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Founded in 1869 as a coal and steel center by the Welsh engineer John Hughes, Donets’k was originally named Iuzovka (Hughes’ Town), but took on the name Stalino between 1924 and 1962. The city is the capital of the Donets’k Oblast’ (region) in southeastern Ukraine. Its population of 164 in 1870 grew to more than one million by 1989. The steel and coal industries continue to dominate its economy today.

Jews lived in Iuzovka from the time of its establishment. Artisans, shopkeepers, contractors, and service trade workers were attracted to the town to provide for the needs of the expanding population. The combination of economic opportunity and the banishment of Jews from Russia’s central regions under the “May Laws” of 1882 brought Jews to the coal and metallurgy region of which Iuzovka was the center. By 1892, Jews made up 30 percent of the settlement’s population of 20,000. In the boom years of 1907–1913, Jews worked in banking, as local agents for companies, and in the commercial and administrative sides of the coal and metal industries. Their economic successes permitted the development of philanthropic societies, Jewish schools including a women’s high school, a Hazomir choral group, and a Habimah drama group. The Zionist movement was established in Iuzovka in 1887; by 1905 it consisted of 400 members, including liberals, socialists, and religious Jews. Jewish revolutionary circles were active as well.

The Jews of Iuzovka were not immune to pogroms. The two most severe outbreaks took place in 1892 during the infamous “cholera riots,” resulting in the deaths of 80–100 people, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The entire center of the city was burned in 1905 when a crowd of young socialists, mostly Jewish, tried to convince factory workers to celebrate the tsar’s October Manifesto of civil rights. A resultant pogrom left at least 12 dead, 100 wounded, and almost total destruction of Jewish property.

The Jewish population of Iuzovka expanded in the 1920s as the city became an educational and scientific center as well as a hub for heavy industry. However, community institutions were first co-opted and then dismantled by the Bolshevik authorities, as was the case throughout the Soviet Union. After the Nazi invasion in June 1941, a large part of the Jewish population was evacuated, along with the industrial plants and scientific institutions in which they worked. Beginning in December 1941, the remaining Jewish population was murdered by Einsatzkommando 6 of Einsatzgruppe C, responsible for killing Jews in the entire southeastern Ukraine and later in Rostov-on-Don.

Jews returned with the postwar reconstruction of the city, but organized Jewish life was renewed only in the period of perestroika inaugurated by Mikhail Gorbachev after 1985. At that time, about 20,000 Jews lived in Donets’k. A Jewish cultural and social organization named Aleph was organized in 1988, and the one remaining synagogue, which had been confiscated in 1935, was returned to the community in 1990. The building was refurbished and was subsequently operated by Ḥabad Hasidim. The unstable economic and political conditions prevailing in Ukraine have encouraged emigration, however, and by 2002 the Jewish population of Donets’k had dwindled to no more than 4,000–6,000.

Suggested Reading

Theodore H. Friedgut, Iuzovka and Revolution, vol. 1, Life and Work in Russia’s Donbass, 1869–1924; vol. 2, Politics and Revolution in Russia’s Donbass, 1869–1924 (Princeton, 1989–1994); Kniga skorby Ukrainy: Donetskaia Oblast’, 2 vols., (Donets’k, Ukr., 2000).