Interesting Histories: Lugansk or Luhansk?

Soviet buildings in central Lugansk. By Кишко Юрий Николаевич.

I prefer to call it Lugansk. I was born there, and for the first 12 years of my life I called it my home. Back in the good old days, when it was the administrative center of Lugansk Oblast, under Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR, it was a nice city. There were huge factories, deep mines, a large railroad, a good university, our own circus, a lot of nice parks and at least some development. Most people were well off, especially those who worked in the mines, but even my father, who was a school and university teacher, was paid enough to ensure that every summer we could travel to one of the USSR’s “tourist” cities near the black sea. Don’t get me wrong, Lugansk was not a great city back then, most of it was supported by the Socialist rule, and without it, the city would not last.

Then came the year 89 and 91. The USSR broke apart and so did the local economy. The borders were opened and the free market burst into the independent Ukraine. At first the local factories tried to compete with the cheap goods that arrived from Turkey and Far East, but they did not last for too long and most of them had to shut down. The mines were “privatized” by local oligarchs and soon sucked dry. The miners who risked their life in those mines and the whole region were robbed blind. My father had to quit his teaching job, as teachers, as well as any other public servants, were not getting paid anymore. You either take bribes or go hungry and, in many cases, homeless. The circus first lost its animals, then its clowns and finally closed its doors for good. The parks were looted for anything that could be sold or taken to “dachas”. Any planned construction or development was abandoned and turned into hooligans’ playgrounds and dump sites for dead bodies of less fortunate. The whole city started to degrade.

Lugansk University. By Кишко Юрий Николаевич.

I remember a huge univermag, which is a type of a supermarket, across the road from my block, but only barely, as it shut down with the rest of the shops in the whole city. For a long period of time I don’t remember seeing a single open shop. Markets took over the trade and soon appeared near every block. Some of them were so huge that they turned into small villages, with their own “authority”, “laws” and “police”. The shops did come back by the end of the 90s, but I only saw a glimpse of their return from the ashes, as by that time I left Ukraine. I do not think I ever bought anything in the new shops, because most of their goods were much dearer than those at the markets, but I did love to visit them and look at bright lights and expensive displays.

But let’s now look at the proper history of Lugansk, where the city came from and how it carried on through the times. For example, I never knew, and pretty sure that it was never taught to us at school, that the city has its roots in the Zaporizhian Cossacks settlement Kamianyi Brid. In 1795, the British industrialist Charles Gascoigne built a metal factory near the town, mainly to produce cannons for Russian war efforts. Soon enough the workers’ settlement around the factory merged with Kamianyi Brid to form the city of Lugansk. The city grew and became a major industrial center in Ukraine. During the Napoleonic war with the Russian Empire, Lugansk was the main supplier of cannons and ammunition for the Russian army and navy.

Night Lugansk

Lugansk was not always known as Lugansk, as in 1935, the city was renamed to Voroshilovgrad in honour of, a very questionable, general Kliment Voroshilov. During the Second World War, Lugansk was occupied by German forces, from July 14, 1942 to February 14, 1943. After the war, the city continued its growth and soon its population reached a quarter of a million. In 1958, by the order of Khrushchev, Voroshilovgrad was renamed back to Lugansk, but after the death of Voroshilov on December 2, 1969, the name once again switched to Voroshilovgrad. Finally, on May 4, 1990, the city was renamed back to Lugansk and so far stayed that way. It was one big switcheroo all around.

From the 50s, all the way to late 80s, the city grew and grew, until it reached population just under a half a million. Huge house complexes were built, the rail expended, trolleybus routes started and trams ran through the whole city. In 1972, the local football team, Zarya Lugansk, became the USSR champion. And in 2017, the fact that warms my heart, it took the bronze in the Ukrainian Premier League. In 2006, archaeologists found an ancient structure near Lugansk, and it is believed that it was constructed all the way back in 3000 BC and used for human sacrifice.

St. Volodymyr Cathedral. By Кишко Юрий Николаевич.

Interestingly, there are a lot of famous people who were born in Lugansk. Vladimir Dal, the great lexicographer and author of Explanatory Dictionary of the Live Great Russian language. You can still find his old house in the city, which is now converted into a Literary Museum. Three famous footballers, Sergei Semak, Oleksandr Zavarov and Viktor Onopko, were born in Lugansk. One of the famous MMA fighters, Fedor Emelianenko, was born there as well. Then there are Sergey Bubka and Vasiliy Bubka, both great Ukrainian pole vaulters. There are many others, athletes, artists and scholars.

Coat of arms.

Sadly, I will not go into the recent history of Lugansk, as you can read all about it in the news and draw your own conclusions. You can find more information on the city of Lugansk on following web pages:

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