The British Oligarch: How Welsh industrialist founded a town in Imperial Russia that they named after him

  • John Hughes travelled to Ukraine in 1846 with 100 British workmen
  • Entrepreneur created factory town based on his Welsh village
  • The city, now known as Donetsk, is now the fifth largest in Ukraine
  • Communist leaders ransacked capitalist town in 1900s
  • Civic leaders today paid tribute to visionary Brit who died in 1889

By Jennifer Smith

|

British industrialist John Hughes was 54 when he moved his entire family from their Welsh Valleys home to Imperial Russia to create a steel works

British industrialist John Hughes was 54 when he moved his entire family from their Welsh Valleys home to Imperial Russia

A British pioneer who created an entire city in Imperial Russia is being honoured more than 130 years after his death.

Victorian Entrepreneur John Hughes travelled more than 2,000 miles from the Welsh Valleys to start a steelworks in the city, now called Donetsk.

Hughs, who was born in Merthyr, Tydfil in South Wales, was 54 when he was headhunted by the Tsarist government who admired his designs for iron clad battleships.

After being asked to create a steelworks for the Russian Empire, he acquired a £24,000 piece of land and brought 100 British men overseas to do the job.

The product was not only the required factory, but a small city called Hughesovka in his honour.

In a bid to re-write history however, communist leaders of the USSR later changed its name to Stalino.

Today, with a population of almost 1million and a thriving football team, the city of Donetsk paid tribute to the man who created it.

Ukranian ambassador Volodymyr Khandogiy was among many civic leaders that gathered to celebrate 200 years since the Brit's birth. 'John Hughes exported to our country his skills and inspiration.

'He proved that the technology migrating through political frontiers can bring remarkable positive changes, modernisation and development,' he said.

With 100 British workers in tow, Hughs acquired a £24,000 piece of land which would go on to become the fifth largest city in Ukraine

With 100 British workers in tow, Hughes acquired a £24,000 piece of land which would go on to become the fifth largest city in Ukraine

Hughs had been asked by the Tsar Government who admired his designs for iron clad battleships

Hughes had been asked by the Tsar Government who admired his designs for iron clad battleships

The father-of-eight brought his family with him on the gruelling journey from South Wales to the Ukraine in 1946.

They faced unforgiving winters, unbearably hot summers and cholera epidemics among other obstacles upon their arrival.

After drawing inspiration from a Welsh valley town, Hughes developed a settlement which included tea rooms, schools, a hospital and churches on the otherwise baron land.

 

Author Colin Thomas, who specialises in the links between Wales and Ukraine, he said: 'I think in many ways it was the model of what Hughes saw in his hometown.

'He wanted to create a town in which he was the top man - I think that was part of his driving ambition.'

The entrepreneur died in 1889 while on a business trip to St Petersberg.

His sons then took over the business, but were chased out of Ukraine in 1924 by the USSR.

The city became formally known as Donetsk in 1961, with city bosses dedicating years to suppressing its capitalist roots before embracing Hughes as its founding father.

Hughs is being honoured in the city with a statue nearby the Scientific Library of Donetsk Technical University

Hughes is being honoured in the city with a statue nearby the Scientific Library of Donetsk Technical University

The town was named after its beloved founder yet communist USSR leaders changed its name to Stalino in 1924

The town was named after its beloved founder yet communist USSR leaders changed its name to Stalino in 1924

Today the city which is called Donetsk paid tribute to the man whose vision and expertise created it

Today the city which is called Donetsk paid tribute to the man whose vision and expertise created it

British workers not only shared their industrial skills with locals, they introduced them to football which is now the city's most famous accolade

British workers not only shared their industrial skills with locals, they introduced them to football for which the city is now famous

A statue of the industrialist has been erected near the Scientific Library of Donetsk Technical University, and a 700-capacity restaurant has been named after him.

The palatial manor where he lived with his wife, Elizabeth Lewis and their eight children is however a ruin.

Made famous by its champion league team Shakhtae Donetsk, the city also has Hughes to thank for its affiliation to football, as it was the British factory men in his factory that introduced the sport to the area.

The industrialist based plans for the city on a Welsh Valleys town and included a hospital, churches, schools and a pub in his designs

The industrialist based plans for the city on a Welsh Valleys town and included a hospital, churches, schools and a pub in his designs

The Brits faced gruelling winters and unbearably hot summers upon their arrival at the land which was baron aside from buildings they produced

The Brits faced gruelling winters and unbearably hot summers upon their arrival at the land which was baron aside from buildings they produced

British workers not only shared their industrial skills while in Ukraine but introduced locals to football - the sport for which the city of Donetsk is now famous
John Hughs died in 1889 while on a business trip to St Petersberg. His sons took over the business, but were later pushed out by communist forces

John Hughes died in 1889 while on a business trip to St Petersberg. His sons took over the business, but were later pushed out by communist forces

Mick Antoniw , a Welsh Assembly member for nearby Pontypridd, his dad was from Ukraine, and he has backed the tribute.

He said: 'It is fantastic news that the Ukrainian Parliament have passed a resolution honouring John Hughes with a commemorative stamp.

'I am honoured to help commemorate the 200th anniversary of John Hughes and raise the profile of people like him who have made an extraordinary difference internationally.

'It is important that we honour our unsung heroes and recognise the important work that they have achieved through history.'

Churches dedicated to St George and St David were included in plans for the city which was given the name Hughesovka

Churches dedicated to St George and St David were included in plans for the city which was given the name Hughesovka

The Hughesovka Hospital in the 1890's after being built in original plans for the city created by John Hughs

The Hughesovka Hospital in the 1890's after being built in original plans for the city created by John Hughes

The palatial home in which John Hughs lived with his wife and children is now a ruin after being destroyed by communists

The palatial home in which John Hughes lived with his wife and children is now a ruin after being destroyed by communists

The grand, redstone manor has been ransacked over the years and is now an empty shell of what was once the entrepreneur's home

The grand, redstone manor has been ransacked over the years and is now an empty shell of what was once the entrepreneur's home


The comments below have been moderated in advance.

And the local football team, Shakhtar Donetsk, now play in a 5* football stadium designed by the english designers Arup.

2
8
Click to rate

the otherwise baron land... Baron land?

4
14
Click to rate

Barren land, DM, not baron land.......

2
21
Click to rate

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now