John Hughes could never have guessed

donetsk dmz2

Outside my window a bird repeats its simple call of two notes. A slag heap stands opposite: symbol of Donetsk; reddish earth softened by a creeping veil of green leaf, yellow flowers. Impossible not to liken it to a burial mound for the hundreds of miners killed in accidents over the years in the most costly coal-mining industry in the world, in terms of human life.

The heavy scent of wet lilac mingles with the smell of burning coal. At the end of the street the gigantic, looming bulk of the Donetsk Metallurgy Plant is half hidden in clouds of steam. A pale blue flare burns all night, the mournful factory siren punctuates the days.

donetsk dmz

I think Welshman John Hughes, who founded this city in 1869, would have recognised this landcape. But would he have recognised the simmering anger, the prejudices and assumptions and deeply held grievances that have seized it?

A former miner at the May Day parade in Donetsk told me “It’s unwise to anger a region like Donbas. When we get angry, anything can happen. We haven’t really awoken yet, we’ve just rolled over. Just you wait till we get up.”

And I pictured this landscape; the fabulous monster of the metallurgy works and the slowly greening slag heaps, turning over. Lumbering to its feet. And for what?

donetsk flowers


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