25 Fun Facts About Russia: Culture, History, Geography and Mentality
Many foreigners have heard a lot of myths about Russia. These were mainly created by a vigorous propaganda machine and a scandalous history of modern geopolitics. A lot of foreigners still imagine Russia as a backward country with a severe climate and tough people, with a great culture and a complicated history.
However, everyone usually changes their opinion about Russia after visiting Moscow and engaging with real Russians. This change in viewpoints was especially visible during the World Cup 2018... Moscow was full of travelers with relaxed and happy faces from all over the world enjoying the country!
Tourists tell us that all stereotypes are usually completely destroyed after their first several days in Moscow. The majority want to visit the country again and some even talk about moving to Moscow.
Do you want to learn more about Russia? Enjoy the next section!
1. Russia is the country of giants! In all senses.
Russia is the largest country in the world. It’s 2 times larger than the USA and even bigger than the surface area of Pluto! With over 80 Russian provinces in Russia, including one former German province in an area of Arkhangelsk region, this vast country reaches across some 14 time zones and an amazing array of people and cultures.
The Moscow Kremlin is the largest medieval fortified complex in the world. It also has the largest church bell and military cannon within the Kremlin complex.
The Metro in St. Petersburg is the deepest subway system in the world. Its average depth reaches 100 meters!
The Trans-Siberian railway is the longest railway system in the world that crosses 8 time zones. They have built it over 25 years with outrageous costs, desperate stuggle and enduring hardships.
Baikal is the largest and deepest lake in the world! Oymyakon is the coldest place on Earth. St. Petersburg is the northernmost town with over 1 million of population. Murmansk is the largest city of the Polar region. Volga is the biggest river and Elbrus in the highest mountain in Europe.
Should I continue?
2. Russia is primarily known as the frozen kingdom (without people)
Permafrost covers 65% of the Russian territory. Siberia occupies 77% of Russia! The Climate is very cold and winters are extremely long there! Siberia is immense, underpopulated, underdeveloped, and naturally severe.
I remember when our scientific group worked in Siberia. Wetlands for hundreds of kilomemeters, tons of gigantic mosquitos and only 2 months of summer. It's considered a good day when you don't need to take your coat!
It's important to understand that only a few people live in the wilderness of Siberia. There are several big cities and lots of smaller towns where people spend their lives deciding how to survive or if they should just leave the place. Factually, only 25% of Russians dwell in Siberia.
3. America and Russia are close (like brothers)
Russians have an expression “Where are we and where is America?” meaning how different our countries are. However, the real distance between Russia and America (Alaska) is… only 4 km! It’s closer to fly from Chicago to Moscow than to Rio de Janeiro!
4. Alaska was Russian territory
The Russian Empire was so huge and powerful that Russians conquered the Western part of America before Great Britain did it. In 1867, the US bought Alaska for $118 million in today’s value. Despite the bargain price of roughly two cents an acre, the Alaskan purchase was ridiculed in Congress and in the press as “Seward’s Folly,”' but later was recognized as one of the most valuable land grabs in American history.
5. St. Petersburg is the northern Venice
Peter the Great wanted to build ta new Amsterdam when he founded St. Petersburg only 300 years ago. A city of water and canals, in European fashion a lot of small boats moved goods from one shop to another; a faster and more convenient method of travel and transportation at that time.
Now St. Petersburg is the town of bridges and channels just like Venice! More than 60 different channels cross city to 42 small islands with 500 bridges and 20 increible drawbridges.
St. Petersburg is famous for its amazing architecture. The city center was included in the UNESCO heritage list just like Paris and Rome. The city was built to enjoy the views from the water, so don't hesitate and take the boat trip!
What's more? St. Petereburg is famous for its amazing culture, opera, theaters and the incredible Hermitage museum with more than 3 million exhibits. A special army of pampered cats protect it from rats!
6. Russia is an Empire
At least for Russians. Russian was an Empire for over 300 years. It’s an important fact if you want to understand Russians!
Russian people are proud of their country, its military might, ancient history and multi-faceted culture. Russians don’t want to be merely a country with a normal economy. Rather, the people prefer to live simply, even without money at times, but having an amazing Empire to be proud of.
Remember… The Russian Empire expanded from Eastern Europe to North America (Alaska was a Russian territory). The USSR was one of the largest countries in the world. It’s difficult to forget.
