by Craig Owen, WCIA Heritage Advisor, February 2022
Long before the 2014 and 2022 invasions of Ukraine by Russia, Wales has had a long history of solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
The city of Donetsk itself was originally called Hugheskova, founded in 1870 by Merthyr ironmaster John Hughes with 100 Welsh migrant workers, who collectively pioneered Russian metallurgy. Home today to 1 million people, it is now at the heart of the conflict following Russia’s recognition and annexation of the People’s Republic of Donetsk. Latterly shorted to Yusovka, the story of its founding and strong Welsh industrial roots has been well documented , with John Hughes himself regarded as somewhat of a ‘hero’ to many Ukrainians.
- History Hit – Yuzovka: the Welsh city founded by a Welsh industrialist
- BBC Wales 2017 feature – Hughesovka, the Ukrainian city founded by Welsh migrants
Journalist Gareth Jones and family
In 1933, Welsh journalist Gareth Jones exposed the Holodomor – Stalin’s Ukrainian famine, in which 7-10 million Ukrainians died at the hands of the Russian State, recognised as genocide by the UN in 2006. Gareth Jones was assassinated in 1935 in China, the day before his 30th birthday; but his story and its impact in giving voice to the Ukrainian people has been told in Agnieska Holland’s 2020 film ‘Mr Jones‘ – inspired by his niece’ Margaret Siriol Colley’s research, and recently commemorated in Barry in Nov 2021.
The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth hold Gareth Jones’ Archives, whilst the Temple of Peace is proud to hold his personal collection of books in the Temple Library – donated by Gareth’s parents, Ann Gwenllian and Edgar Jones. Ann had lived in Ukraine as tutor to the family of John Hughes (above); whilst his father Major Edgar Jones was hugely involved in Wales’ Peace movement through the Welsh League of Nations Union
Major Edgar Jones was the first Warden of Wales’ Temple of Peace from its opening and through World War Two, until his passing in 1953.
In 1986, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Northern Ukraine prompted an outpouring of public support Wales-wide, with charities and solidarity groups – including many supported by CND Cymru – some of which continued through initiatives such as Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline.
In recent years, many international volunteers have exchanged between Wales, Ukraine and Russia through UNA Exchange, which continues today through WCIA’s International Volunteering programme.
Wales Ukraine Solidarity in 2022
In mid-February 2022, Welsh Senedd members Mick Antoniw and Adam Price travelled to Kyiv in a private capacity, to witness firsthand the situation on the ground in an ‘Anti-War Visit‘. Mick Antoniw , MS for Pontypridd – who has family in Ukraine – commented:
“(As governments and) assemblies started sending all their people out, Ukrainians have felt they were being abandoned. They have a recognition of how it is to be abandoned when international issues arise. They’re able to tell us what is happening, how they’re feeling… and how important it is that people actually support and recognise the situation here. As one person just said earlier ‘we are potentially on the brink of a Third World War – it’s just so good that you are here so we can talk and tell you about what is happening in this country’.”
On their return to the UK, Mick Antoniw and Adam Price responded to the invasion of Ukraine calling for all in the UK to #StandwithUkraine.
Observers are drawing obvious parallels between the Russian treatment of Ukraine in the 1930s, and today; as well as echoes of the 1936 Spanish Civil War, when many thousands Wales and world-wide fought the rise of fascism through the International Brigades. How can we learn from the past, to draw on lessons for today and future generations?