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Russian MiniLessons
for intermediate and advanced students
2014 Archives
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Below is an archive of the Russian MiniLessons featured in the SRAS newsletter over the 2014 school year. Please see our FULL TABLE OF CONTENTS for a list of all lessons, arranged by subject. To subscribe to the newsletter, and receive a free Mini-Lesson each month, simply sign up

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Почта - The Post Office

The most frequently used почтовая услуга (postal service) is отправка и получение почты/ корреспонденции (sending and receiving mail/correspondence). Once you have written a письмо (letter), you put it in a конверт (envelope) with a марка (stamp). If you don’t have time for a long letter, you may want to send an открытка (post card) instead. If it is a special occasion, such as a holiday or birthday, you may opt to send a поздравительная открытка (greeting card).

Unlike the US, where купить марки (buying stamps) is sometimes possible at grocery stores, online, and other places, in Russia, stamps are sold only at post offices. Конверт по России ((sending) an envelope anywhere in Russia) domestically costs 15 rubles. Отправить письмо за границу (to send a letter internationally), one has to pay about 30 rubles.

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The prices listed above are for простая корреспонденция (regular mail). You can also send mail via: заказная корреспонденция (insured/ registered mail), корреспонденция первого класса (first class mail), and авиа (air mail). At the post office, you can specify which class to send by saying, for example, “Я хочу отправить заказное письмо" (“I want to send a registered letter”).

Заказная корреспонденция (registered mail) вручается адресату под расписку (is given to the recipient on the basis of a receipt) which must be signed. Заказная корреспонденция can also be с уведомлением (with notification), which is when the sender receives a notice with the receiver’s signature that he/she has received the mail. If the recipient is not in, an извещение (notification) is left in his/her mailbox. In this case, or if a package will not fit in the mailbox, the package is sent to the местное отделение почтовой связи (local post office). The recipient then has to pick it up there and show documents proving his/her identity.

If a customer wants to отправить посылку (ship a package), he or she should say, “Мне нужно отправить посылку в (“I need to send a package to…”). The customer has to объявить ценность (declare the value) of the parcel in rubles by writing the amount in a form and заполнить опись (fill out a list) of items included in the parcel.

Packages at Russian post offices are divided into two categories; the first is бандероль (small packages), which could be newspapers, magazines, or books that cannot be sent in a letter envelope. Бандероль should weigh no more than two kilos (four and a half pounds). If it is a простая бандероль (regular small package), and it will fit, the почтальон (postman) опускает ее в почтовый ящик (drops it into the mailbox).

The second category of packages is посылка (larger packages), for which, in addition to being accompanied by an опись (list) that includes the ценность (value), взимается страховой сбор (an insurance fee is charged) of 3-4 percent. The maximum weight of a посылка is 20 kilos (44 pounds), but an additional 30 percent fee is charged if it is over 10 kilos (22 pounds).

Отправить посылку в США из России (shipping a package to the US from Russia) сosts from 27 rubles for a package of up to 20 grams to 2665 rubles for a package up to five kilos (11 pounds) sent as registered mail. To inquire about the price for sending parcels to the USA, a customer might ask, “Сколько стоит отправить посылку в США за килограмм?" (“how much does it cost per kilo to send a package to the USA?”). If one has to send a parcel within Russia, you might ask, “Сколько стоит отправить посылку по России за килограмм?" (“how much does it cost per kilo to send a package within Russia?”).

Many guidebooks still describe addressing Russian letters as being backwards from American conventions – with the country and индекс (zip code) first and the name of the recipient last. However, this actually changed many years ago when Russia’s postal service, known as “Почты России” (Russian Post), adopted international standards.

If корреспонденция утеряна (mail is lost), or, in official terms, a письмо/посылка не прибывают в место назначения (letter/package doesn’t arrive at its destination), it is necessary to write a заявление на розыск (search claim), then позвонить на горячую линию Почты России (call the Russian Post’s hotline). Also, one can обратиться в учреждение, указанное в последнем трекинге (contact the institution specified in the last tracking). If выяснить судьбу посылки не удалось (it’s not possible to discover the package’s fate) and more than one week has passed, it is necessary to обратиться с письменным заявлением к генеральному директору Почты России (contact the Russian Post director general with a written claim).

Почта/отделение почтовой связи (the post office) in Russia is actually known as one of the world’s worst postal systems. Service is often slow as многие процессы не изменились с советских времен (many processes have not changed much since Soviet times), but количество пересылаемой корреспонденции значительно возросло (the amount of packages sent has grown greatly) since Soviet times. Although a major new state-of-the-art почтовый сортировочный центр (postal processing facility) was recently built in Moscow, most postal processing is still routed through Moscow (as it was in the Soviet era). This means that if a letter is sent from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk (both in the Russian Far East), it will travel to Moscow first to be sorted and only then carried back. Почтовые работники (postal workers), are generally not well-paid and are often undertrained. The Russian internet is full of jokes about the slowness of the Почта России and evidence of mail backlogs and the mistreatment of packages and customers has often gone viral.

Thus, отправка посылки курьерской почтой (shipping a package with a courier (private service) is becoming increasingly popular in Russia. DHL is the most common, although «Почта России» offers its own service called EMS (Express Mail Service), which is slightly cheaper than DHL. Private carriers usually calculate the cost по весу (by weight), по расстоянию (by distance), and по методу доставку (by mode of delivery) – which can include pick-up and home delivery. After receiving a package, one has to расписаться (sign) for it.

Some efforts have been made to improve the Почта России. However, the government hopes to privatize the system by about 2018 and most efforts seem to have been more about raising the value of Почта России than about improving service or operations. Thus, some remodeling of post offices has been completed and employees now wear modern-looking uniforms. Banking services, service as Western-Union style денежные переводы (money transfers) are now available and one can pay most bills, including коммунальные услуги (utilities), cell phone bills, etc. via terminals at most post office locations. The post office has tried, but failed, to form a partnership with a domestic Russian bank to open a wider range of banking services. However, processes for core services have remained largely unreformed.

Интернет-магазины (Internet retailers) such as, probably Russia’s best known domestic retailer, and, which has made significant efforts to enter the Russian market, generally list the Russian postal service as well as Russia’s таможенная служба (customs service) for international shipments as their main challenges. In Russia, it is popular for internet retailers to have physical пункты приёма (pickup points), sometimes located inside larger stores, for customers to collect their goods near their homes rather than wait or pay for home delivery.

SRAS officially discourages students from having packages or correspondence sent from abroad. This is, in part, because of the above mentioned problems, but also because receiving mail at a university dormitory, which often do not have formal, reliable procedures for mail distribution, presents other problems. Sending a letter via regular post in America (such as if you must have a credit card replaced while in Russia) is also not advised – the US postal service will transfer the envelope to Почта России at the border and, as there is no agreement between the two systems, почтовые идентификаторы (tracking numbers) then cease to operate. For such needs, sending via a private service such as DHL, with pickup to be made at a courier service office in Russia, is generally advised.

