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19 Jun, 2009 06:50

Rostov-on-Don: land of sunflowers and hi-tech hub

Located in the fertile lands of Russia’s south, Rostov-on-Don is the country’s gateway to five seas. It’s one of the busiest ports, and millions of tonnes of the region’s goods pass through its canals.

The flow of grain for export there is as abundant as the River Don itself. And no wonder – the area is one of the biggest grain producers in the country.

The Rostov region is also Russia’s number one provider of sunflowers, covering more than a third of Russia’s needs in vegetable oil.

There are almost six million hectares of ploughed plains – that’s twice the size of Belgium.
But apart from feeding the country from its vast, open countryside, the region also has a more modern, mechanical side.

The Rostov helicopter plant turns out the biggest variety of the aircraft in Russia, selling them on to more than 30 countries. And it’s where Russia’s military is getting its new generation of attack helicopters.

“For decades the MI 24, nicknamed “The Crocodile”, has been the main chopper for our Air Force. During the last fifteen years, we’ve been the major plant producing them,” explains Anton Shulga from the Rosvertol chopper plant.

“And the MI-28 – the ‘Night Hunter’ – is the newest chopper in the Russian Air Force, designed to replace the crocodiles. It has an all-weather, day-and-night operational capability.”

They’ve got speed. They’ve got maneuverability. But then there’s the factory’s flying powerhouse…

Another model the plant is proud of is the MI-26 – the only helicopter in the world capable of carrying a cargo of up to 20 tonnes. They’ve been sold to more than 20 countries.

From conquering the sky, to going deep underground – Russia’s most high-tech pipe producer, TMK, operates in the city of Taganrog, the region’s second-largest city. Its specialty – seamless rolled tubes used for oil and gas drilling.

This firm is weathering the downturn better than most. Many metal and pipe firms are struggling, but this plant is lucky – its product is in demand by oil and gas firms at home and in more than 60 countries abroad.

One of the company’s top mangers, Vladimir Smatovich, says its geography is the key to success:

“It is very conveniently located on the Sea of Azov and, unlike many other Russian companies, it is well designed for exports.”

But Rostov is not totally immune from the financial crisis; not least for one of the leading industries here. Coal mining has halved compared to last year.

Thankfully though, this region’s not reliant on one industry. Agriculture and heavy industry have equal stakes in its economy, and such diversity is helping smooth out the rough edges of recession.