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Donetsk, formerly known as a city famous for its economic output and a rather successful soccer team, has become a sad symbol of the Russian war in Ukraine from 2014 on. The steel city on the banks of the Kalmius river has suffered greatly from destruction in this war, which saw it become a mainstay of Russian-backed separatists and the capital of an entity founded by this war party. The Donetsk administration building had been seized by pro-Russian activists in April 2014. The secession of the “Donetsk Republic” founded in 2014 has not been recognized internationally. Donetsk is thus still Ukraine’s fifth-largest city, although many thousands of the former population of roughly 2 million in the metropolitan area have fled the region and relocated elsewhere.

As of the time of this writing, Donetsk is practically unreachable from Ukrainian territory and many countries have issued travel advices discouraging the attempt to travel there.

Donetsk 2

Quick facts Donetsk


Eastern Ukraine




Founding year


There have been settlements in the place of today’s Donetsk previous to the city’s founding date, with the first mention of that going back to the Russian Empire in the second half of the 18th century. The director of a London-based iron works company, John Hughes, originally from Wales, built a steel plant here in 1869, laying the foundation for the development of a city which was at first known as “Hughesovka” or “Yuzivka”. The influx of workers, many of them coming from Wales, soon led to a town of considerable size. Under Soviet rule, the city’s name was changed to “Stalin” in 1924. Growing steadily, it was made the capital of the new Donetsk oblast in the Ukrainian SSR in 1933 and suffered great destruction under the Nazi occupation 1941-1943. The city received its current name under Khrushchev in 1961. The name is derived from a small river, the Seversky Donets.

There are also five other rivers in the region, crossing through the long-stretched city. The most important of these is the Kalmius river which flows to the Sea of Azov about 100 kilometers south. Along the banks of the rivers and in other places in the region, one notices a number of mining rock heaps, testimony to Donetsk’s reputation as a city of heavy industry. There are more than 15 active coal mines in and around Donetsk, some of them right below the city. In addition, several metallurgy factories operate in town, contributing to the fact that a significant percentage of Ukraine’s gross product was generated here.  

According to most recent census data, Donetsk oblast’s population has had a majority Ukrainian ethnicity before war broke out, however, the Russian language was more widespread than the Ukrainian. In the city itself, both Russian and Ukrainian ethnicity were at approximately the same numbers. Since fights have begun in the region in 2014, a large number of residents have fled the area.

Donetsk traditionally is a town focused on sports, as evident by the presence of no less than three teams in the Ukrainian Premier soccer league. One of those, Shakhtar, has made a name for itself internationally after several successful European cup campaigns. Their home base is Donbass arena, a modern sports stadium built before Euro 2012. Ice hockey, tennis, basketball and track and field also have a home in Donetsk, with pole vaulting becoming famous thanks to Donetsk native Sergey Bubka being a widely recognized representative.

The main tourist attractions in the city are the area around Artema Street, which is seamed by many modern shopping centers as well as by monuments, hotels and some historic architecture including the Opera and Ballet Theatre building. Another street drawing many visitors is Pushkin Boulevard, which has a green walkway area in the center between lanes and is also home to a park with flowers and other figures forged from steel.