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The Steel City.


B y A. Gwen Jones


December 15, 1943,


5.5- 5.20 p.m.  Translated from the Welsh.

                        Rehearsal:4.O: p.m.                        (From Cardiff)

  When I hear on the radio the names Kief, Charkov, Krivoi-rog and especially Stalino, the steel city, and the news of the Russian success there, my mind would go back to over fifty years, and living images would appear in front of my eyes.  When I heard that Stalino had been retaken by the Russians, I would think of the Stalino I knew so well, for I had been living there as a young girl for three years, but the place had another name then, that is Hughesovka, the town was named as a form of honour its founder, a Welshman from Merthyr (Tydfil) named John Hughes. John Hughes. was an engineer who caught the attention of the Tzar Alexander, the second and the Russian Government, through his technical skill when he was an superintendent at Millwall Docks, London.  The Russian Government was keen to expand its railways and to develop its steel and coal works in their own country. I remember hearing often how Mr. Hughes was invited to establish works in Russia; truly I remember well the silver plaque the Tzar gave him as a present.  Mr Hughes accepted the invitation and he went around the country, he chose a~ place on the lonely- planes of the Steppes, where only a shepherd and his dog could be seen. But this place. was rich in coal and iron, and not far from Taganog and Mariupol docks on the Azov sea.  The iron mine at Krivoi-Rog was not far away and they also became the property of the New Russian Company, The Novorossiskoe-Rog, founded in 1869. I remember us visit Krivoi-Rog in 1892.

When I arrived in Hughesovka in 1889 the population had increased from zero to fifty thousand, with the mine and steel works full of work. Stalino is now one of the main railway centres of the Donetz Valley, but in 1889 the only railway to the south was Tanganrog and Mariupol.  The nearest station to the line to the north through Charkov was Charsisky.  We were a group of many countries and languages-(Russian, Polish, German Belgium, Jewish, Tartars and Georgians from Tiflis in the Caucasus Stalin’s home.) and in their midst a small company of English and Welsh, John Hughes brought the experienced workers with him from the Dowlais, Merthyr and the Rhymney.  At that time there were about seventy Welsh there, but I heard there was more there at one time. I remember some of them,  - Mr. Watkins who married Miss Curtis from Rhymney, Mr Holland who had been a chemist in the works at Dowlais, the James family and others. But the man I remember best was John John from Dowlais.  A Welshman of the best kind, a man you could thoroughly trust. I would enjoy talking to him in Welsh. At that time the workers were only paid once a month and the money from the wages would come (pencil addition “on the train”) under guard from Taganrog.  John Hughes died in June 1 889, a few months before I arrived in Hughesovka as a teacher to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Hughes two young girls.  Arthur Hughes was the second of John Hughes’ four young sons; and his wife was Miss Augusta James from Lanover, Sir Fynwy.  Interesting to many Welshmen is the fact that it was the bard Islwyn who married them.  By the way, indirectly through another great preacher, the Rev. Dr. Saunders, Swansea, I received the chance to go to Russia.

I remember the slow long journey through Europe with the family, staying a few days in Berlin, Warsaw (where I lost my way and found myself in the Ghetto), then Kieff and Charkov - living pictures of Kieff ,this Holy and ancient town would appear in front of my eyes; crossing the wide Dnieper river, and admire the great tide of churches with their golden turrets and domes shining in the blue sky.  There I saw a crowd of pilgrims that had walked along the road from far Siberia.  Then Charkov, with its wonderful university and its world famous fairs.  At last reaching the station at Charsisky completely exhausted.  There were vehicles to greet us and take us to Hughesovka.  I will never forget the feeling of overwhelming loneliness that filled me whilst travelling over the drab, tree-less, never ending Steppes; it wasn’t any wonder that the longing (hiraeth) for Wales almost totally conquered me.

But the interest in the unfamiliar life around me and the natural eagerness to see everything new helped me feel at home in Hughesovka.  I was living in a large house, in the centre of a large garden surrounded by a high wall for safety, and there would be a night watchman to look after the place overnight, but you couldn’t always depend on them.

Life there was not uninteresting and not without variety.  Letters and paper from home would take eleven days to arrive and often they were censored.  Some books were not permitted to enter the country.  Visitors of all countries and languages would come, engineers and students from Moscow and Petersburg (now Leningrad) and even from far Siberia.  One time the Province Governor of Ekaterinoslav, Dnepropetrovsk as it is now called, to stay with us.  He arrived at the house with great ceremony having been escorted by a company of Cossacks on horse-back.  Some of the visitors had stories which were interesting and exciting to a young girl like myself.  This was the time the revolutionists were called Nihilists.  I was told that I knew a few of them and I remember well being warned for innocently talking carelessly, as I was unaware of who would be amongst the visitors to the house.  The police were watching and were looking into everything in great detail; and we had to be careful.  . They were very strict in looking at our passports.  I have kept my old passport which had been signed by Lord Sailsbury - the Prime Minister of the time.  We were able to enjoy ourselves in many ways.  You knew that the Russians were excellent musicians and singers.  Once every week I would hear music of a very high standard and often I would have the honour of hearing the Polish Lady, Madame Yancharski playing the piano.  She had been a student of the Rubenstiens and Paderewski and was one of her friends.

