Labor, Exhaustion, and Success: Company Towns in the Donbas

A blast furnace of the Old-Petrovsky Ironworks in 1860
Katali (rollers) at the Yenakiive Ironworks, early 20th century
Blast furnaces of the Kramatorsk Ironworks, 1910
Tramming coal in a mine in the Donbas, before 1917
Miners in Ekaterinoslav province before 1917
Hauling coal tubs at mine #1, Horlivka. 1932.
A former church building transformed into the club of the Tsentralna-Irmine mine. Monument to V. Lenin in the foreground. Luhansk region. January 17, 1933
The recreation room of the Kramatorsk Ironworks, 1937
View of Stalino Ironworks, 1937
A group of miners relaxing in the nature. Stalino (after 1961 Donetsk) oblast’, 1950
The manager is greeting the head of the brigade with the first truck filled with coal. Stalino (after 1961 Donetsk) oblast’, 1957
Miners’ strike in Makiivka, July 17, 1989. Photo by Ihor Bruy

Labour, Exhaustion, and Success: Corporate Cities of the Donbass

The bare steppe of the Donbass was an area where one of the most ambitious industrial projects in Europe was implemented. In the late 19th c., it managed to unite imperial government officials, entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, and future workers. The news about the rich deposits of coal and iron attracted people from all over the Russian Empire and Europe.

Most cities in the Donbass, such as Donetsk, Luhansk, Kramatorsk, Alchevsk, Lysychansk, Horlivka, Yenakiyeve, were born as corporate towns. In the Soviet period, they transformed into large and medium size cities and formed the largest agglomeration in Ukraine. Despite the many transformations in the 20th c., a lot has remained unchanged in the cities – corporations maintained their influence and control, while industrial production, labour, state policy, and all aspects of everyday life were closely interrelated.

The main idea of the exhibition was to take a look at the history of the Donbass through the corporate cities, the settlements developed around a mine or a plant. In the cities, all relations between people, production and consumption, as well as the entire lifestyle were connected to the company or enterprise itself, as it offered jobs, developed the city, and shaped a true ‘new person’, the creator of an industry.

17 exhibition stands cover such aspects as changes in the natural landscape and cityscape, labour and production, relations between people, attempts of the state and the enterprises to develop ‘an ideal society’ and a heroic worker, as well as the after work leisure. The personalities of the exhibition also include some iconic persons for the Donbass, such as John Hughes, Oleksiy Stakhanov, and Volodymyr Sosiura.

The exhibition covers the materials of the 19-20th c. and makes us think about the role of the Donbass in the development of industrial Ukraine, as well as about the price of the success. Indeed, contemporary social, political, and environmental problems of the region are rooted in the times of its settling and Stalin period industrialization.

The exhibition was created in 2015, within the "DonKult" cultural forum. It also fit within the subject matter of the lectures and discussions program on the past and present Donbass. The previous version of the exhibition was also displayed in the Budapest European University on May, 22 – June, 15, 2015, to support the round table ‘Industrial Heritage: Historical Context, Social Challenges, and Opportunities for Management.


Exhibition Organizers:

Center for Urban History, Lviv

Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, Edmonton

Authors: Volodymyr Kulikov and Iryna Sklokina

Images were kindly offered by:

Horlivka Artistic Museum, Donetsk Regional Art Museum, Pshenychnyi Central State Film and Photo Archive of Ukraine, Museum of the City History of Kramatorsk, Museum of History of Yenakiyevo Metallurgic Plant, Stakhanov City History and Art Museum.

Acknowledgments for support in preparing the exhibition extend to:

Sofia Dyak, Iryna Matsevko, Dora Meriah, Oleksiy Chebotarov

Exhibition was implemented with the financial support of Ihor Liski.