Coal Mining and Metallurgical Industries: The Challenges and Impact in Donetsk, Ukraine

The City of Donetsk in Ukraine

Donetsk is a major transport hub. It has several airports and is home to the largest railway in Ukraine. It is also served by bus and marshrutka services. There are also about 140 museums in the city.

In the pre-Revolutionary period it was a coal mining town named Yuzivka. An ironworks was established there by a Welshman in 1872 to produce iron and then steel rails.

Coal mining

With a massive coal reserve, Ukraine had promising prospects for mining and energy. But the war and political upheaval shattered them, and now state-owned mines struggle to survive. The workers scrounge around for basic necessities, and the spring wages are only trickling in now.

The work is arduous. The miners clamber into closed metal trucks behind a locomotive and ride down more than a kilometer of galleries to the coal face, 370 meters below ground. They extract metallurgical coal — important for the production of steel, and they dig in temperatures that can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is not a job for the faint of heart, and many who once worked in the mines have joined the armed forces to fight for the “people’s republic” and its autonomy from Kiev. Despite Ukraine’s blockade of the self-proclaimed republics, coal from them is still being shipped to central Europe. Turkey is the largest export destination, according to commercial trade data reviewed by Reuters.

Metallurgical industry

In 1872 Welshman John Hughes started an ironworks to make iron rails for the growing Russian railway network in what is now Donetsk. A coal mine and a steel plant soon followed, and the city was known as Hughesovka or Yuzovka until the Soviet era. Under the czars, it expanded rapidly as metallurgy, railroads, hospitals, schools and residential buildings were built.

The war has hit metallurgy hard. It is a lucrative industry that accounted for a third of Ukraine’s exports before the conflict. It’s also a key employer in the region, and many workers have been sent to the front line.

The Zaporizhzhia factory, for instance, is struggling to get its steel to customers in Turkey and Europe because it’s difficult to transport via Ukraine’s closed ports. The country’s railways aren’t the same size as Western European ones, and loading and unloading cargo is time-consuming. Moreover, it’s expensive. The war has pushed the company’s production costs up.


Despite its name – the portmanteau of Donbas Coal Basin – coal isn’t Donetsk’s only industry. It’s also a city of culture, with three theaters, a philharmonic concert hall and dozens of museums.

It’s set in a typical steppe landscape, with scattered woodland, hills and spoil tips around the Kalmius River. Winter temperatures can fall to as low as -30degC (-25degF), although -7degC (19degF) is more usual.

Donetsk is served by a number of major transport routes, including the International E-road which runs from Rostov-on-Don in Russia to the Ukrainian border and three national roads. Visitors should be aware that if they travel to Crimea or Non-Government Controlled Areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, they will require Ukrainian entry clearance at designated Ukrainian checkpoints. Children under 16 travelling without their parents will need a notarized letter of consent. Travelers should also be alert to possible street scams. In particular, crooks may drop wallets and bundles of money in front of tourists.


The city has two major professional football clubs – FC Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Olimpiyskiy. In addition, it is the home of the HC Donbass ice hockey team, which played in the KHL until 2014, when they were relegated to the Ukrainian Premier League.

Following the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine in 2014, Donetsk became a focus of pro-Russian unrest that eventually led to months of attritional warfare between Ukraine forces and Russian-backed separatists. The conflict was part of the wider Russo-Ukrainian War, and Russia wrested control of large portions of eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Russia now controls the occupied territories as self-proclaimed “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, which it recognizes as sovereign states. The groups claim independence from Ukraine, but they receive significant financial and military support from Moscow. They also have supposedly independent “parliaments”, elected in sham elections, and government officials appointed at the order of the Kremlin. The occupying forces are also reportedly supported by volunteer Russian nationalist and ultranationalist militias.

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