“God Save the Queen!” As pro-Russia forces continue to make gains across east Ukraine, thousands of cheeky protesters in Donetsk have vowed their allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II and insisted that the city hold a referendum on union with England.
An online campaign to bring Donetsk under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom was launched last month, after Russia illegally annexed the autonomous Ukrainian republic of Crimea. Justifying his move, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized Moscow’s historic ties to the Crimean peninsula and spoke forcefully about “the right of nations to self-determination.” In late March, Ukrainian activists borrowed Putin’s line to argue (tongue-in-cheek, they said) that Donetsk—now a flashpoint of East-West tension—in fact belonged with Britain.
Donetsk was founded in the mid-19th century by a Welsh steel magnate by the name of John Hughes and was given the name Yuzovka. (In the Ukrainian accent, Yuz sounds a lot like Hughes.) The area became a hub for Ukraine’s coal mining and steel industries, though Yuzovka was renamed Stalino in 1932 and, later, in the ’60s, Donetsk. Today, the city of around one million boasts a large statue of Hughes holding a hammer and donning an English waistcoat.
By the end of March, some 7,000 people had voted in the mock referendum: 61 per cent wanted to join Britain; another 16 per cent voted for Donetsk to become an autonomous region with English as its official language.
“Donetsk residents! English brothers! The decisive moment has come!” the online appeal declared. (The website has reportedly been shut down.)
Organizer Yevgeni Bilous says he proposed the British union in jest to draw attention to Russian duplicity. Putin claims that Russian speakers in Ukraine are calling for his protection, purportedly from violent Ukrainian nationalists. But a Gallup poll released on April 5 found that most Russian speakers do not feel under threat, and that the majority of Ukrainians still want closer ties with Europe.