That said, the postal service used most often by SRAS students, that of shipping packages back to America, such as for books purchased while abroad, has generally been found to be медленная, но, в конечном счете, надежная (slow, but ultimately reliable).


Литература - Literature
Part 3: Poetry

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Аллитерация (alliteration) is repeating the same or similar sounds, usually at the beginning or in the middle of multiple words. Alliteration is used largely in поэзия (poetry), пословицы (proverbs), поговорки (sayings), and скороговорки (tongue-twisters).

For example:

Выходила к ним горилла,
Им горилла говорила
Говорила им горилла,

(A gorilla went to them,
The gorilla told them,
The gorilla told them,
   - K. Chukovsky, Barmalei

When analyzing поэзия (poetry), there are a few other things to consider in addition to литературные приёмы (literary devices), for instance, there are various стихотворные размеры (poetic meters) that a поэт (poet) can use: односложный (one-syllable), двусложный (disyllabic), тресложный (trisyllabic), пятисложный (pentameter). Here are some of the самые распространенные (most common) meters: 

1. Хорей  (trochee or choree): a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one:

Буря мглою небо кроет
Вихри снежные крутя

   - A. Pushkin


2. Ямб (iamb): the opposite of a хорей, this consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable:

Мой дядя самых честных правил, 
Когда не в шутку занемог, 
Он уважать себя заставил 
И лучше выдумать не мог.

   - A. Pushkin


3. Анапест (anapest, also called antidactylus): two short syllables followed by a long one:

О, весна без конца и без краю –
Без конца и без краю мечта!
Узнаю тебя, жизнь! Принимаю!
И приветствую звоном щита!

   - A. Blok


4. Амфибра́хий (amphibrach): a long syllable  between two short syllables:  

Не ветер бушует над бором,
Не с гор побежали ручьи -
Мороз-воевода дозором
Обходит владенья свои.

   - N. Nekrasov


Armed Forces - Вооружённые силы

Note, the following excerpt was written by Dr. Lawerence Mansour, West Point. It was originally published in The Russian Context: The Culture behind the Language, edited by Genevra Gerhart and Eloise M. Boyle. It originally appeared on SRAS in 2005 as an independent article. It has been moved here to consolidate more of our language resources together. 

The armed forces are the most important and the largest of the power agencies. In the Russian Federation they are under the direct control of the minister of defense (министр обороны). The minister is advised by members of the general staff (Генеральный штаб, генштаб), as well as his civilian assistants. The president of the Russian Federation is the commander-in-chief (главно-командуюший).

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All Russian young men must spend one to two years performing either military service (военная служба) or alternative service (альтернативная служба). Military service is notoriously dangerous and often deadly. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get permission for alternative service so that avoiding the draft becomes a family affair: the family emigrates, or pays a large bribe; thousands of young men hide from the authorities, becoming deserters (дезертиры).

At sixteen all young men in Russia have to register (становиться/стать на учёт). At seventeen, the regional draft board (районный военкомат) sends a registration form (присылать повестку) informing them that they are subject to the draft and must show up at the local draft board office. They are then subject to a biannual draft (призыв) which takes place from 1 April to 30 June and again from 1 October to 31 December, depending on how many draftees (призывники) are needed for full manning (комплектование) of the various branches. Starting in December 1992, young men and women have had the right to join as volunteers (добровольцы), but women generally serve only as nurses (медсёстры), telephone operators (телефонистки), interpreters (переводчицы) and the like.

You can put off service only if you get a deferment (отсрочка), usually for obtaining a college degree (получение высшего образования). Those with an advanced degree are not called up. Some major universities have an obligatory course for men only on military skills (военная подготовка). Completing this course exempts one from the draft. Young men can also get an exemption from the draft altogether for family reasons (по семейным обстоятельствам), for example, if a brother has been killed in service, or if the draftee is judged unfit for military service (не годен к военной службе) after the obligatory medical exam (медицинское обследование, медобследование).

Recruits (новобранцы) serve eighteen months if they are sent to the land-based units (сухопутные войска), two years if sent to the navy военно-морской флот, ВМФ), but only one year if drafted after receiving a college degree. If they like it they may stay on for another hitch (остаться на сверхурочную/службу).

Basic military training (начальная военная подготовка, НВП) for recruits is led by professional military men (профессиональные военнослужащие), the officers (офицеры) and noncommissioned officers (старшина). Each is generally a graduate of a military academy (выпускник военного училища). Training takes place at a training ground (полигон). There new conscripts live in barracks (в казармах) with about 100 soldiers to a building and eat what is jokingly called chow (похлёбка - a potato or grain soup) served up by the kitchen “police” (дежурные по кухне), and at night sleep on a cot (койка). At around six in the morning soldiers rise to reveille (подъём), stand for roll call (поверка), do their calisthenics (физзарядка), go through ordering quarters (заправка) to get ready for inspection (осмотр), which is different from a military review (торжественный смотр). Breakfast and supper offer the same food, usually tea, about one pound of bread and a bowl of hot cereal with butter. Lunch is the main meal: soup, 100 grams of meat (about a quarter pound), black bread and potatoes.

Day is not done till evening roll call (вечерняя поверка) and taps (отбой) at around 10 pm.

The recruit learns how properly to put on a uniform (форма), which consists of a forage cap (фуражка), a service blouse (гимнастёрка), perhaps a jacket (мундир, китель) and, if it’s cold, a hat with ear-flaps (ушанка) and a quilted work coat (ватник); there’s a waist-belt (ремень), and, usually, canvas-topped boots (кирзовые сапоги); sometimes foot-wrappings (портянки) are worn instead of socks (носки). Whatever the boots (ботинки) used, they must be spitshined (до блеска - literally, till they sparkle). A soldier must know not only how to march (маршировать) in a formation (колонна), he must also take part in field-training exercises (полевые учения). During down time he can bone up on the regulations (устав).

He also needs to learn marching commands:


At ease!

Form columns!

Fall in – single file!

Take up arms!

Sling arms

Order arms!

Present arms!

Mark time!


To the right!

To the left!

Eyes right/left!

Fall out!

Close on center/flanks


В колонну (по 2, по 4) становись!

В колонну по одному становись!

В ружьё!

За спину!

К ноге!

На каранул!

На месте шагом марш!

Шагом марш!



Равнение направо/налево



He'll want to know battle commands, too: Yes, sir! or Aye-aye! (Есть!); On the double! (Бегом!); Take cover! (В укытие!); Throw grenades! (Гранатами огонь!); Follow me! (За мной!); Load weapons! (Заряжай!); On guard! (К бою готовься); Take aim! (Целься!); Fire! (Огонь!); Fix bayonets! (примкнуть штыки); and the ever-popular "Hands up!" (Руки вверх!) and "Halt! Who goes there?" (Стой! Кто идёт?).