7. Russians are real explorers
Familiarity with a vast country and its' severe nature, Russians became some of the greatest explorers in the world. They found Antarctica during the 800-day expedition to the South. They also had millions of expeditions to the Cental Asia, Siberia, and Arctic.
Why are Russians explorers not so widely known? Just look at the Siberia map and you will understand where they gathered for years! Crossing the whole Siberia, they reached the Pacific Ocean and didn't stop! During further expeditions, Russians sailed to North America and conquered Alaska!
Russians are still desperate adventurers and explorers. One example, a man who’s been on Everest and into the deepest caves in the world, is a Russian. (Denis Provalov... and we are proud to know him!)
8. Russia has a great culture
Russia is famous for its culture… Art, ballet, opera, literature, architecture. Russian culture heritage is extraordinary!
Now St. Petersburg plays the role of a modern cultural capital in Russia. It has over 2000 libraries, 200 museums, and 100 theaters.
If you love culture, do not miss Hermitage! It's one of the largest and oldest museums in the world with over 3 million fascinating exhibits. It may be even more impressive than the Louvre.
Moscow is famous for its culture, too. Tretyakovskaya Gallery and Pushkinsky Museum are perfect for Art and Sculpture lovers. You will find the masterpieces of a Russian Kingdom in the Armory Chamber of Kremlin. Do not forget to explore monasteries, churches and kremlins of the Golden Ring!
9. Russia had no slavery (but...)
There was no slavery in Russia. Never. BUT. Russia had a serfdom up to 1861; it is a special status of many peasants similar to slavery.
Official laws protected peasants from overly-aggressive owners. Peasants worked for themselves only giving the part of their money or products to the landowner. However, it was still possible to buy a peasant or lose him/her playing cards.
Serfdom only existed in the central and southern areas of the Russian Empire. They never established it in the North, in the Urals, or in Siberia.
In 1861 the serfdom was finally abolished. At that times Russia had about 23 millions peasants that belonged to landowners and about 29 millions free peasants that belonged to the goverment.
10. Russians are not big drinkers.
Actually, it’s complicated. Some Russians drink a lot especially if they live in depressed regions with a bad economy, cold climate, no infrastructure and do the hard work. Concerning well-educated people, they usually drink beer or wine. Vodka is only for hard parties; normal people do not drink it during their everyday lives.
11. Russians are big tea drinkers!
People in Russia drink a lot of hot tea. They can drink 5-10 cups of tea every day. Usually people drink black tea with sugar, but now many people prefer green tea or the black tea without sugar. When you come to your friends, you often buy some sweets “for the tea”. It’s like a tradition and it’s great in winter when you want something hot to warm up!
12. Russian are grumpy but hospitable
Sounds strange? Ha-ha. Teachers in school told us that “only fools laugh and smile without a reason”. So people are just not used to smiling and laughing. When your face muscles are relaxed, your face looks grumpy, and it’s normal. So when you see grumpy Russians remember, that they are just relaxed. If you met a friend you can smile at him / her and behave like a normal American or European.
People are very hospitable so they always ready to help you and it doesn’t matter if you are from America or Albania. It impressed all of our American friends how much the image of “normal Russian” learned from American TV differs from the real Russian. Don’t be afraid of Russia! Check it for yourself.
13. The first person in space was Russian
It was Yuri Gagarin, and he is famous in Russia. The first flight was made in hurry to get ahead of America. It was extremely dangerous, cause some emergency systems didn't work at all. Gagrin prepared three messages for cases of successful flight, mission fail, and landing on the territory of another country. The mission was secret, so only the next day people learned about that.
People are proud of USSR success in space exploration. Every small city has its own space museum; many streets are named in the honor of Yuri Gagarin. Small child's dream of being astronauts. Belka and Strelka (first dogs in space) are national heroes!
What about now? Russia is still among the space-faring nations. The International Space Station has two official languages, English and Russian!
14. Lenins are everywhere!
Lenin monuments still decorate each central square in every small town or a big city. Lenin street is the main street of the typical Russian town. Lenin always stands proudly showing the bright future by its stretched hand.
You may find the impressive list of Lenin's monuments in Wiki. Now we have at least 7000 Lenin monuments in Russia! You may find 100 of them in Moscow.
No one cares actually; it’s just a sign of the old days. Lenin died in 1924, so he is no more than a symbol of communism for the last 100 years! He was a leader of the country for only 6 years, while the USSR existed for over 70 years.