I never forgot the excellent singing at the Greek Church in Hughesovka.  The recent news that Stalin had recognised the patriarch of the Church in Russia brought reminders of many of the services I attended, especially the service on the eve of Easter.  At this service, with its ceremony and the musical excellence of the choir, especially the deep voices of the bass, made a great impression on me.  The scene inside the Church would fill one with a spirit of worship.  The Church was overflowing, everyone was standing with candles in their hands, there aren’t any seats in a Greek Church.  At midnight, the Church’s clock would strike, and the priests would arrive in their beautiful robes and singing “Christ has arisen”.  All of the congregation would be kneeling.  They would cross themselves and answer, “It’s true He has arisen!”; then the choir would sing a special hymn for Easter; all the bells would ring and all the Church would be shinning in beautiful light.  There would be united rejoicing, where everybody would greet each other with three kisses and they would shout merrily “Christ’s arisen.”  It was hard not to admire the strictness in which they kept the fast of Lent, but as soon as the Easter festival was over they would devote themselves to feasting to excess and the hospitals would be full.

One of my prime pleasures was hunting - of foxes and hares, there were as many as you could ever wish for, only us girls were not permitted to join in the hunt for wolves due to the danger involved.  The Officers of the Cossacks would often come out with us and they were such wonderful horsemen.  The hunting dogs had come from the Court Estate, Merthyr Tydfil, and since I had been a pupil in the Court school, Merthyr, under the three Mrs. Edwards’, I felt I had an interest in the dogs.

Neither will I forget skating on the works lake, and a sledge journeys over the glittering snow, with the troika bells, the three horses ringing melodiously in the clear air.  There was a small taste of adventure in sledding over the Steppes, as we would sometimes be followed by a number of dogs, half-wolves, and it would be up to Ivan, our driver, to use his whip to keep them back.

When I was living in Russia there were only two classes of people. I was in a position to see the great differences between the two.  The standard of living around the Mujiks - the common people, was very low and they weren’t unfamiliar with hunger and famine in some regions.  They lived in poor small houses of wood, of only one floor.  They had no conveniences to provide comfort and health, only a large stove which almost filled the room.  Often they would sleep on it at night.  Of course the workers houses in Hughesovka were far better.  In every house you would see an “Icon”, that is, a sacred picture and there is not one house without its Samovar, a vessel for making tea.  I used to like the Mujikas, they were kind, unaffected, truly religious in a simple and innocent way.  They would face misfortune without grumbling -“Nitchevo” they’d say shrugging their shoulders.  They are patient and wise, full of common sense and humour.  But like all Russians they were very superstitious.

On evenings when the weather was fine, they would meet each other outside the village, they would then rock on swings and sing and clap hands, and almost always eating sunflower seeds.  They were very fond of dancing and enjoyed the social life with each other.  I must say that everyone was fond of the local drink “Kvass” and if they could get it the even stronger drink “vodka”.

On special holidays it was a pleasure to look at the girls in their beautiful dresses, the embroidery on them would be skilful and pretty, their hair would be beautifully platted with ribbons and beads of all colours around their necks.  I especially remember one time we were crossing over the planes of the Steppes in a sledge we heard some sorrowful singing in the distance breaking the silence -it was the people from the village about their fathers’ exploits.  I could never forget the spell/charm for a long time and my mind would fly back to Wales with their minor, plaintive tones and again longing would rise in my breast.  At the time, this class were unable to read or write.  One of the many things that struck me the first time in the towns was the “signs “on all the shops; they were pictures and not words, for example, on the butchers shops you would see a picture of a cow or a sheep, and likewise ,on all the shops. The reason of course they were unable to read.  A great change has come over the country for one thing. On Sunday morning there would be a market, and one could see the square surrounding the church, from six o’clock in the morning, full of the country people with their produce.  The prices for things were very cheap, goose or turkey for a shilling and a chicken for sixpence.  We’d pay for them in Kopecks and Roubles of course.

In contrast the other class were exceptionally cultured.  They would live in their large houses on their estates with a great number of workers and maids.  They could speak many languages and their reading immense.  I was surprised more than once that they knew so much about the prime English writers of the time.  The Russian author they mentioned the most was Pushkin, I heard only a little from them about Tolstoy.  French was their second language and I heard almost more French than Russian. Russian was a hard language to learn.  As I’ve mentioned, they were very fond of music and dancing and they were very fond of playing cards.  They were careless and _______? people, but yet extremely kind and a great deal of charm related to them.

Time does not allow me to mention the many other interesting customs of the country; or the extreme weather - the overpowering oppressive heat of the summer, the severe cold and the deep snows of their winters.  I heard a young man from Rhymney lost his life in a sudden perilous snow storm.  The fiery heat of summer would bring with it many diseases like dysentery. I nearly died from this disease but for the care of an American doctor who was one of the doctors at the works hospital.

In 1892 cholera came to the town and we the family had to flee the place because of the riots which was caused by people, fear and ignorance.  The riots were important enough to be chronicled by the London papers.  But even having to leave Russia like this, in haste, I felt extremely sad in singing farewell to many friends there.  I had a wonderful kindness from many especially Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Hughes; and I had come to love the country and its people, and in these later days in rejoicing the Russians exceptional success.




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