Donetsk National University

Image - Donetsk National University, Philology Department (until 2014, in Donetsk). Image - The logo of the Donetsk National University.

Donetsk National University [Донецький національний університет імені Василя Стуса; Donets'kyi natsional'nyi uviversytet imena Vasylia Stusa]. A national university formerly situated in Donetsk; now temporarily located in Vinnytsia.

A university in Donetsk was founded in 1965 to succeed the Donetsk Pedagogical Institute (est 1937 as Stalin State Pedagogical Institute). Initially it trained historians and philologists, and by the fall of 1941 its enrollment was 881 students. With the beginning of the Soviet-German war the institute was evacuated to Russia’s heartland (the city of Perm), but its activities all but ceased until 1944. That year the institute reopened in Stalino (Donetsk), and the new faculty—physics and mathematics—was added to the existing faculties of history and philology. By 1950 the institute graduated 1,476 teachers. The institute was also alloted a mini campus that consisted of a main academic building (faculty of philology) and a dormitory; it was further expanded in 1961–4 with the addition of buildings that housed the faculties of history and physics, a reading hall, and a sports facility. The student enrollment was almost 700 students in 1950. One of the institute’s graduates in those years was poet Vasyl Stus who studied at the faculty of history and philology. In 1963 the general academic faculty was created with separate departments of the humanities, mathematics, and agrobiology. The faculty included several new disciplines, such as process metallurgy and material science, technical mechanics, and machine science. The student enrollment increased to 2,120. In 1964 the Donetsk Pedagogical Institute became a branch of Kharkiv University. The institute included five faculties: history and philology; physics and mathematics; pedagogy; musical pedagogy; and the general academic faculty with the departments of the humanities, natural sciences, polytechnics, and agrobiology.

In 1965 the Donetsk State University was founded on the basis of this pedagogical institute, largely thanks to the energetic efforts of the new head of the Donetsk oblast committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Volodymyr Dehtiariov, who intended to transform Donetsk into an educational and scientific center of Soviet Ukraine. The university consisted of six faculties (physics; mathematics; history; philology; chemistry; and biology) and the number of students reached 5,500. In 1966 two more faculties—economics and Romance and Germanic philology—were added, and the university newspaper Universytets'ki visti was launched. Among its newly appointed faculty members were four academicians and eleven corresponding members of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR, including mathematicians Yaroslav Lopatynsky, Heorhii Suvorov, Iosyp Hikhman, and Oleksandr Kosmodamiansky; physicists Volodymyr Arkharov and Kyrylo Tolpyho; chemists Leonid Lytvynenko (the first rector of the university) and Roman Kucher; mechanical engineer Ivan Povkh; and economist Oleksandr Alymov.

By 1970 the university encompassed seven main faculties: mathematics; physics; chemistry; biology; history; economics; and philology (including the department of Romance and Germanic philology). The 1970s saw a large-scale construction of new university buildings, including the university’s 12-storey Main Building (1971), two 12-storey dormitories (1972), and two 7-storey buildings that housed the faculties of chemistry and biology (1973–6). In 1976 the faculty of accounting and finances was added. A large swimming pool was completed in 1986. The tenure of the university’s longest-serving rector (1986–2010) the renowned mechanics scientist Volodymyr Shevchenko was marked by a dramatic transition from the heavy industry-oriented university model typical of Soviet times to the post-Soviet education with the emphasis on the humanities, social sciences, and information technology. It was also the time when the Ukrainian language finally made some inroads in the university teaching that had hitherto been conducted almost exclusively in Russian. The new policies championed by Rector Shevchenko also included the promotion of the Ukrainian language and a new curriculum, partially taught outside of the university campus. As a result, in 1990 the university began to operate the Ukrainian-language lyceum for secondary school students in Donetsk, followed by the Humanities College in Mariupol in 1991 (today Mariupol State University) that specialized in Hellenic studies and the cultural history of the Sea of Azov region. Similarly to other Ukrainian educational and scholarly institutions, Donetsk University grappled with the decreasing state funding and the drop in student enrollments, especially in the faculties dealing with sciences and technology. In order to improve its economic standing, in 2000 the university launched collaborative projects with leading industrial manufacturers of Donetsk oblast, including the chemical concern Styrol and Illich Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol. In 2000 the university was granted the status of a national institution of higher learning. The same year it opened its newest to date academic building that housed the faculty of economics and law. As a way to boost its reputation as a center of the humanities and social sciences in independent Ukraine, in 2005 Donetsk National University (DonNU) hosted the Sixth international congress of the International Association of Ukrainian Studies.

