk, and Sloviansk, had the appearance and the status of towns. The character of the towns and cities changed after the Revolution of 1917 because of the growth of industry and population: not only did they increase in area, but they also acquired proper city centers. The process is still continuing. As late as 1940, however, many workers, particularly newcomers and single men, still lived in barracks and even in earthen huts on the urban outskirts. The cities of the Donbas grew irregularly: suburban settlements merged with the cities, certain cities merged with each other, and workers’ settlements became cities.
Many cities still lack distinct centers. Some stretch along streams and railroad lines for many kilometers and are not sharply distinguished from other cities; for example, Kostiantynivka–Oleksiievo–Druzhkivka extend along the Kryvyi Torets River for 25 km. Some cities have physically, though not administratively, merged with others, for example, Donetsk–Makiivka. In 1979 there were four cities with over 300,000 inhabitants, nine cities with 100,000–300,000, and eleven cities with 50,000–100,000 in the Donbas. By 1993, cities in the last (50,000–100,000) category grew to 18. With population decline, by 2020 their number shifted down in the three categories, respectively, to 3, 5 and 13.
Ethnic composition. The ethnic composition of the Donbas population can be extrapolated from the census data for Luhansk oblast and Donetsk oblast combined, as shown in TABLE 5. The ethnic composition of the urban and rural population in the two oblasts is shown in TABLE 6.
During rapid industrialization and urbanization of the Donbas in the Soviet period, the Ukrainian majority was reduced as the sizeable Russian minority increased in the area generally until 1989. In the cities, the Russian majority was negated by 1959 and replaced by the Ukrainian majority by 1970. Other minorities were reduced by calamities during Second World War (the Jews in the Holocaust, the Germans by deportation) and then by slow assimilation over time.
Since Ukraine’s independence (1989 to 2001), there was an increase in the share of the population identifying itself as Ukrainian and a decrease in Russians. Since the post-Soviet voluntary return of Russians to the Russian Federation during this period could not account for this sizeable shift, and since the Donbas accounted for the highest rate of Russian-Ukrainian interethnic marriages in Ukraine, for many of their offspring the choice corresponded with their civic Ukrainian identity. Some small minorities continued to emigrate or assimilate. Their numbers (in 1000s) declined from 1989 to 2001 as follows: Jews, 36 to 12; Belarusians, 110 to 65; Tatars, 37 to 28, and Moldavians, 19 to 10. By contrast, there was a small influx of Armenians (from 14 to 22), Azeris (6 to 11) and Georgians (5 to 9) from areas of conflict during the demise of the Soviet Union).
Linguistic Russification has advanced rapidly. In 1959, 21 percent of Ukrainians in both oblasts gave Russian as their native language; in 1979 the figures were 36.7 percent in Donetsk oblast and 28.4 percent in Luhansk oblast. In 1970, 13 percent of Ukrainians did not know the Ukrainian language. In 1959, 3,142,000 (47 percent) gave the Ukrainian language as their native tongue, and 3,752,000 (56 percent) gave Russian. By 1979, 2,723,000 people (34 percent of the total population of both oblasts) gave Ukrainian as their native language; 4,485,400 (62 percent) gave Russian. Thus, an absolute decline in the number of Ukrainians who consider Ukrainian their native language was occurring. After Ukraine’s independence, the shift to Russian as one’s native language continued, both in relative and absolute terms. In 2001, 1,925,500 (26.1 percent) of the total population of both oblasts gave Ukrainian as their native tongue, and 5,364,000 (72.8 percent) gave Russian. This was particularly true of the urban population (14.3 percent Ukrainian, 77.3 percent Russian) but less so of the rural areas (61.2 percent Ukrainian, 37.8 percent Russian), half of which were beyond the Donbas proper. Among ethnic Ukrainians in the urban areas, 61.9 percent gave Russian as their native tongue and 38.1 as Ukrainian, while in the rural areas 81.6 percent gave Ukrainian as their native tongue and 18.4 percent as Russian. The Ukrainization of Russians, by contrast was negligible. Of the ethnic Russians in urban areas, only 1.2 percent gave Ukrainian as their native tongue, and even those living in rural areas, only 5.3 percent chose Ukrainian.
After Ukraine’s independence, given the level of Russification, schools in the Donbas (after the Crimea) took a long time to switch instruction from Russian to Ukrainian. In comparison to Ukraine as a whole, the percentage of day school students taught in the Ukrainian language (in school years) was slow: in Ukraine as a whole, 49 (1991–2), 58 (1995–6), 70 (2000–1), 78 (2005–6), 82 (2010–11), and 82 (2013–4); in Donetsk oblast, 3.3 (1991–2), 6 (1995–6), 14 (2000–1), 29 (2005–6), 47 (2010–11), and 50 (2013–14); in Luhansk oblast, 6.7 (1991–2), 9 (1995–6), 17 (2000–1), 34 (2005–6), 48 (2010–11), and 46 (2013–14). Parity with Ukrainian ethnicity (78 percent in Ukraine as a whole) was reached in the country in 2005, but in the Donbas region (57 percent in Donetsk oblast and 58 percent in Luhansk oblast) it was never attained before the hostilities erupted in 2014.