The first-year in the life of a private soldier (рядовой) is made miserable by a vicious form of hazing (дедовщина) where soldiers in the last half of their service (деды) are allowed mercilessly to abuse or "haze" him (издеваться над ним). There is little chance of getting much leave (отпуск). If he can't stand it he may want to go AWOL (уйти в самоволку) and become a "deserter" (дезертир) for which he is likely to get punished (попасть на гауптвахту, «на губу»). Young men know what is coming, as do their parents, and so many do anything they can to avoid service. As a result all branches have difficulty filling units (комплектование). Upon completion of service, a soldier goes back to being a civilian.

Note: due to formating concerns, the above text slightly differs from that found in the original book. However, all information is still the same.

Find out more!
Genevra Gerhart's Website (buy the book!)
Learn Russian in Russia

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Кража - Theft

In the unfortunate instance that you are the пострадавший от преступления (victim of a crime), such as кража (theft) in which some of your личные вещи (personal belongings) были украдены (were stolen) in Russia, or if потеряли паспорт (you lost your passport) somehow, there are several steps you can take.

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First, you have to пойти в полицию (go to the police) and подать заявление в полицию (to submit a statement to the police). This is the first step to найти вора/преступника (find the thief/criminal) but is also something that you’ll need for insurance paperwork or to replace your passport. You must go to the отделение полиции (police station) nearest to the место преступления (crime scene) where you report, “У меня украли телефон/паспорт/кредитную карту” (“My phone/passport/credit card has been stolen”) or “Я хочу подать заявление о краже телефона/паспорта/кредитной карты (“I want to make a statement about the theft of my phone/passport/credit card”).

The police must be told the exact address of the crime scene and the exact time that the преступление совершилось (crime was committed). You can describe your experience by starting with “В последний раз у меня был мой телефон/ паспорт/ кредитная карта… (“The last place I had my phone/passport/credit card was…”). A police officer might ask you at the station, “Пожалуйста, подробно опишите, как произошло преступление и украденную вещь (“Please provide a detailed description of how the crime took place and the stolen item”). You will likely need to take along a Russian speaking friend if you are not fluent in Russian.

The whole procedure of describing your experience to the police is quite complicated: first the victim writes a statement, then a policeman questions the victim while writing another statement, and finally requests the victim to write “C моих слов записано верно, мною прочитано” (“This has been transcribed correctly from my words, I’ve read this”) on the second report. Then the police can возбудить уголовное дело (open a criminal case) and начать расследование (start an investigation).

After the first visit to the police, a person can be вызван в полицию (summoned by police) для ответа на дополнительные вопросы (to answer further questions), or на слушания по делу (to testify in a trial) if the преступник пойман (criminal has been caught). Often the person calling the victim back will be the дознаватель/следователь (investigator).  

If it was your phone that was stolen, you might ask, “У моего телефона есть Джи Пи Эс, вы можете его отследить?” (“My cell phone has GPS, can you track it?”). Several years ago, police easily tracked stolen phones, but then был принят новый закон (a new law was passed), and отслеживание (tracking) is now considered a нарушение неприкосновенности частной жизни (violation of privacy), especially if the телефон был продан добропорядочному гражданину (phone was sold to a law-abiding citizen), even if by the criminals. Разрешение судьи (a judge’s permission) is required for tracking, and a judge will дает разрешение (give permission) only if a насильственное преступление (violent crime) took place. It does not help much if ваш телефон заблокирован (your phone is blocked), because thieves are usually able to разблокировать (unblock) it.

In the case of credit card or bank card theft, you should cancel the cards immediately. If you were to do this in Russian, you would call the bank/card company and say, “Мне нужно блокировать свою карту, так как она была украдена” (“I need to cancel my credit card because it was stolen”). Another request could be, “Пожалуйста, проверьте, списывали ли с моей карты деньги после ее кражи?” (“Can you please check for fraudulent charges on my card after its theft?”) Of course, if your cards were American, you would be calling the American call centers and speaking to English-speakers in the case you need to do this.

If your passport is stolen, the police issue a справка (certificate) detailing the theft until a new passport is issued to you. You will need to contact your country’s посольство (embassy) for detailed information on obtaining a new passport.

The most important thing in any unfortunate instance such as this is to remain calm and work through any need steps to ensure your own safety.

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Литература - Literature
Part 2: Literary Devices

Knowing литературные приёмы (literary devices) that авторы (authors) use can help readers анализировать литературу (analyze literature). One of the most common литературные приёмы (literary devices) is a метафора (metaphor), a фигура речи (figure of speech) that describes an object by stating that it is in some way the same as another otherwise unrelated object. For example: Мой дом — моя крепость (my home is my castle), or весь мир — театр (all the world’s a stage).

A метафора is slightly different from a сравнение (simile), which is an уподобление (likeness) that compares two objects by using a comparative word such as как (like) or чем (than), or verbs such as напоминает (resembles). For example: Мужик глуп, как свинья, а хитёр, как чёрт (The man is as stupid as a pig, but as sly as a devil).

A twist on a метафора or сравнение is персонифика́ция or олицетворение (personification), which is representing a non-human entity as if it were human. For example: Плачёт дождь (the rain is crying), ветер поёт песни (the wind is singing songs).

When using метонимия (metonymy) the author refers to an object or concept not by its own name, but by something associated with that thing or concept. For example: Я три тарелки съел (I ate three plates) – here, food is implied, although the author never actually says “three plates of food.

One type of metonymy is синекдоха (synecdoche), which is a term for a part of something that refers to the whole of it, or vice versa. For example: Единственное число вместо множественного (singular instead of plural): Всё спит — и человек, и зверь, и птица (Everything sleeps: man, and animal, and bird) (Gogol).

Аллегория (allegory) is a риторический приём (rhetorical device) in which characters or events represent a different idea or concept. For example: (from the Bible) Иуда олицетворяет ложь и предательство, а Богородица – красоту и непорочность (Judah personifies lies and betrayal, and the Mother of God represents beauty and purity). 

A эвфемизм (euphemism) is a generally harmless word or expression used in place of one that might be offensive or unpleasant. For example: более жёсткие методы допроса (tougher methods of investigation) instead of пытки (tortures). The opposite of an эвфемизм is a дисфеми́зм (dysphemism), which, instead of using harmless words, uses phrases that are offensive either about the denotatum (the object referred to by the linguistic expression) or to the audience, or both. For example: сдохнуть (to croak) instead of умереть (to die).

An аллюзия (allusion) is a reference to a famous historical or literary person or event. These are very common in Russian газетные заголовоки (newspaper headlines). One recent headline read: Береги кисть смолоду (Guard Your Brush from Youth; about young artists in Russia) is an allusion to the proverb Береги честь смолоду (Guard your honor from youth). 

