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How does Ukrainian New York live: a namesake at the frontline

New York (yes, this is a real historical name) is a settlement in the Donetsk region. In its empty streets, half-abandoned buildings, and dark cellars, the sound of artillery never seems to stop. Just about 4 km away is the city of Horlivka, temporarily occupied by Russia since 2014, and in between, Ukrainian defenders hold back the Russian attacks.

New York before the full-scale Russian invasion. October 2021.
Photo: Ivan Chernichkin / Zaborona

At first glance, New York may seem like a pretty common town in the Donetsk region. However, it is notable for its European history. German colonists settled here in the 19th century, initiated rapid industrial and cultural development, and first named the town Neue York.

That was until the Soviet government repressed the local Germans in 1941, deporting them to Siberia and Kazakhstan. A few years later, the town’s name was repressed too — the soviets changed it to “Novgorodske”. 

A new stage in the town’s life began after Ukraine restored its independence, and the historical name was given back.

However, the town and its residents already faced new challenges — Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, temporarily occupying Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The citizens’ dreams of tourists coming to the settlement and everything getting better have been shattered — New York became a frontline town. 

With its returned name, New York gained attention and support. Despite the war, resilient Ukrainians strived to build a better future for the town — they opened a social hub, renovated the local museum and infrastructure, and fostered civil initiatives. 

One of the most prominent initiatives was the New York Literary Festival organised by Ukrainian writer Victoria Amelina. The event brought together artists, journalists, and guests from all over the world. Ukrainian soldiers stationed near New York also came there to explore and enjoy Ukrainian and world culture.  

The New York Literary Festival venue.
Photo: Ivan Chernichkin / Zaborona
The same place, after Russia’s full-scale invasion.
Photo: Donetsk Regional Military Administration

With the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, the festival preparations were stopped. Its founder, Victoria Amelina, was killed by the Russian shelling of Kramatorsk. Russia keeps destroying educational institutions, medical infrastructure, kindergartens, and killing people.

The locals experience the horrors of war. Between 2014 and 2021, over 100 houses in the town were damaged by Russian shelling. Since 2022, shellings have become more frequent. Today the residents are deprived of water supply, electricity, and gas. They often hide from shelling in basements, but keep fighting and proving their resilience. 

Photo: Yan Boechat

The war has dramatically changed the life of the town and its residents, but it has not ruined their hopes and dreams. One day, thousands of tourists from all over the world will come to a peaceful and free New York in Ukraine.