In 1868, just as organised football was taking root in the United Kingdom, a semi-literate Welsh steelworker called John Hughes was sailing across the Baltic Sea with a fleet of eight ships to open a new metalworks in the Ukraine which would fulfil British contracts on Imperial Russian ships. Sailing with Hughes were a hundred skilled South Walian steelworkers and miners, all ready for a new life near the Azov Sea.
Hughes left Merthyr for Newport, and his engineering genius had enabled him to own his own shipyard by the age of 28. By 1860 he was living in London, and producing parts for the Admiralty as a Direcotr of Millwall Ironworks. This was how he came to represent British Interests in the Ukraine.
Once his innovative steelworks was built in Russia, the Welsh settlement began to grow. There was a foundry, mines, brickworks and Hughes even built a railway line to service the once barren area. He built schools, churches and financed a fire brigade. Not surprisingly, this settlement was called Hughesovka or Yuzovka. After the Bolshevik revolution, the Hughes Family left the country and the town of Hughesovka was renamed first to Stalino, in 1924, and then Donetsk in 1961.
The Bolsheviks took over the running of the factory when the Hughes’s left and in a propaganda drive in 1935, a Russian coal-miner called Aleksei Stakhanov was promoted as a celebrityworker by the communists in a drive to increase productivity. Stakhanov was believed to have created a world record by mining 227 tonnes of coal in a single shift. His photograph appeared on the cover of Time magazine. It was in this atmosphere that the new football club in “Hughesovka” was formed in May 1936. It was initially named Stakhanovets after the famous miner, and called on the best players from the Donbass region, of which Hughesovka was capital.
By the time that “Hughesovka” took 3rd place Russian Championship in 1951, they had changed their name slightly to Shakhtyor. When the town name was de-stalinised and named Donetsk after the Seversky Donets river in 1961, the club name became Shakhtar Donetsk. It was at this time the club won the USSR Cup in 1961 and 1962. The club is nicknamed the moles, in honour of its mining connections.
In 2008 Edward Cartwright commented on the Hughes story to the BBC:
I am the last surviving member of the Welsh community in Yuzovka. I was born in Yuzovka in 1917 at the height of the Ruissian Revolution. While the majority of the Welsh community fled from Yusovka, my mother, Gwladys Cartwright, had to stay behind until I was born. I hope to celebrate my 92nd birthday in July 2009.
With a population of about a million people, Donetsk is now the 5th largest City in the Ukraine and supports another Ukrainian Premier League side, Metalurh Donetsk. Metalurh became professional after Ukranian independence in 1992, and don’t have the same Welsh roots as their main rivals Shakhtar.
Can it be a coincidence that this team from Hughesovka were playing in the colours of Newport County? I think not. The influence of their Welsh forefather still remains.