The Donetsk Region was formed in 1932. A low-hill terrain with intermittent small-river valleys, ravines and gorges, the north-western Donetsk Upland gradually slides down to the Pre-Dnipro Lowland in the west, and ascends to the Pre-Azov Upland in the south-west.
The most important water-way in the region, the Siversky Donets, spans across Northern Donechchyna, whereas other rivers, such as the Kazennyy Torets, Bakhmut, Mokri Yaly and Kalmius form beautiful river-basins of their own.
Many people believe that the Donetsk region is anything but beautiful, with mine-works and factory chimneys dominating the skyline, and gigantic factories marring the landscape. But visitors to the area find themselves pleasantly surprised by little nooks of undisturbed nature, especially along smaller rivers.
The earliest settlements in the region area date back to the middle Paleolithic times, 140—300 thousand years ago. The evidence discovered in the Pre-Azov Upland are now on display in Amvrosiyivka Natural Science Museum. Later Paleolithic period artifacts are found in hundreds along the Siversky Donets and its tributaries.
The late 9th c. saw the arrival of nomadic cattle-breeding tribes of the Pechenihy, followed by the Torks, who settled here in the early llth c. Before long, they were ousted by the Cumans (Polovets), who in the boundless steppe left hundreds of stone idols.
In the mid-14th c., much of the sparsely populated Donets lands were part of the Crimean Khanate. The 1648—54 Liberation War led to an influx of refugees from Right-bank Ukraine. An important factor in the population pattern of the area was the policy of Muscovy: setting up military outposts to bring them step by step closer to the sea. The 1th Cossack settlement of the kind appeared in what are now Sviatohirsk and Bakhmut with the subsequent penetration up to the mouth of the river Kalmius. In the pursuit of its colonization policies, Muscovy allocated free land to its own subjects, Crimean Christians and German colonists, in order for them to work in agriculture.
In the 1st half of the 19th c. most of the territories of the Donetsk region were divided among the Russian Katerinoslav guberniya and Sloboda Ukrainian Guberniya (Kharkiv Gu-berniya from 1835), with the south-eastern part under the Don military Command. In 1800 the local residents extracted coal for their own needs. By the 1850s mining had already been put on an industrial scale, turning the rural area into the largest industrial and mining zone in the Russian Empire. In 1938 the Donetsk region was divided again into the Stalino and Voroshylovgrad (now Luhansk) regions to commemorate the Soviet leaders of the time. The division is still preserved, but the regions have regained their historical names.
Donetsk, located in the headwaters of the Kalmius, is probably one of the largest and yet youngest cities in Ukraine, which can boast of only late Russian Empire and Soviet legacy. In the late 1860s, a Welsh mining engineer and businessman John Hughes struck a contract with the Russian government to exploit the region’s resources for steel production. The setting-up of a metallurgical plant in 1872 gave rise to Yuzivka settlement named after its founder. Some administrative and civic buildings as well as slag heaps dating from Pre-Revolution times are scattered all over the city. In Soviet times, when the city bore the name of Stalino (1924—61) the slag heaps grew even higher to dominate the landscape.
Mariupol, the 10th most populous city in Ukraine, stretches along the mouth of the river Kalmius and the coast of the Sea of Azov, making it the major Ukrainian port of the Azov. Throughout the 16th—17th c.c. the area was known as an asylum to escaped serfs, and in the early 18th c. the Cossacks set up a fortified settlement called Tomaha as their outpost in the south. By 1778 the outpost has grown into a town called Pavlovsk, later Mariupol. Due to the railroad that connected the city with the Donbas (1882) and a new cargo-port (1885), Mariupol gained significance as the country’s gateway to the Azov, ranking 2tтвafter Odesa in cargo turnover.
The most impressive cultural location in Donechchyna is Sviatohyrskyy Assumption Monastery. First mentioned in the 1624 chronicles, the cathedral has lived through hard times as it was repeatedly ruined by the Tartars and closed by the authorities. In the late 18lth c. the major landlord in the area, Earl Potyomkin, initiated the construction of ‘Laz.nya’ (baths) in a creek not far from the cathedral. His baths gave way to the development of Lazneve village, which became the popular Svyatohirsky Resort (1964—2003 called ‘Slovyanohirsk’).
The Sviatohirskyy Monastery was reopened by the order of Nicholas I in 1844, and in just 50 years the monastery’s lands were decorated with the 1850 Intercession Church with a belfry, the 1859 Assumption Cathedral, the monastery wall with water-towers and pavilions (1850s), new monk-cells and a guest house (1887). The stone-carved steps lead to the top of the Chalk Hill where a true masterpiece of church architecture is located, the St. Nicholas (Mykolayivska) Church (1799) with the caves of St. Oleksiy, St. Antoniy and St. Feoclosiy Churches. Under the Soviet Authorities the monastery was closed and transformed into a public resort. It quickly became the main Donbas resort due to its clean air, thick woods and unspoiled environment. Since early 1990s the land has been returned to the monastery, and in 2004 it was granted the status of ‘lavra’, which together with the city lies within the bounderies of the 997 Sviati Hoiy Nature Reserve. It stretches for 405.89 sq. km to the Siversky Donets River valley, with the white chalk Sviati Hory hills rising high for 120 m.
South off Snizhne, on a 277-m high Mt Saur-Mohyla stands the WW II Heroes Memorial. In 1943, the hill was a strategic stronghold of the German Mius Front, a critical strategic point in the battle for the Donbas.
The Ukrainian Steppe Nature Reserve consists of scattered plains representing a difference type of steppe landscapes of the boundless feather-grass steppe that centuries ago stretched northwards from the Black and Azov seas. One such section can boast of 14 different sub-species of feathergrass (the widest range in the world).
The central part of the nature reserve is the 10.28 sq. km Khomutiv steppe, which is a rippled surface of feather-grass stretching miles away from the Azov. In the headwaters of the Karatysh lies another section of the natural reserve called Kamyani Mohyly (stone burial place), which looks like miniature highland of 4.64 sq. km.
On the Siversky Donets there is also the ‘Kreidyana Flora’ plain of 11.35 sq. km, which is representative of the endemic flora of chalk sediment rock.
Donechchyna hosts other nature reserves, of which the Meotida Landscape Park is particularly notable for maintaining turtle-breeding beaches of the Azov, and ‘Khleban-Byk’, which combines geological abnormalities of the Kryvyy Torets River landscapes.