Slagheap City, it has to be said, hides its charms well.
Nearly a million people now live in Donetsk, which was set up by Welshman John Hughes after he came out here in 1869. In effect he sparked an industrial revolution in this part of eastern Ukraine.
The legacy of his efforts is staggering to behold when you travel out to the huge metallurgical plant in the south of the city.
It stretches across the horizon and is reminiscent of how Port Talbot used to look some 30-40 years ago.
Without the pong – Donetsk prides itself on having far less pollution than you might imagine.
Industrial clanking and clanging rings through the air. A locomotive toots a whistle as it shunts items through the complex. White smoke drifts from chimneys.
The city was called Hughesovka (pronounced in Russian as ‘Yuzovka‘) until 1924 when it became Stalino and then in the 60s Donetsk, after the river Don.
It would be hard to understate its importance – it must have seemed an infernal place 100 years ago and working in the mines in particular is still a fearsome and dangerous occupation.
According to a business magazine several years ago, the mining industry is still a huge employer over here.
Roughly 200 miners a year die in Ukraine – a statistic that would cause ructions back in the UK. Business Ukraine said 2,000 workers had died in a ten-year period.
And I recall reading not long ago of a mine disaster claiming lives and continuing to operate only to suffer further deaths in the same area of the mine a month later.
To travel in this area and in the areas around Lugansk, closer to the Russian border, is to go back in time – you can well imagine how the industrial landscape in Wales and, say, Manchester looked.
The regional museum
Just up from the Shaktar Donetsk football ground, you have to search hard for references to the man who created the city.
He brought shiploads of workers to the area to exploit its natural resources.
He died in 1889 aged 75 and his descendants stayed only to clear off in 1919 when, one assumes, the going got even hotter than the blast furnaces and the Russian Revolution started catching up with the ruling classes.
Which probably explains why the monument in the centre of the city, in Artyoma, was only built in 2001.
His legacy is everywhere but there isn’t a great deal in the museum about its founding father who is referred, in Russian, as ‘angliski’ (English).
There’s one cabinet on the ground floor which acts as a teasing taster. You want to know a bit more – and you need to be able to understand Ukrainian or Russian to read the texts – but that’s your lot. There’s a great deal more on Wikipedia.
According to Wales online the Ukrainian parliament has backed a national John Hughes museum here as well as issue a commemorative stamp to appear in time for the 200th anniversary of his birth next year.
Good idea and Donetsk seems to have embraced its founder over the last 15 years but, as with many things in this country, I’ll believe it when it happens.
I took a taxi out to the magnate’s former house, which, it’s been stated, would house the museum.
That’s the address – should save you some time if you fancy visiting.
Thank God I didn’t scale the 12-foot fence as I had planned. Just in time, from the outside, I saw two packs of wild dogs inside who snarled and regarded me as though I had ‘Kennomeat’ tattooed on my forehead in Cyrillic.
Packs of stray, foraging dogs are a common sight in Ukraine and you cross them at your peril.
The house is still impressively sturdy and its red-brick resoluteness is redolent of good old British handiwork from the 19th century.
And it’s also strikingly different to every building I’ve ever seen in Ukraine.
It’s hard to find – I had to badger a museum bigwig for the address and even then taxi drivers didn’t know where the street was. It’s next to a gynaecology clinic and looks out over to the huge metallurgical plant.
It’s surrounded by a fenced-off compound. Most of the compound is used as lock-up garages.
And, fair to say, a lot of work is required to get it into a position from which it can house a museum.
Mine’s a pint
But who knows what will happen? Hughes is in vogue. In the centre of the city is a bar and brewery bearing his name. Also a restaurant, which bears black and white pictures of him in its foyer.
And a statue was put up to him in 2001.
Presumably entrepreneurs in the post-Soviet era found a kindred spirit in Hughes and there’s a greater awareness of what he helped to create.
You can even buy a souvenir football of him.
I couldn’t help thinking that back in 1869 a man from Merthyr came to Ukraine to create a major metropolis.
Donetsk, though hard to describe as ‘beautiful’ seems to be doing quite well as a result.
Perhaps someone from the city could now pop over to Merthyr to return the favour.
There’s four minutes on the recent exhibition at the Norwegian Church in Cardiff’s docklands here at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-2492313