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A Magazine for Sheffield

War and Peace

Sheffield's sun-filled summer climaxes this month with the blissful Peace in the Park Festival on Saturday 14 June at Ponderosa Park in Netherthorpe. This extravaganza of music, fun and peace celebrates all that's best in the human spirit and our city. We can be proud of its return after last year's absence due to lack of cash. The volunteers who run it have been as busy as buzzing bees to raise the readies and make it take off again. As usual, proceeds go to charity. This year it will help ASSIST, which does vital work with destitute asylum seekers, and Roundabout, the Sheffield charity supporting young people into independent secure accommodation and training, breaking the cycle of homelessness. So make it a date and be there.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for our twin city of Donetsk, which is far from peaceful. We don't tend to make much of city twinning here. Since the link was created in 1956, Donetsk has opened a Sheffield Park and Sheffield has a Donetsk Way, but little else. The Sheffield Telegraph website mostly lists articles on the city’s role in the Euro 2012 football tournament, alongside one sad piece in which Councillor Peter Price admits, “We have lost a lot of the contact”. Yet British-Ukrainian relations go back at least a thousand years and many Ukrainians live here.

Donetsk is Ukraine's fifth largest city, a similar size to Sheffield but with twice the population. Like Sheffield it is part of an urban, industrial sprawl. But Donetsk was not founded deep in the mists of time, but in 1869 by a Welshman. John Hughes, semi-literate engineer, arms and armour manufacturer, won a contract in Russia. The workers he took to Ukraine created factories, mines and a settlement that grew and grew. It was originally named Hughesovka (Yuzovka in Russian) after him. Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 it was renamed Stalino, then in 1961 to Donetsk, after the River Don (another Don, not ours). After famines in the 20s and 30s and deadly Soviet purges, Donetsk was almost destroyed in World War II when the Nazis built a concentration camp and slaughtered thousands. The city was rebuilt with forced labour. In the early 1990s as the Soviet Union fell, capitalism brought fierce gang wars for control of industry and resources. Even so, Donetsk is a vibrant, multicultural, artistic, sporting city. Educated and outward-looking, it is home to many varied viewpoints. Remind you of anywhere?

But in the last few months Ukraine's 'Euromaidan' revolt has culminated in the takeover of the capital, Kiev, by pro-Europeans including neo-fascists. One commentator notes that people have a very peculiar understanding of Europe as a utopian society with high wages, social security, rule of law, honest politicians, smiling faces and clean streets. Donetsk is mostly Russian-speaking. The links are strong, so it's no surprise that it resisted the move. Instead the city voted for the ‘People's Republic of Donetsk’ to become an independent country. Western leaders denounced the protestors as pro-Russian. This is true in part, but it's complicated. Ukraine is a country with historically shifting borders, a traumatic past, multiple allegiances and competing forces in a slowly boiling civil war. Add to this decades of neo-liberal austerity reforms including gas price rises, health service and rail privatisation, cuts in pensions and workers’ rights. As Sheffield celebrates peace, Donetsk is sliding into armed conflict. A recent joke going round the city was that rather than siding with Russia, Donetsk should vote to become part of the UK because of its Welsh founding father.

In some countries, twin towns are called sister towns. We're all members of one human family. Let's remember our brothers and sisters in troubled Donetsk, especially as we celebrate peace in Sheffield this month. Let's remember that peace isn't just a word - it really does mean something. )

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