Гипербола (hyperbole) involves using преувеличение (exaggeration) as a rhetorical device or figure of speech, but should not be taken literally. It is used to evoke strong emotions or impressions. For example: Я говорил это тысячу раз (I’ve told you that a thousand times) or, looking at a large meal, saying that "нам еды на полгода хватит" (we have enough food for half a year).

On the other hand, литота (litotes) is a form of преуменьшение (understatement) that is always deliberate and with the intention of выразительность (emphasis). For example: Лошадь величиной с кошку (a horse as big as a cat), жизнь человека — один миг (a person’s life is just a blink).

Перифра́з (circumlocution) refers to an ambiguous or roundabout figure of speech, in that the information can have multiple meanings. For example: Люди в белых халатах (people in white robes) to mean doctors or царь зверей (the king of beasts) to refer to a lion. 

Most people who watch modern TV shows are familiar with сарказм (sarcasm), which is also quite common in literature. It can involve using a bitter statement or feigning indifference. For example: Если больной очень хочет жить, врачи бессильны (If the patient wants to live, the doctors are powerless) (Faina Ranevskaya).

Художественный образ (imagery) is vivid and descriptive language that is used to add depth to a literary work. Authors use imagery to appeal to human senses and deepen the reader's understanding of the work. Imagery sometimes uses metaphors, and strives to engage all the reader’s senses.

Иро́ния (irony) is a contrast or inconsistency between what the reader expects from a situation and what actually happens. Sometimes similes or metaphors are used to state the opposite of the truth, for example: Ну ты храбрец! (How brave you are!) to refer to a coward, or умён-умён (you are so clever) for an idiot.

Антитеза (juxtaposition) is comparing two things that are not related to each other in order to show their differences. For example: Кто был ничем, тот станет всем. (Someone who was nobody, became important).

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Литература - Literature
Part 1: Structure and Classification

Whether you’re studying in Russia or the US, if you’re learning Russian language, you’re probably also reading classic Russian literature. Here is some useful vocabulary for discussing literature.

Литература (literature) can be художественная литература (fiction), or документальная, небеллетристическая литература (non-fiction). Both of these types of literature can contain a предисловие (preface), пролог (prologue), and эпилог (epilogue).

There are many different subtypes of художественная литература: фантастика (fantasy), мистика (horror/ghost stories; sometimes referred to as "ужасы"), научная фантастика (science fiction), криминальная литература/детектив (crime/detective), любовные истории (romance), юмористический рассказ (humorous story), and историческая проза (historical fiction).

There are also lots of different types of literary works: роман (novel), повесть (story, tale, narrative), рассказ (short story), стихотворение (poem), and антология (anthology), a collection of literary works chosen by the compiler. A format that is not as common in modern fiction is a роман в стихах (novel in verse), such as Pushkin’s Евгений Онегин. Every literary work has героя (characters), including a главный герой (main character) and an отрицательный герой (villain). 

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A typical структура сюжета (plot structure) includes the several parts. First, the экспозиция (exposition), представит героев, место, и время действия: кто, где, когда (introduces the characters, place, and time of action: who, where, when). The завязка (outset) presents the первое столкновение конфликтующих сторон (first conflict between the parties or narrative hook). Then, the перипетии по восходящей (rising action), кульминация (climax), перипетии по нисходящей (falling action), and развязка (resolution) develop the story to its финал (denouement), which ties up any lose ends to the story and gives it conclusion.  In many литературные произведения (literary works), символы (symbols) are important, and each символ выражает (symbol represents) an idea.

Предзнаменование (foreshadowing) is a литературный приём (literary device) in which the author drops subtle hints about events or developments that will occur later in the story. A common example is a символ беды (symbol of trouble), such as a черная кошка, перебежавшая дорогу (black cat crossing someone’s path), карканье ворона (a crow’s cry), гроза (a thunderstorm), or внезапно потухшая свеча (a candle that suddenly goes out).

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Трудности перевода - Translation Challenges

Translating between any two languages can be difficult, and translating between Russian and English is no исключение (exception) to this pattern. Due to certain грамматические различия (grammatical differences), some meanings within the languages can be difficult to translate.

While such differences between English and Russian are numerous, below are six of the most interesting in our opinion.

1. Порядок слов (Word Order)

One of the major differences between Russian and English is порядок слов (word order). Both languages have a basic подлежащее-глагол-дополнение (subject-verb-object) order: Он любит её/ He loves her. This word order is нейтральный (neutral) in Russian, but for выразительность (emphasis), the word order can be changed, in which case it is no longer neutral: Её он любит/Он её любит. In these instances, emphasis is specifically placed on the word moved forward in the word order. The translator, if to keep the original emphasis, will need to creatively carry this into English, perhaps with a нестандартный (non-standard), non-neutral word order (i.e. It is she that he loves) or through other emphasis (i.e. He loves her).

2. Время (Time) and Действие (Action)

Verbs in English and Russian express время (time) very differently. English relies on 12 времена (tenses) to transmit точное время (exact time). Russian has only three tenses, настоящее (present), прошедшее (past), and будушее (future), but it also uses вид (aspect) to add layers of значение (meaning) emphasizing how the action was performed, if it was completed, repeated, done with specific purpose, etc. While such subtleties can often be expressed in English using phrasal verbs, translators must navigate a web of subtleties and consider each case in context to decide how to express the same thought with economy. For instance, "Я гулял" (I strolled) is much more direct and finite than "Я погулял," which is closer to "I strolled around for awhile."


10380155_660495304026731_1656902377375116797_oFor more on Russian's superlative
cases, click here to download this scan.

3. Прилагательное в превосходной степени (Superlatives)

Прилагательное в превосходной степени (superlatives) in English have just one form, implying that something is "the most" of something. However, Russian has two types of superlatives: составная and простая (hard and soft) and translating these can be challenging. The simplest way to explain them to an English speaker is that "hard" superlatives are most like those in English. Самый крупный will always refer to "the biggest." The простая superlative form in Russian is a slightly more книжный стиль (bookish form) and sounds perhaps similar to Russian diminutives, formed with the ending -ейший (or -айший, after ж, ч, ш, щ). This form, for example in крупнейший, is most accurately translated as “one of the biggest.” In Russian, the простая form is often used to refer to something very impressive and/or remarkable, but perhaps not the "most" of anything, because it can be used without direct quantative comparison. While the difference between the formation of the two Russian forms is small, the fact that Russian has a grammatical form that English does not, and given that mistranslations of this form can result in untrue statements not intended by the speaker, this difference between Russian and English is perhaps one of the translator's most dangerous pitfalls. See the graphic to the right for further explanation.

