Donbass – what is it?

Donbass is an industrial center of Ukraine, the region of hardworking and hospitable people, manufacturing and sports records, gigantic enterprises and endless fertile fields. Very often people think that Donbass and Donetsk region is the same thing. However, this is not entirely correct, since the southern part of Donetsk region belongs to the geographical area called Priazovye while Donbass itself spreads across four regions of two countries. So let’s try to find out what exactly Donbass is.

Gob piles - the visiting card of Donbass.
Photo: Gob piles – the visiting card of Donbass.

There was a time when “Donbass” refrigerators were manufactured in Donetsk (now they have been renamed to “Nord” refrigerators), and now this name has been taken by the only Ukrainian club in the Russian Continental Hockey league. Even the main stadium of the region which the best Ukrainian football team – Shakhtar – trains at, is called Donbass Arena.

And it was not that long ago that people got to know this word. In the middle ages the number of major towns of the modern Donetsk region could probably be counted on one hand, the vagrant tribes raids on the adjacent areas (such tribes as the Scythians, the Sarmatians, the Cumans and other tribes which inhabited “the wild field”) were the main historical events of that time. These people have actually left behind a lot of burial hills and stone structures which local people call “babas” and which can only be now found in two national reserve parks – the Stone Graves and the Khomutovskaya Steppe.

At the beginning of 17th century everything changed: huge reserves of coal were discovered under the steppes and these reserves later received a name of “Donetsk Coal basin” (or in short “Donbass”). Though the industrial mining began only in the 19th century and that is when the fast development and industrialization of the steppe territory which now spreads across the eastern part of Ukraine took place. Today Donbass spreads across the territory of four regions of two countries: Donetsk, Lugansk and Dnepropetrovsk regions in Ukraine and Rostov region in Russia.

Donbass refrigerators - one of the symbols of Soviet Donbass.
PHOTO: “Donbass” refrigerators – one of the symbols of Soviet Donbass.

The main symbols of the mining regions are the gob piles (the huge artificial piles of slate) and the poppetheads (the special mining lifting structures in the form of high towers). These are mainly situated in Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Some of them can be found in the middle of the fields but the vast majority is in cities and towns, where the miner remains as the main or the only available profession for men (as it is in Dimitrov for example).

The coal that is being recovered from the mines of Donbass, is nominally divided into two large groups: the steam coal and the coking/metalurgical coal. The first one is used at heat power plants for the generation of electrical energy and the latter one is used at coking plants for the production of coke (the raw material for the metallurgy, and not what everyone has just thought about). Luckily the number of coke consumers in Donetsk region is impressive. Here you can find some famous metallurgical corporations, such as Donetskstal (Donetsk), Enakievskiy Metallurgcial Plant (Enakievo), Azovstal and Ilyich Iron and Steel Works (both in Mariupol).

The history of Donbass development went through its ups and downs. In the soviet times the profession of the miner was very prestigious and very well paid and this attracted labour force from all over the huge country. However in 1990s the Ukrainian coal industry went through some major reforms which led to the closure or “conservation” of many shafts. Thousands of people lost their jobs and the cities and towns very quickly turned from the prosperous to depressive.

The closed shafts could have become the objects of the industrial tourism, however such tourism culture has not yet evolved in the Ukraine, as it has done in the countries of Western Europe. Therefore almost all equipment of the closed shafts was sold for scrap. The remains of the industrial objects can be found in almost any town of the Donbass, though unattended visits to such old shafts or even “dying” mine town can be very dangerous since both the equipment and the structures are very rundown. It is possible to encounter the aggression of the local people who have lost their jobs and who have still not managed to put their lives back on track. If you want to visit one of these objects it’s best to do it as part of the guided tour and to visit those places where the manufacturing and the infrastructure have been saved. Luckily there are quite lot of such places in Donbass.

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