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A story of Wales, Ukraine, Russia and the Manic Street Preachers

Anyone familiar with the Manic Street Preachers will know the track Dreaming a City (Hughesovka) on their album Futurology. What you may not know is that this was inspired by Colin Thomas’s 2009 book of the same name, reissued this week. “I really loved the book,” wrote singer James Dean Bradfield of Dreaming A City. “I love that kind of digestible history.”. 

Many do not realise that there is a town in Ukraine with a very strong link to Wales. The book tells the story of Hughesovka, later to become Stalino and then Donetsk. Hughesovka was a mining and steel town founded in the 1870s by Merthyr entrepreneur John Hughes and 70 Welsh workers.

Award-winning TV documentary-maker Colin Thomas directed a three-part documentary series for the BBC – Hughesovka and the New Russia, presented by the late, great Professor Gwyn Alf Williams and winner of Best Documentary at the inaugural BAFTA Cymru awards in 1991. The book, written in the wake of filming in Ukraine, traces the town’s shift from patriarchal beginnings through the Russian revolutions, Bolshevism, the terrible famine in the Ukraine exacerbated by Stalin, Nazi occupation, to rising Ukrainian nationalism in the 1990s and being part of an independent Ukraine after the break-up of the USSR.

The history of this town – once a microcosm of the Soviet Union – and its relationship with Russia has taken on a new significance since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and its first edition has sold out. A London-based Russian producer Alexander Korobko was enthusiastic and contacted author Colin Thomas about getting him into Donetsk via Russia, so that he could bring the story up to date: “I could have an armoured car waiting for you at the border,” said Korobko. 

When it emerged that Korobko was the co-author of an uncritical biography of Putin, and that the terms of the contract offered made it clear that the commissioners of the proposed new essay “shall be entitled to make use of the contribution or any part or parts thereof in such manner as it shall in its sole discretion think fit”, Colin Thomas decided not to take the risk of becoming part of the Russian propaganda machine and to stick with what he could vouch for from his own direct experience of the city.

Thomas’s accolades include two more BAFTA Cymru Best Documentary awards, the Jury Award at the Celtic Film and Television Festival and a Prix Europa. In the 25 March 2022 edition of the New Statesman, Michael Sheen refers to The Dragon Has Two Tongues, the series that Thomas produced and directed for ITV WALES/C4, as “one of the greatest history programmes ever produced on these shores.”
The book comes with a free DVD of the BBC series Hughesovka and the New Russia.