Ukraine invasion: How Sheffield became a twin town with Donetsk

As Russia sends troops into rebel-held Donetsk, it’s a reminder of Sheffield’s links with its twin town.

By Lucy Ashton, Local Democracy Reporter
Tuesday, 22nd February 2022, 1:41 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd February 2022, 1:51 pm

One of the main roads around Hackenthorpe towards Beighton is Donetsk Way.

Many motorists won’t give the name a second thought but the city’s long-forgotten connection with Donetsk has suddenly come back into the spotlight with an impending war.

Sheffield’s link was forged during the Cold War in 1956 and strengthened during the 1980s.

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A parade through Donetsk, Ukraine, the twin town with Sheffield

As part of the so-called Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, and at a time when left-leaning councils were declaring themselves nuclear-free zones, Sheffield was keen to demonstrate a peaceful affiliation with this corner of the Soviet Union.

The industrial city of Donetsk with its steel and mining heritage seemed a perfect partner for Sheffield.

“Very similar to Sheffield”

Coun Peter Price, a former Deputy Council Leader and Lord Mayor, visited twice.

Coun Peter Price visited Donetsk twice after Sheffield twinned with the Ukranian city

“We were the first city to twin with somewhere in the Soviet Union and Donetsk was a city very similar to Sheffield. They even copied our Hole in the Road, although theirs was much bigger.

“On one visit I went down the pit there. We had a football team exchange and Firth Park school used to teach Russian so they had links there as well.

“The idea was to break down the negative views of the Soviet Union and for ordinary people to meet up. We want to break down barriers and help communities come together.

“The people were always friendly, it seemed very similar to Sheffield. We had exchanges where kids came to stay with families here, those links were quite strong.”

There are tales of when the Labour council sent and received gifts, including a giant teddy bear called Misch as a gift for the children’s hospital.

And a story about a trip to Donetsk in 1983 where the delegation only had a £20 emergency float and had to be bailed out by a journalist, the only one with a credit card.

Coun Price can’t recall any other Donetsk-named landmarks in Sheffield but says there may be some gifts from the city in the Lord Mayor’s parlour.

Sheffield Park in Donetsk

The strong links have been lost over the years, especially since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Coun Price added: “When the Soviet Union went, all the infrastructure and links disappeared. I never thought Donetsk would be in the headlines now.”

Over in Donetsk is Sheffield Park, which gets a good review on Tripadvisor.

“A very good square is located on the bank of the Kalmius. There are many benches, playgrounds, sports equipment and, of course, a chic embankment.

“In the square you can find a pretty foundation stone, informing that the square is named after the sister city of Sheffield.”

A decade of austerity means there’s no cash for town twinning activities and Sheffield Council has long since stopped funding any formal links.

But Donetsk Way will forever be a reminder of Sheffield’s past relationship with the Ukraine city.