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The plans to establish a classical university at the state level in the capital of the Donbass date back to the 1930s. The foundation of Stalin State Pedagogical Institute in 1937 was a necessary stage to fulfil the task. Originally, the institute consisted of two faculties such as the Faculty of History and the Faculty of Literature. Complying with a long-range objective, the scientific and teaching staff was formed, the Departments of Physics and Mathematics were established, the economic problems within the institute were tackled. Local architects developed the project of a campus and as a result the socially significant areas in the city centre were allocated for construction.

The institute was preparing for the status changes in September 1941. The first students, to be the teachers in comprehensive secondary schools, graduated from the institute in May. World War II, which began on June 22, made almost all the young men of military age join the Red Army; meanwhile, the teachers became combat leaders, the students during the period of occupation joined the anti-fascist under-ground. In October 1941, the institute’s property, documents and partially the staff members were evacuated to the Southern Urals.

The Donbass was liberated in October 1943 and in December the institute resumed its work. The institute in the war-ravaged city changed its location three times within six years, and in 1950 it was finally established at the present location, in a standard school building which survived the war. Hence, the new main road, constructed in 1953 near the university, was named Universitetskaya Street. The facilities were improving, educational and scientific potential was expanding. The city was renamed in 1961. Donetsk State Pedagogical Institute underwent the period of building and renovation. A distinctive feature of those years was the institute’s focus on internal development. The best students were offered to teach in their alma mater, the best teachers pursued their PhD and defended their PhD theses. In 1964, the Faculty of History and Philology, the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics, the Faculty of Education and Music and the General Scientific Faculty with the Departments of Humanities, Sciences, Technology and Agrobiology were functioning in four campus buildings of Donetsk Pedagogical Institute, it being a prototype for the future university.

The 1960s marked the industrial, economic and cultural prosperity of the Donbass. The primary objective for the authorities of Donetsk Oblast was the foundation of a significant research centre and a traditional university in its capital city Donetsk. Donetsk State University was established by the Decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR No 421 issued on May 28, 1965, and by the Decree of the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR No 572 issued on June 11, 1965.

Famous scientists from Moscow, Novosibirsk, Sverdlovsk, Saratov, Kyiv, Lviv, Tomsk and many other USSR cities were invited to manage teaching, learning and scientific processes at the university and at the facilities of Donetsk Scientific Center. By 1965, four educational campus buildings finally formed a closed block. The 12-storied main building, the new buildings of the Faculties of Chemistry and Biology, four high-rise dormitories and housing campuses were built in the 1970s. The university kept growing and gaining more power and experience. In 1973, there were 10 faculties, with this number being extended to 12 by 1994. Until 1990, the scientific and educational activities at the university were state-funded to promote its continuing progressive development. Donetsk State University was the main research and methodological and cultural centre of the Donbass. The university was given the highest level IV accreditation in 1994. On September 11, 2000, the status of “National” was conferred on Donetsk State University pursuant to a presidential decree. The same year a big construction project was completed – the educational building of the Faculty of Economics and Law (currently the Faculty of Law) came into operation. Since September 2014, Donetsk National University has been under the jurisdiction of the Donetsk People’s Republic. The university has survived these tough times of armed conflict with honour and is now looking to the future with optimism.