8 Things About Ukraine's Industrialization

April 18, 2024
Ukraine's industrialization is associated with Soviet mythology. But what is the historical stance?

Ukraine's industrialisation progressed at varying rates and speeds. This is due to Ukraine's long history of being influenced by various state powers.

The fertile grounds of western Ukraine were long held by the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, with Galicia embodying the spirit of the Habsburg Empire. The Russian Empire's power controlled the eastern lands, which were rich in coal and iron.

  • The abundance of resources attracted investors to help build the industry. Furthermore, the empire's protectionism and high customs tariffs, which reached nearly 40% in 1870, restricted the import of manufactured goods to Russia.

To circumvent the system, foreign entrepreneurs began producing in territories that were subject to Russian expansion. In particular, the Donets basin was emerging as a key driver of industrial development in Europe.

  • Another well-known story of John Hughes is another shining example. The British entrepreneur established the New Russian Metallurgical Plant company, and in 1872, the Wales-born specialists launched the first blast furnace.

This is how the industrialization of the newly formed town of Yuzivka, which would eventually become Donetsk, influenced the city's growth to a million people.

  • In the late nineteenth century, the Scots established the Luhansk Foundry, which manufactured mining, drilling, and exploration equipment. In the 1890s, Belgians built steel plants in Mariupol and Yenakiyevo, near Katerynoslav (Dnipro).

At the end of the nineteenth century, European investments accounted for more than 70% of total capital investment in key industries such as mining and metallurgy. In the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries, a railway was built to connect Ukraine to Russia's regions, supplying grain, coal, sugar, and iron ore.

  • The "Stalinist industrialization" of Donbas is a Soviet myth: British settlers established Yuzivka's industry, which the Bolsheviks "nationalised" and modernised. The Welsh powered the village, built a railroad linking the Yuz factories to Kharkiv and Kursk, and constructed other factories.
  • After annexing the Ukrainian People's Republic (the stage of Ukraine's statehood development) in 1920, Russia invested in taking over the construction of industrial plants following World War I.

The Soviet Union, led by Joseph Stalin, attempted to demonstrate to the world the benefits of socialism over capitalism.

In the interwar period of 1929, American engineer Albert Kahn designed the Stalingrad Tractor Plant, which was built near Chicago before being dismantled, transported to the Soviet Union, and reassembled at the site where it stands today.

This is how Soviet socialism displayed advantages over capitalism.

  • Stalinist "industrialization" was based on the achievements of European industries decades before. While the latter brought prosperity and dignity to its creators, Stalin's reign brought about deaths from artificial famine and repression.

While robbing and torturing the Ukrainian people, Moscow used stolen resources to build subways, for example.

According to some estimates, up to 3.9 million people died during the Holodomor, and the Bolshevik dictatorship profited from exporting grain stolen from peasants, as well as taking almost all of the jewellery from the suffering population, who starved to death.

  • "Donbas" was an important construct for the Soviet government. However, it was the European states that originally built the industry.

The Belgians built glass, chemical, and metallurgical plants, which eventually became the city of Kostiantynivka. The French developed Kramatorsk, while the Germans developed Toretsk.

  • One of the reasons for foreign enterprise production is that Stalin's terror killed the most talented engineers and architects capable of creating such successful projects.

Belgium refused to recognise the Soviet Union after it exploited their enterprises in "Donbas" until 1935. However, it was essential for the Soviet Union to eradicate the region's Europeanness and establish "Donbas" as a separate entity.

Unpaid labour, mass exploitation of Gulag prisoners, starvation to death of Ukrainian peasants, and looting of churches as part of an anti-religious campaign were all sources of industrialization.

Unlike developed industrialisation practices, the USSR was not concerned with the population's consumer needs; rather, the state became the sole owner and user of industrial facilities.

Daria Synhaievska
Analyst and journalist