In 2014, on the eve of the Russo-Ukrainian war in the Donbas, DonNU had twelve faculties: mathematics and information technology; physics and technology; chemistry; biology; history; philology; foreign languages; economics; accounting and finance; law; international studies; and related professions. The university trained graduates in 63 areas. The average student enrollment was 18,000. The university had a teaching staff of approximately 1,000. Its library contained over 1,300,000 items, and published textbooks, scholarly monographs, and research collections.

In July 2014, with the takeover of Donetsk by the Russia-backed separatists, the militants occupied DonNU’s dormitories and in September its administrative and educational buildings. As a result, DonNU was transferred to Vinnytsia. It is still disputed how many faculty members and students relocated to the university’s new location, but it is estimated that around 60 percent of its faculty and less than 20 percent of its students did so. The rest of the former faculty and students remained in occupied Donetsk where they continue to use DonNU’s former campus with its extensive material resources, including library, laboratories, and research collections. This institution, however, is officially recognized only by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic and by the Russian Federation.

DonNU’s current enrollment (in Vinnytsia) is 5,270 students, well below its peak in 2013–14. Nonetheless, DonNU managed to retain its place among Ukraine’s top colleges and universities. For instance, in 2019 DonNu was ranked 21 among 240 colleges and universities and second among classical universities of central Ukraine in the Consolidated Ranking of Ukraine’s colleges and universities conducted by the educational web portal That same year DonNU was ranked 52 out of 224 Ukraine’s colleges and universities according to GPA of the applicants enrolled in the government-funded programs and based on the External Independent Evaluation (ZNO) of secondary school graduates. In 2020 DonNU was also ranked 19 among Ukraine’s 177 institutions of higher learning by the number of publications of its scholars featured in the Scopus international citation database. In 2015 DonNU was awarded the Freedom prize by Wrocław Global Forum—an annual transatlantic conference co-organized by the Atlantic Council. In 2016 DonNU was named in honour of the poet and prominent representative of the Ukrainian dissident movement Vasyl Stus.

As of 2020 DonNU consists of eight faculties: information and applied technologies; physics and technology; history and international relations; philology; foreign languages; economics; law; and chemistry, biology, and biotechnologies. In addition, DonNU operates two regional branches: in Mariupol and in Khmelnytskyi. One of the most pressing issues facing DonNU in Vinnytsia is the construction of its own campus. Upon its relocation to Vinnytsia, the university library had to start its collection from scratch with the help from libraries in Ukraine and from volunteers living abroad: in Canada, the US, France, and Poland. As of 2020 the university library contains over 23,000 books and periodicals. It also provides free access to the international scientific databases such as Scopus and Web of Science. DonNU continues to publish a number of academic periodicals and collections, most notably, Visnyk DonNU (since 1997) that appears in several series (natural sciences; humanities; economics and law; political sciences; philosophical sciences; and chemical sciences).

I. Omel’ianenko, I. Osliak, ‘Narys istoriї Stalins'koho derzhavnoho pedahohichnoho instytutu za dvadtsiat' rokiv,’ Naukovi zapysky SDPI, vol. 6 (1957)
DonNU official website:

Serhiy Bilenky

[This article was written in 2020.]

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