4. Уменьшительные слова (Diminutives)

Russian uses far more уменьшительные слова (diminutives), especially in literature and conversational speech, than does English. Some diminutives have more obvious translations, such as people’s names: мамочка/mommy; папочка/daddy. However, others, such as "столик" are more challenging. For example, the phrase "Я хочу заказать столик" (I want to reserve a [little] table), becomes almost impossible to fully translate, although the loss of information in this case is minimal. Of greater concern would be people's names. English speakers are not likely to know, for example, that Саша (Sasha) can be short form of both Александр (Alexander) and Александра (Alexandra) and thus the translator may need to make alterations to the text to alert the audience to this fact. Саша (Sasha) can also transform further into Сашечка, Сашуля, Шурик, carrying various connotations of affection and informality. This can be difficult to carry into English without either further explaining the Russian tradition or resorting to "little Sasha" or "dear Sasha" or even "Sashy-pie" or other forms that would eventually become difficult and awkward to use consistently in an English text.  In English, these can read as forced or are often perceived as детская речь (“baby talk”). Thus, each case must be considered in context.

5. Пунктуация (Punctuation)

One area often taken for granted by beginning translators is that Russian and English have very different rules of punctuation. Russian, for instance, has very definite rules of when commas should be used and uses them where, in English, it would be unnatural. For example, Pushkin's quote "Дорогою свободной иди, куда влечет тебя свободный ум" is usually translated as "Walk a free road wherever a free mind leads you" - without the comma because English does not always require it between dominant and subordinate parts of the sentence. Perhaps more staking are quotation marks, which are used in Russian to refer to proper names of businesses and organizations. While one might say "Сейчас в России 430 ресторанов «Макдоналдс,»" one would not say "There are 430 'McDonald's' restaurants in Russia." In English, the quotations would carry an added meaning that the restaurants were probably fake. In Russian, it simply says that they are all branded the same. Translators must keep in mind that they are not only translating words, but translating punctuation as well.

6. Ничего и нечего (Nothing and Nothing)

In addition to обширные (broad) grammatical differences between Russian and English, there are some very особые тонкости (specific, minute details) that affect how sentences should be translated. A common mistake among English speakers is to путать (confuse) ничего and нечего. Although these two words only differ with one letter, their use in sentences and their translation is very different. Ничего, which has the ударение на последний слог (stress on the final syllable) is slightly different from нечего, which has the ударение на первый слог (stress on the first syllable). Ничего is used as a regular negated object, with the subject in the nominative case, while нечего is used in an impersonal construction with the subject in the дательный падеж (dative case). In terms of meaning, нечего usually refers to the complete absence of something, while ничего usually refers to the absence of a specific something. So, for instance, она ничего не боится would mean that "she fears nothing" (there are probably things to fear, but she is fearless) while ей нечего бояться would mean that "she has nothing to be afraid of" (she probably is afraid, or will be afraid, but should not fear). See the pictures below for other good examples of how the two words are correctly used.





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Холодная война - The Cold War

Холодная война (The Cold War) was a геополитическая, военная, экономическая, и идеологическая конфронтация (geopolitical, military, economic, and ideological confrontation) between the Советский Союз и его союзники (Soviet Union and its allies) on one side, and США и их союзники (the USA and its allies) on the other. It is generally regarded as having lasted from 1946 until the end of 1991, when the USSR fell.

The Cold War in Russia is understood has having had several periods: период эскалации (the escalation period) from 1953-1962; достижение стратегического паритета, разрядка (reaching strategic parity, détente) from 1963-1978; and Вторая Холодная Война (the Second Cold War) from 1979-1985. Разрядка (détente) was caused by сотрудничество между США и СССР (cooperation between the US and USSR), such as переговоры об ограничении стратегических вооружений - ОСВ (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks - SALT). Détente ended in 1979 when the СССР ввел войска в Афганистан (USSR deployed troops in Afghanistan). That marked the beginning of the Вторая Холодная Война.

Напряжение было всегда высоким (tensions were always high) during the Cold War. The самые драматичные события (most dramatic events) of the Cold War were Берлинский кризис 1961 года (Berlin Crisis of 1961), Кубинский ракетный кризис (the Cuban Missile Crisis), which is better known in Russia as Карибский кризис (the Caribbean Crisis), столкновения между советскими и американскими военными (clashes between the Soviet and American military) during война в Корее (the Korean War) and война во Вьетнаме (Vietnam War). Инцидент с корейским Боингом 747 (the Korean Airlines Boeing 747 Incident), in which a passenger plane was shot down over Soviet airspace in 1983, обострил отношения (aggravated relations) between the USSR and the West.

Космическая гонка (the Space Race), from 1955-1975, was an example of соперничество в области освоения космоса (rivalry in space exploration that also marked the Cold War). In addition to having большое значение для научных и военных разработок (major significance for scientific and military developments), space exploration had a пропагандистский эффект (propaganda effect) in both countries. The USSR was the first to запустить искусственный спутник Земли (launch an artificial satellite from Earth) on October 4, 1957, and to отправить в космос человека (send a man to space) in 1961. The USA later опередили (overtook) the USSR in высадка на Луну (landing on the Moon).  

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One of the factors that helped предотвращать войну (prevent war) was взаимное гарантированное уничтожение (mutually assured destruction). Each side had nuclear weapons в количестве, достаточном для уничтожения другой (sufficient to destroy the other), which делает бессмысленными любые попытки применения доктрины Первого удара (makes any attempt to implement the First Attack Doctrine useless).

The Cold War resulted in the железный занавес (Iron Curtain), an информационный, политический, и пограничный барьер (information, political, and geographic barrier) that separated the СССР и другие страны социалистического блока (USSR and other Eastern Block countries) from the Западный мир (Western world).

As technology advanced, so did the opportunity for potentially fatal mistakes. Ошибки компьютера (computer glitches), such as the 1979 NORAD Computer Glitch and the 1983 Nuclear False Alarm, brought the world на грань ядерной войны (to the brink of nuclear war) based on false information. Хотя технологии ядерного мониторинга улучшились в определенных аспектах (while nuclear monitoring technology has improved somewhat in certain aspects), вероятность технических ошибок все еще остаётся (the possibility of technical errors still remains).

Anytime that major geopolitical tensions exist, especially between heavily armed parties with multiple alliances, any small misunderstanding or mistake can result in potentially disastrous events that can affect millions of innocent lives.

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День Ивана Купала - Ivan Kupala Day

День Ивана Купала (Ivan Kupala Day) or Иванов день (Ivan’s Day) is a народный праздник языческого происхождения (folk holiday with pagan origins) celebrated in connection with летнего солнцестояния (the summer solstice), although not necessarily on the same day.

Celebrations begin on the evening of July 6th and continue into July 7th. The holiday is always marked on the same day that the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates праздник Рождества Иоанна Крестителя (John the Baptist’s birthday).

Because Рождества Иоанна Крестителя is a church holiday, its date is marked by the Julian calendar, which is still used by most Orthodox churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church. Most of the world switched to the Gregorian calendar in the sixteenth century. The Gregorian and Julian calendars currently differ by 14 days and thus the 6th of the July by the modern Gregorian calendar is the 23rd of June by the Julian calendar. Many sources will list that has the official date of the holiday.  

  Kupala is sometimes depicted as a female (above) and sometimes as a male (below).