15. WWII became a tragedy
War is always considered a tragedy… but the USSR had a special part in that war. It was the main reason Hitler was defeated, but for the cost of 20 million Russian people.
The first days of the war were catastrophic for the USSR. The country lost about 2 million soldiers and numerous tanks and airplanes. Less that 10% of the soldiers warring during 1941 survived till the end of the war. Despite all negative factors, USSR was the first country that really harmed the German's army. Hitlers plan of conquering USSR for several months turned into 5 long and debilitating fruitless years of War.
All the European part of Russia still has WWII traces everywhere. Many lands are still destroyed. Children were raised by mothers and grandmothers because a lot of the men were killed. We still have many veterans of that War.
16. Russia has the most active volcano in the world
Russia has one of the most active volcanoes in the world… Klyuchevskaya Sopka. It has exploded regularly during last 7000 years. It’s on Kamchatka peninsula. It’s the highest active volcano in Europe.
17. The Kalashnikov Rifle
The Russian AK-47 is the most popular military rifle in the world. Over 100 million AK-47 were produced from 1947. It’s simple, cheap and rough (like our UAZ 452).
18. Russia is a country of Churches
If you hear the term “Golden Ring”, be ready to see a lot of golden domes! As one of my tourists said, “I’ve almost gotten blind by over-churching!”.
Russia is the country of churches; they are everywhere. For example, Suzdal has 1 church for every 200 people.
Religion was very important in ancient Russia. Monasteries worked as fortifications, so people could always hide in their walls. Tsars gave privileges to monasteries to have their support, and many pilgrims supported local trading.
Although religion was almost defeated during the communist times, it survived. Now it’s an important part of everyday life.
19. Freedom? Never heard about it.
Modern politics in Russia is a hard question! 80% of the people support Putin. Other not so happy protestors, (usually young and well educated) are pursued by police.
After many meetings in the 2010s, the government designed everything to control the population and receive money from it. Now it’s forbidden to write bad things about the government, even on Internet.
It’s forbidden to organize meetings with over 3 people without getting approval from government. Now we have a new law that forces people to move from their apartments to a new one as a program of the city renovation. People are afraid to lose their property!
However, Europeans and Americans always feel free in Russia! Why? It’s possible to discuss complicated questions as racism or laugh at feminists without being criticized by everyone around. Black humor is still normal in Russia. You need not control everything you talk about for being tolerant! Just say what you think. Maybe Russians will argue or you will happily discuss some weird stuff.
20. The countryside life in Russia is far from the image of modern city life
20 millions of Russians still have no normal toilets… they use some strange wooden cabins with holes in the floor and often leaning walls. Some people are too old to repair them, others are used to rely on the government after 70-years of USSR.
The USSR built many new towns for mining precious metals or catching the fish. Some of them were military settlements far from the other world. After the USSR collapsed, many of them were abandoned or are slowly dying because people leave the place. Such depressive towns are numerous… they have weak infrastructure and many people fighting to live better or just spend their time drinking.
21. Immigrants are the big problem in Russia.
We have over 12 million immigrants from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other republics of the former USSR. They come to Russia for the better life. They rarely know the Russian language well. Russians dislike them, associating them with higher criminality. People call them “black” because they usually have dark hair. These people are often not protected by government; they’ve got no money and work hard.
22. 15% of Russians live in Moscow
Moscow and 15 other cities with a population of over 1 million attract more and more people from surrounding villages and small towns. Especially Moscow… there’s a funny expression that there’s no life behind the Moscow Circle Road.
If you live in the small town, you probably have only a few theaters and museums to visit during long winters. Economy is weak, people are poor, infrastructure is bad, and the future is obscured. Therefore, children often choose the University in Moscow and St. Petersburg to study and then choose to live in these cities. Other people move to Moscow after the University for a better life. As a result, they over populate Moscow while many other towns are slowly dying.
23. Only Russians have babushkas!
Babushka is just a “grandmother”. Every senior woman is a babushka, actually. But post-USSR babushkas are so special that they became a cultural phenomenon. It’s difficult to describe them. They can be kind or angry, well or poor-dressed with hair of every color from natural grey to bright red.
Many of them sell tickets, check your clothes in theaters, sell flowers in the streets, check your tickets in trains, sell home-made cucumbers on the railway stations, teach literature to children, protect exhibits from you in museums and discuss your clothes or that you live in a rented Airbnb apartment in the typical 5-block houses.