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From Wales to Ukraine: the Hughesovka story

Hughes's son as Ukrainian peasantThe South Wales Valleys, left devastated when the steelworks and coalmines closed, have received more European funding than perhaps any other region in Britain. In Ebbw Vale alone, the European Social Fund has invested £350m into the regeneration of the old steelworks and £35.5m into the creation of Coleg Gwent, the provider of 29,000 Welsh apprenticeships, facilitating the improvement of local infrastructure, education, and culture. Yet despite this dependence on inward investment from Europe, the region voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU in the referendum vote of June 2016. This decision was undoubtedly informed by the anti-migrant discourse that pervaded the Valleys in the run up to the referendum. In the wake of the vote, politicians and public figures (including the MP for Pontypridd and Ukrainian heritage speaker) have expressed grave concern about the increasingly distorted view of immigration among communities in the region.

The Impact Project takes the form of a kickstarter event, ‘Enthusiasm’, which will engage Welsh and migrant communities in the South Wales Valleys, Welsh and Ukrainian artists and musicians, and the Glamorgan Archives in Cardiff, in a constructive and timely discussion about migration, culture, and European identity. The event is intended to create momentum for further forms of cultural exchange and dialogue within the local community.

Research background:

The project builds on research carried out by Victoria Donovan into a marginalised episode in the history of British-Ukrainian relations: the contribution of Welsh migrant labour to the foundation and development of the mining communities in Eastern Ukraine. This research enhances our understanding of the transnational exchange of labour, goods, and ideas between Wales and the Donbass region of Ukraine, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and explores the cultural legacy of these links by asking how the connections between mining workforces in the regions have been commemorated in cultural institutions and preserved in popular memory.

In 2016, the research project was awarded a Carnegie Research Incentive Grant and a two-week research residency at the Centre for Urban History of Central Eastern Europe in L’viv, Ukraine. Public interest in the project has already been established through a BBC commission to write a ‘Column’ for the BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking programme in June 2016:



‘Enthusiasm’ is an innovative, interdisciplinary one-day arts event brings together musicians, members of the community, archivists and historians to take a radical look at a little-known historical episode that links Merthyr and the South Wales Valleys to the Donbass in Ukraine and asks how the legacy of this past continues to resonate in our social, cultural and political landscape today.  

In 1869, Welsh industrialist John Hughes founded the mining town of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine, initiating a wave of migration from South Wales to Eastern Europe. 1917 and the approaching Russian Revolution saw the hasty exit of the industrialists who had followed Hughes, fearful of the revolutionary ferment. 100 years later, in the present day, Ukraine and the Donbass are once again at the centre of a violent conflict that has led to the internal displacement of over a million people. 

Enthusiasm will bring to life some of the elements of this fascinating and timely story, via film, music, image, food and discussion. 

Enthusiasm includes: 

• Talks by Victoria Donovan (Lecturer in Russian, University of St Andrews) and Susan Edwards (Director of the Glamorgan Archives and founder of the Hughesovka Research Archive)

• Performance of a selection of migrant letters by local and diasporan voices.

• Exhibition of historic photographs of Hughesovka/Donetsk from the Glamorgan Archives and contemporary images by Ukrainian photographer Alexander Chekmenev

• A programme of workshops and activities

• Screening: Enthusiasm: The Donbass Symphony (1931) by Ukrainian revolutionary film maker Dziga Vertov with a new original score performed live by composer Simon Gore.

Image credits:

Photo 1: Image is of industrialist John Hughes's 3rd son, dressed as a Ukrainian peasant. Hughesovka, Ukraine, c. 1890. Image courtesy of Glamorgan Archives. Ref: HRA/DX409)

Photo 2: Still from Dzhiga Vertov's Enthusiasm: The Donbass Symphony (from the collection of the Austrian Film Museum. Frame enlargement Georg Wasner)

Trailer for 'Enthusiasm', featuring a short excerpt from a new, live soundtrack by composer Simon Gore and clips from Dziga Vertov's 1931 film 'Enthusiasm: The Donbass Symphony'. The full, hour long performance will be premiered at Enthusiasm in Merthyr Tydfil on 1st July 2017.