There are different theories about the relation of День Ивана Купала to Рождество Иоанна Крестителя. The name "Купала" is derived from the word "купать," which means "to bathe" in Russian. Thus, some say that the name of the holiday is related to the fact that Иоанн Креститель (John the Baptist) купал (bathed) Jesus Christ when baptizing him. The name "John" can be translated as "Иоанн" (the official version of the name that the Church uses for John the Babtist) or "Иван," which is a far more common name in Slavic cultures. Thus, "Иван Купала" is a popular variation of the official Russian translation, only using much more common and accessible words. 

However, celebrations of the holiday have obviously pagan roots. Купала (sometimes Купало in Russian) was a Slavic deity. While the mythology differed between geographic location, the name is pronounced nearly identically across various Slavic cultures and the deity is generally regarded as one with power over flowers, vegetation, fertility, sexuality, and/or the harvest. Some scholars suggest the Купала was the Slavic version of Cupid and that the names Cupid and Купала are actually related.

Others state that Ivan Kupala is a holiday celebrating Ярила (Jarilo), a more powerful Slavic god of vegetation, fertility, and springtime.

Whatever the actual origin, Ivan Kupala is an example of a сочетание язычества и христианства (combination of paganism and Christianity), which is common and referred to as двоеверие (double faith) in Russia: when Christianity and элементы язычества (elements of paganism) co-exist.

The biggest proponents of Ivan Kupala are восточные славяне (Eastern Slavs), but the holiday празднуется по всей Европе (is celebrated all over Europe) and is общенациональный и церковный праздник (a national and church holiday) in many countries as Рождество Иоанна Крестителя.

There are a number of обряды (rites) on the eve of Ivan Kupala: сбор трав и цветов (collecting herbs and flowers), плетение венков (weaving wreaths), украшение зеленью домов (decorating houses with herbs and grasses), разжигание костров (lighting camp fires), перепрыгивание через костёр (jumping over a fire), обливание водой (dousing [people] with water), выслеживание ведьмы (tracking witches), купание нагишом (skinny-dipping) and ночные бесчинства (night rowdiness).

The key обряд (rite) is изготовление и сжигание чучела (building and burning an effigy). Чучело делают из соломы (the effigy is built from straw), and then чучело сжигают (the effigy is burned); after that, пепел чучела сжигают (the ashes from the effigy are burned) для хорошего урожая (for a good harvest). Пары прыгают через костёр, держась за руки  (couples jump over a bonfire while holding hands) на счастье (for good luck).

A documentary film (in Russian) about moden-day celebrations of Ivan Kupala.  

In addition to fire, many of the rituals for Ivan Kupala that are associated with water: к празднику все обязательно купаются до захода солнца (by the end of the holiday, everybody must bathe before sunset), because on that day, из рек выходила вся нечисть (all evil spirits have left the rivers), and it is possible to bathe without fear. Water on Ivan Kupala Day наделяется магической силой (is endowed with magical powers), so such bathing наделяет человека жизненной силой и здоровьем (gives a person vital strength and health).

There is also a поверье (belief) that один раз в году, в ночь на Ивана Купалу цветёт мифический цветок (once a year, during the night of Ivan Kupala, a mythical flower blooms), and anyone who picks this цветок папоротника (fern flower) приобретает чудесные возможности (acquires magic abilities), such as understanding animals, being able to see treasure, and becoming invisible.

The famous Russian writer Nikolai Gogol wrote a short story called Вечер накануне Ивана Купала (St. John’s Eve) about a человек, который был проклят цветком папоротника (a man who is cursed by the fern flower) after finding it.

For more on Russian folklore, click here.

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Летние лагеря для детей - Summer Camps for Kids 

Nearly all schoolchildren in the Soviet era used to go to пионерские лагеря (Pioneer Camps) in the summer. Every major предприятие (enterprise) had its own Pioneer camp, where its employees’ children went for vacation in the summer. A child from 7-15 years old could be sent to this kind of camp for one смена (session), which lasted for 21 days.

In Pioneer camps, день начинался под звуки горна (the day started to the sound of a horn). The children делали утреннюю зарядку (did morning exercises) and then went to линейка (lineup), where they were told what activities they would have during the day. Then everybody went to breakfast, sometimes chanting on the way. After that, there were разнообразные мероприятия на воздухе (various outdoor activities): игры (games), прогулки (walks), and походы (hikes).

After lunch a тихий час (literally - quiet hour, that is, nap time) was usually held, but generally children did not sleep, they рассказывали истории (told stories) or хулиганили (behaved like hooligans), for example, by драться подушками (having pillow fights) or мазать зубной пастой (put toothpaste) on the faces of sleeping children. Then children had полдник (an afternoon snack), and they went to кружки (hobby groups) or репетиции (rehearsals). After supper, концерты (concerts) and дискотеки (discos) took place.

  Morning excersizes at Artek, once the USSR's most prestigious summer camp. Artek still operates today.

Holidays would also be celebrated, such as День самоуправления (Self-governance Day), when children would take over the camp and run their own activities, and Neptune’s Day, when everyone dressed up as sea creatures and celebrated on a river bank, playing funny games.

Костер (a bonfire) marked the end of a session: all the campers got together at the bonfire to петь песни под гитару (sing songs to a guitar) and печь картошку в золе (bake potatoes in the ashes). The most famous Pioneer camp during the Soviet period was Artek, located in Crimea. Children could apply to go that elite camp, but only those with достижения в учебе, спорте, общественной деятельности (accomplishments in their studies, sports, social life) were accepted.

In many aspects, Soviet Pioneer camps resembled US boy and girl scout camps and had similar traditions, such as рукоделие (arts and crafts), which were mainly practiced by girls in the USSR, спортивные игры (playing sports), плавание (swimming), as well as пение песен (singing songs). However, гребля на байдарках и каноэ (canoeing) and плетение корзин (basket weaving) were not practiced in the Soviet Pioneer camps, unlike in many American camps.

Nowadays, summer camps for children are called летний оздоровительный лагерь (summer health-improvement camps). They more closely resemble комфортабельные санатории для детей (comfortable sanatoriums for children), with many indoor facilities. They have приключенческие и интерактивные игры (adventure and interactive games), развлекательные мероприятия (entertaining activities), and children also often watch a lot of movies.

A new trend in summer camps are языковые детские лагеря (children’s language camps), where программы языкового погружения (immersion language programs) are held. English language camps are the most popular, especially those with носители языка (native language speakers) working there as teachers. Children have lessons in such camps in веселый английский (fun English), as well compete in викторины (quizzes), and many other interesting мероприятия (activities).

