My Ukraine, my Donetsk: former Sheffield councillor reflects on our twin city

In all the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine at the moment, and whatever you think about the British governments limited response in terms of sanctions against Russia, it is sometimes forgotten that Donetsk, one of the cities in the heart of the storm in Eastern Ukraine, is actually a twin city with Sheffield.
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I have been twice to Donetsk many years ago, but have continued to be in touch, with what happening there. When I went, I found a city that was incredibly friendly, was trying to create a new green future, knowing that it had to move on from its heavy steel manufacturing and mining past, was fiercely independent from both Moscow and Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, and a council that was trying to do the best for its citizens.

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Donetsk is a beautiful city, with a mixture of different neighbourhoods, where there was a strong sense of community. My friend, Natasha, was a pillar of the housing estate, who spent many hours a day, trying to sort her neighbour’s problems and raise their issues with the Council, to get them to improve their services. There was, no doubt, hundreds of people across Donetsk, who were daily doing the same, without regard to being Russian or Ukrainian speakers. Donetsk had its own identity and did not take easily to being told what to do, whether by the government, nor by anyone else. In short, a city not unlike Sheffield.

Jim Steinke reflects on Sheffield's connection to the Ukraine through our twin city, Donetsk.Jim Steinke reflects on Sheffield's connection to the Ukraine through our twin city, Donetsk.
Jim Steinke reflects on Sheffield's connection to the Ukraine through our twin city, Donetsk.
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The people I met there, both Russian and Ukrainian speakers, were very proud of their legacy, both recovering from the Second World War, where previous generations had suffered so much, and from being an independent country, even as part of the then Soviet Union. There were lots of families, which were mixed Ukrainian and Russian heritage, and the idea then that this city would be torn apart by a claim that it was part of Russia, rather than Ukraine, seemed unthinkable. Imagine if this happened in Sheffield, and another country made claim to it. I think that we would expect support from the rest of the world.

So, even though the Ukrainian government is certainly not faultless, in its policies towards Russian speakers in Ukraine, I think that communities in Sheffield need to stand in support of the people of Donetsk and other Ukrainian cities, whether Ukrainian or Russian speakers, from not being overwhelmed by the Russian army.

Donetsk has been in a state of war for the last 8 years, since there was a Russian supported Declaration of Independence by some people who lived there, and some 15000 people have died from shootings and bombings since then. This has never been tested by any free elections there, nor by any referendum. We need to accept that if we expect the British government to impose even more serious sanctions against Russia, for invading Ukraine, that will potentially come at a cost, in energy costs. I think that the people in Donetsk deserve nothing less.