Wales and Ukraine: A History of Solidarity

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 Hugheskovafounded 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.

Barry Journalist Gareth Jones’ explosive expose of Stalin’s Holodomor in 1933,. His personal books from home in Barry are held in the Temple of Peace Library.

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.

Chernobyl Lifeline

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.

International Exchange

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.

Twitter / Mick Antoniw, via Wales Online feature

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?

‘Thank you for Peace – Victims of War in Ukraine’, at Kyiv Hospital – Wikimedia Commons (Diana Vartanova / Still Miracle photography)