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The hidden Welsh heritage of the Ukraine

The Ukraine is one of the last undiscovered countries in Europe, and this vast frontier-land has many new cultural experiences to offer travellers, amongst the old Soviet architecture and the dramatic landscape of the Crimea.

But what many people may not know is that the Ukraine is also home to a Welsh football club. That’s right, Welsh. Shakhtar Donetsk may not be well-known as a team elsewhere, but there are some Brits who hold a fondness for a football club which can trace its origins back to the mining valleys of Wales. So what’s the story of Shakhtar Donetsk?

Well, in the 19th century, a group of Welsh steelworkers and miners arrived in the Ukraine under the leadership of John Hughes, who established an innovative steelworks. The Welsh settlement began to grow and Hughes built a foundry, mines, brickworks, schools and churches, and he even financed a fire brigade. In honour of the enterprising founder, the settlement was named Hughesovka (or Yuzovka).

Some of those who emigrated alongside Hughes took leather footballs with them and soon matches were being played. In 1911, thanks to the establishment of the Hughesovka Sports Society, things became more organised and by 1913, Yuzovka won the Donbass Cup with a side featuring eight Britons.

Over the years, the town was renamed, firstly to Stalino and then to Donetsk. However, the football team that picked up the 2009 UEFA Cup were wearing the colours of the club that John Hughes would have supported: those of Newport County in Wales. Meanwhile, the people of Donetsk have not forgotten their founding father. Several places within the city bear his name and a statue of the man himself stands on its main thoroughfare.

So whether or not you’re a native of Wales, if you fancy seeing this unique football team in action, the cheap rates for hotels in the Ukraine make this a totally possible dream. The Ukraine is an inexpensive country to visit and it’s possible to book rooms there for less than £20 per night. Considering Shakhtar Donetsk celebrated their 75 birthday by inviting singer Rihanna to perform at a glamorous stadium bash a couple of years ago, it might just be worth checking out one of their home.