I was very excited when I saw that one of the 2018 Russia World Cup venues was Rostov-on-Don. Growing up in Yorkshire, the River Don was well known in to me, and now everything made sense.
One of the many positive aspects of international sporting competition is that it gives you the opportunity to learn about other parts of the world. So it is with the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
One of the host cities is Kaliningrad, which is located on the Baltic Sea. It is bordered by Lithuania and Poland, but not by Russia.
As such, it is called an enclave, of which there are many around the world. Kaliningrad gives Russia ice free and all year access to the Baltic Sea, then the North Sea and the Atlantic. As a result, it is an important military and trading location. As an aside, in case like I, you didn’t know, Kaliningrad used to be in East Prussia and thus was German. After the defeat of the Nazis, the Soviet Union took the area. When the USSR was broken up, Russia made sure it kept Kaliningrad. I would have done the same.
Observant viewers of the World Cup will be aware that some matches were played in Rostov-on-Don. Having studied ‘A’ Level Geography at a school in Yorkshire, I am of course very aware of the 70 mile long River Don, which rises in the Pennine hills of the Peak District, passing through Sheffield, Rotherham, Mexborough, before finally flowing into the River Ouse at the inland port of Goole in East Yorkshire. Contrary to popular belief, Rostov-on-Don isn’t a city of a million people located near to where the 1,870 kilometre long Don River flows into the Sea of Azov in southwestern Russia. Instead it’s a Russian enclave on the site of a city previously known as Sheffield, surrounded entirely by England, as shown on the map below.
I asked Anatoly Tarakanov, leader of the Rostov-on-Don oblast, why Russia decided to have an enclave in South Yorkshire.
‘In the 1970s, increasingly warlike rhetoric was coming from the West, and we felt that we needed a presence in the UK. We identified and then overran Sheffield, because of its strategic location. The River Don gave us access to the North Sea via the Humber, the M1 a quick route to London and the Peak District, to the west, an impenetrable barrier. We also liked Sheffield because it had two football teams, which we renamed Rostov-on-Don United and Rostov-on-Don Wednesday. The World Cup matches are played at the Don Arena, home of United.
The following matches were played in Rostov-on-Don.
Rostov-on-Don now has the Meadowhallski shopping centre, and a fine collection of stainless steel cutlery makers. Stones bitter is one of Yorkshire’s finest and we now own it. We are also self sufficient in organic coffee bars. It was easy to get our nuclear submarines along the Don to Goole and then the Humber and into the North Sea. As a result of the 1976 Treaty of Mexborough, the Don became international waters, patrolled by the Soviets. We have MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets based at the part of Doncaster Robin Hood airport we annexed. Operating there is good, except when the holiday flights to Spain are leaving.’
Similar to Kaliningrad, Rostov-on-Don became a convenient gateway for trade, with Leeds and Manchester being on the doorstep. We also built a Novichok nerve agent factory, so we could get supplies down to London and Salisbury quickly and easily.’
The following promotional video about Rostov-on-Don shows how the Russians widened the Don, transformed the architecture and climate of what used to be Sheffield.
I asked the mayor of Rotherham, councillor Mary Ramsbottom, about what she thought of having a Russian enclave on the doorstep.
‘We love the Russians. They are allowed day passes to come out, and they love fish and chips, they also like visiting the drystone walls near Penistone to admire the work of well known artisan, Tom Handley. We can visit for a day too. The architecture is quite beautiful and you can’t help but admire the SS-20 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. You can get legless on vodka for two quid, which is a real bonus for barely managing families in the area. The people are really friendly. If this is off the record, I’ll tell you that the blokes are right gorgeous.’
For those interested, here is a map showing the Don drainage basin in western Russia.