The ethnic composition of the Donbas proper cannot be described accurately. Approximate figures from 1970, however, can be compared to the figures for 1926 and 2001, which are quite accurate. These are shown in TABLE 7.
The Donbas (TABLE 7), being more urbanized, had a lower share of Ukrainians (56 percent rather than the 57.2 percent) and a higher share of Russians (40 percent rather than the 38.5 percent) than Donetsk oblast and Luhansk oblast together (TABLE 5). In fact, the core of the old Donbas, occupied since 2014 by the Russia-controlled DPR and LPR, had in 2001 a population of 4,295,000 with an even closer ratio of 51 percent Ukrainians to 45 percent Russians. Seven of its 23 larger cities still had Russians outnumbering Ukrainians in 2001, with population (in 1000s) and the Russian / Ukrainian percentages as follows: Donetsk (1,025) 48 / 47, Makiivka (431) 51 / 45, and Yenakiieve (163) 51 / 45 in the DPR; and Dovzhansk (Sverdlovsk, 110) 49 / 46, Kadiivka (Stakhanov, 108) 50 / 46, Sorokyne (Krasnodon, 118) 63 / 33, and Khrustalnyi (Krasnyi Luch, 145) 54 / 41 in the LPR. The remaining cities had Ukrainian majorities. By contrast, the northwestern periphery of the old Donbas retained since 2014 under Ukrainian control had in 2001 1,729,000 residents with a significantly higher share of Ukrainians (69 percent) than Russians (28 percent). All its cities had Ukrainian majorities.
Main industrial and population centers. These are located mostly in the central part of the Donbas near the rich deposits of coking coal. The densest concentration of population is in Donetsk and the adjacent Makiivka, the largest centers of the coal, machine-building, and coke-chemical industries. Some of the largest metallurgical plants in Ukraine are found there: the Donetsk Metallurgical Plant, the Makiivka Metallurgical Plant, and huge machine-building plants producing mining equipment, metal structures, industrial machines, etc. Along with Yasynuvata, Khartsyzk, and several other cities and towns, Donetsk–Makiivka is the largest urban cluster in the Donbas and the second largest after Kyiv in Ukraine. Almost 2 million people (2020 estimate) live in an area of 600 sq km. About 20 km north of Donetsk lies another cluster, consisting of Horlivka, Yenakiieve, and other cities, of almost 500,000 people in an area of 500 sq km. There the coal industry, the metallurgical industry, machine building, the coke-chemical industry, and the chemical industry are concentrated. Both of these urban clusters, except for some of its outlying parts (Avdiivka, Toretsk [formerly Dzerzhynsk], and Zalizne [formerly Artemove]), are now held by the Russian-controlled DPR.
Farther north a third cluster, including Kostiantynivka, Druzhkivka, Kramatorsk, Sloviansk and several other cities, stretches along the Kazennyi Torets River for 50 km and has a population of 500,000. Kramatorsk is the center of machine building, with two huge heavy-machine-building plants and an industrial-machine-building plant. Druzhkivka and Kostiantynivka have metallurgical as well as non-ferrous metallurgical, chemical, and glass plants. Sloviansk is primarily a center for the chemical (soda) industry, but it has a heavy-machine-building plant and an armature-insulation plant. This cluster is part of Ukraine-controlled Donetsk oblast, with its administrative center in Kramatorsk.
The fourth cluster, consisting of Kadiivka (Stakhanov), Alchevsk, and the smaller cities of Pervomaisk (Luhansk oblast) and Popasna, has a population of about 500,000. It is an important coal, coke-chemical, and metallurgical center. The metallurgical industry is concentrated in Alchevsk, the ferroalloys industry in Kadiivka. This cluster, except for Popasna and outlying towns to the north, is held by the LPR.
Luhansk, which is somewhat removed from the region’s heartland, is the oldest and the second-largest industrial center. Its population is about 405,000, and the city is known for machine building, particularly of steam locomotives, and industrial-machine building. It now serves as the capital of the LPR.
The cluster of Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk, Rubizhne, Kreminna, with over 350,000 inhabitants, lies along the Donets River. It is the largest chemicals center in the Donbas, with plants such as Azot in Sievierodonetsk (see Sievierodonetsk Azot Manufacturing Consortium), Krasytel in Rubizhne (see Rubizhne Krasytel Manufacturing Consortium), and a soda plant in Lysychansk, where the largest oil refinery in Ukraine is also located. The coal and glass industries are well developed there. This cluster is part of Ukraine-controlled Luhansk oblast, with its administrative center in Sievierodonetsk.
The last large population cluster is a belt of coal-mining cities in the south, extending from Torez and Snizhne in Donetsk oblast (now part of DPR) in the west through Khrustalnyi (Krasnyi Luch), Antratsyt, Rovenky and Dovzhansk (Sverdlovsk) in Luhansk oblast (now part of LPR) near the border with the Russian Federation. It has a population (2020 estimate) of about 500,000.
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[This article was updated in 2022.]