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Банковские процедуры в России - Banking Procedures in Russia 

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Although the words “debit” and “credit” are directly transliterated into Russian, «дебит» and «кредит», the term “debit card” is more frequently translated into Russian as «платежная карта» than «дебитная карта», while “credit card” is directly most often translated as «кредитная карта». At a store, if you want to ask “Can I pay with a credit card/do you accept credit cards?” you would need to phrase it «Вы принимаете карты к оплате?» (“Do you take credit cards?”). A store salesperson may answer, «Мы принимаем только наличные» (“We only accept cash”).

Банкоматы (ATMs) are easily accessible on the streets in all major Russian cities, especially банкоматы for Сбербанк (Sberbank), which has more locations than any other bank in Russia. However, Russia is still largely экономика наличных (a cash economy) and many of the stores and restaurants that рекламируют, что принимают платежные карты (advertise that they accept cards) will often unapologetically inform customers that their system is down for unexplained «техническим причинам» ("technical reasons").

As a result, people rely on cash and the increased demand for cash can mean that there may be lines to снять деньги через банкомат (withdraw money from an ATM). People вводят ПИН-код (enter a PIN code), and proceed with the транзакция (transaction).

If you потеряли вашу банковскую карту (lose your bank card) while abroad you should call you bank immediately to аннулировать вашу карту (cancel your card). Depending on your bank's policies, you may have to have a new card sent to a relative in America, who will then have to FedEx it to you. Using regular post is not advised, as then, once the card reaches Russia's border, it transfers to responsibility of the Почта России (Russian Post Office) and is no longer trackable by the US почтовый идентификатор (tracking code). Private carriers are generally more reliable.

If you need cash after losing your card, you can have someone переслать вам деньги через Вестерн Юнион (send you money via WesternUnion), which has many locations across Russia, including at many Сбербанк locations.

If you still have a credit card after losing your card, you can try to получить аванс наличных по кредитной карте (to make a cash advance on a credit card). These are not common in Russia although they are generally possible. A bank generally only requires a passport and the card for cash advances, however it is possible that certain banks may require a справка о размере заработной платы за последние шесть месяцев (statement of a person’s salary in the last six months) for this procedure. In this case, just try a different bank. Sometimes a bank requires два документа, удостоверяющих личность (two identification documents) for some credit operations. Usually a паспорт (passport) and водительское удостоверение (driver’s license) are presented for this. A US driver's license is generally accepted, but will probably need to be presented with a нотариально-заверенный перевод (notarized translation).

When совершать покупки через интернет (buying things online) in Russia, especially from small venders, you may need to перевести средства с одного счета на другой (transfer funds from one account to another), or even из одного банка в другой (from one bank to another) to pay. One way to do this is though an электронный перевод (wire transfer). For certain транзакции (transactions), such as cash advances and wire transfers the bank взимает комиссию (charges a commission) or сбор (fee). In fact, for wire transfers, sometimes the originating bank will charge a fee as well, especially for международный перевод (international transfer), making the transaction quite expensive. Always inquire with all parties what the associated costs might be for a transaction.

If one wants to открыть банковский счет (open a bank account) in Russia, требуется паспорт (a passport is needed), but регистрация в этом же городе (registration in the same town; foreigners are required to register their presence in Russia) is not required. The банковский служащий (bank teller) will ask a prospective customer to подписать договор (sign an agreement) upon opening an account.

If one takes credit, one can pay it off постепенно (incrementally), by вносить ежемесячные платежи (making monthly payments), or, if he/she has the cash on hand, with a единовременная выплата (lump sum) to погасить кредит (pay off a loan).

Some travelers have expressed concern that their credit or bank cards might not work in Russia. However, only some specific Russian banks have been affected by the санкции (sanctions). As a reaction to the events in Ukraine, the USA объявили санкции (declared sanctions) against some Russian высокопоставленные чиновники (high-ranking officials).  Их активы и счета были заморожены (their assets and accounts were frozen) in the USA and dealings with these individuals was also to be banned.

Russia Bank also подвергнулся санкциям со стороны США (was placed under sanctions from the USA). Other banks that were connected to Russia Bank or the sanctioned officials include Sobinbank, SMP Bank, Finservice Bank, and Investcapitalbank. The международные платежные системы (international payment systems) Visa and MasterCard прекратили обслуживание их карт (stopped service of their cards) with these banks after the banks были внесены в «черный список» США (were blacklisted by the US). However, only if you are trying to use an ATM from one of these relatively small banks, or trying to make a purchase from a business that uses these banks, will you have problems.

The Центральный Банк России (Russian Central Bank) and правительство (government) are trying to insulate banks from further possible sanctions by разработать собственную платежную систему, конкурирующую с Visa и MasterCard (developing its own card payment system to compete with Visa and MasterCard). On April 25, the Duma passed the Закон о создании национальной платежной системы (Law on establishing a national payment system). According to this law, the national card payment system заработает в полную силу (will go into full effect) starting July 2016. However, even with the new system online, Visa and Mastercard are still expected to operate inside Russia.

Perhaps a more significant event attributed to the sanctions is the падение курса российского рубля (falling value of the Russian ruble). Sanctions and the continued conflict are creating greater perceived risk for business and finance in Russia and affecting Russia’s perceived финансовая стабильность (financial stability). Standard & Poor’s рейтинговое агентство (rating agency), for example, снизило кредитный рейтинг России с уровня BBB до BBB- (downgraded Russia’s credit rating from 'BBB' to 'BBB-'), which is just one notch above «мусорный рейтинг» ("junk" status). The good news, however, is that падение рубля делает поездки в Россию дешевле (a falling ruble makes travel to Russia cheaper).

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Крым: хронология событий - A Crimean Timeline

Крымский полуостров (the Crimean Peninsula) is currently the location of the Республика Крым (Republic of Crimea) and город Севастополь (city of Sevastopol). From 1954 until recently, it was the Автономная республика Крым (Autonomous Republic of Crimea), which was автономная республика в составе Украины (an autonomous republic of Ukraine). Sevastopol was административно-территориальная единица общегосударственного подчинения (an administrative city with special status). This special status was given it because of its importance as a naval base.  

Crimea’s population of two million is многонациональное (multinational): русские (Russians) make up about 60 percent, украинцы (Ukrainians) – 25 percent, крымские татары (Crimean Tatars) – 12 percent, and белорусы (Belarusians) – 1.5 percent. There are also греки (Greeks), армяне (Armenians), and people of other nationalities.

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Крымские татары (the Crimean Tatars) are one of the most ancient peoples of Crimea. They had their own Crimean state, the Крымское ханство (Crimean Khanate), which existed from 1441 to 1783. Крымское ханство вело постоянные войны (The Crimean Khanate was constantly at war) with Russia and Poland. It was weakened by these wars and sought an alliance with the Ottoman Empire, which eventually absorbed it. The Ottomans were ethnically related to the Crimean Tatars. In 1783, Russia defeated the Ottoman Empire and Крым был сначала оккупирован, а затем аннексирован Россией (Crimea was first occupied and then annexed by Russia).

Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, when then Soviet leader Khrushchev, who at one point worked as head of the Communist party in Ukraine, ordered передать Крымскую область из состава РСФСР в состав УССР (the transference of the Crimean region from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic into the Ukrainian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) due to the территориальная общность и общность экономики УССР с Крымом (territorial and economic solidarity of the Ukrainian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic with Crimea). Crimea has always получал большую часть энергетических ресурсов и товарооборота из Украины (received most utilities and trade from mainland Ukraine), with which it has a narrow land connection. Thus, for accounting purposes, joining it with Ukraine made sense.

Crimea is of strategic military importance as он дает возможность контроля над всем Черноморским регионом (it enables control over the entire Black Sea region). One of the main reasons for Russia's takeover of Crimea, then, is so that Россия получает полный неограниченный контроль над базой Черноморского флота в Севастополе (Russia will gain full, unrestrained control over the base of the Black Sea Navy in Sevastopol), а также получает все морские порты и военные базы в Крыму (and also will obtain all the military ports and military bases in Crimea). Before, Russia had to rely on treaties with Ukraine для поддержания этой стратегической позиции (to maintain this strategic position).

In addition, Россия получает практически полный контроль над Азовским морем, входом и выходом из него через Керченский пролив (Russia will obtain virtually full control over the Azov Sea, and the entrance and exit to it through the Kerch Strait), considered strategic to preventing any invasion of southern Russia. Also, Russia will gain the possibility to проложить альтернативный газопровод в Европу через Крым (build an alternative gas pipeline to Europe through Crimea).

The city of Sevastopol is the главная военно-морская база (main naval base) of the Черноморский флот России (Russian Black Sea Navy). Additionally, the Черноморский флот (Black Sea Navy) uses the port city of Феодосия (Feodosia), two аэродромы (air fields), and some other объекты (facilities), which have now become the property of Russia.

In total, the Черноморский флот (Black Sea Navy) has 41 надводный корабль (surface ships) and two дизельные подводные лодки (diesel submarines). The общая численность (total headcount) of sailors in the Черноморский флот (Black Sea Navy) is about 14,000 people.

At the end of February 2014, events in the current Crime Crisis started unfolding. On February 24, депутаты Верховного совета Крыма (deputies of Crimea’s Supreme Council) выразили недоверие (held a vote of no confidence) in the Совет министров Автономной республики Крым (Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) and requested that премьер-министр (prime minister) Anatoly Mogilev resign.  

On February 23, Sevastopol had a митинг народной воли против фашизма на Украине (rally of the people’s will against fascism in Ukraine), where Russian citizen and businessman Alexei Chaly был выбран мэром города (was elected city mayor).

On February 25, делегация депутатов Госдумы России (a delegation of deputies from Russia’s State Duma) посетила Крым (visited Crimea). The delegates stated that если Крым попросит о присоединении (if Crimea asks to join (Russia)), эта просьба будет рассмотрена в кратчайшие сроки (the request will be considered immediately).

On February 26, Ukrainian and Russian media wrote about the появление подразделений российского спецназа в Крыму (appearance of Russian special forces in Crimea). Crimea’s authorities called these military men силы самообороны Крыма (Crimean self-defense forces). Вооруженные люди в военной форме вошли на территорию двух аэропортов в Крыму - в Симферополе и Севастополе (Armed men in military uniform entered the two airports in Crimea – in Simferopol and Sevastopol) "чтобы не допустить прилета боевиков" (“so that militants would not be able to arrive”). Вооруженные люди (armed people) постепенно взяли под контроль основные крымские административные и военные объекты (gradually took over control of key Crimean administrative and military facilities) but managed to do so without violence.

Украинские воинские части в Крыму были заблокированы (Ukrainian military units in Crimea were blocked) and/or захвачены (captured). In this process, only one перестрелка (exchange of fire) took place, with two people killed. The Russian media called this incident провокация, устроенная Киевом (provocation sponsored by Kiev). Некоторые военнослужащие Украины перешли на сторону Крыма (some of Ukraine’s military joined Crimea), about 50%, according to statistics released by Kiev, and принесли присягу "народу Крыма" (took an oath to the people of Crimea).

On February 27, the building of the Supreme Council of Crimea было захвачено отрядом неизвестных вооружённых лиц в камуфляжной форме (was taken over by a group of unknown armed people in camouflage), and над зданием был поднят флаг Российской Федерации (the Russian flag was hoisted above the building). Then, inside, the депутаты проголосовали за назначение Сергея Аксёнова премьером нового правительства (deputies voted to appoint Sergey Aksenov as Prime Minister of the new government) and приняли решение о проведении референдума о статусе Крыма (decided that a referendum on the status of Crimea would be conducted).  

On March 6, Crimean authorities определились с датой проведения референдума о статусе автономной республики (set the date to hold the referendum on the status of the autonomous republic). The referendum was set for March 16.

A day later, on March 7, депутаты Севастопольского горсовета (deputies of Sevastopol’s city council) приняли решение о вхождении Севастополя в состав России (passed a resolution that Sevastopol would join Russia).

On March 11, власти Крыма объявили о национализации военного флота Украины (Crimean authorities announced the nationalization of the Ukrainian Navy), declaring it under their authority. On the same day, Crimean authorities stated that Киев блокировал казначейские счета Крыма (Kiev blocked Crimea’s treasury accounts), and the following day, Рада Украины досрочно прекратила полномочия Верховного Совета Крыма (Ukraine’s parliment preemptively terminated the authority of the Supreme Council of Crimea). The Supreme Council of Crimea did not recognize this decision.  

On March 15, Россия наложила вето на резолюцию Совета Безопасности ООН (Russia used its veto in the United Nations Security Council) по проекту резолюции (on a draft resolution), объявляющей референдум по статусу Автономной Республики Крым незаконным (declaring the referendum on the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea illegal).

On March 16, the referendum on the status of Crimea took place, where явка избирателей на участки составила более 80% (voter turnout was over 80%) with 95,7% голосующих проголосовали за воссоединение с Россией (95.7% of voters voting for unification with Russia).

On March 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a внеочередное Послание к Федеральному собранию (unscheduled Statement to the Federal Assembly), where он объяснил, почему Крым был и стал российским (he explained why Crimea was and has become Russian), и тут же подписал договор о присоединении Крыма и Севастополя к России (and immediately signed an agreement on Crimea and Sevastopol joining Russia). On March 19, Конституционный Суд России признал договор законным (Russia's Constitutional Court approved the treaty). On March 20, the Госдума ратифицировала договор о вхождении Крыма в состав России (State Duma ratified the agreement on Crimea becoming a part of Russia), the final step in annexing a territory by Russian law.

For more on Crimea, its history of separatism and its strategic importance, see this article also on the SRAS website.

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Международный женский день - International Women’s Day

Международный женский день (International Women’s Day) or восьмое марта (March eighth) is one of Russia's official holidays, but has a Western происхождение (origin). It was originally championed in the US and Europe by those working for women's suffrage and socialist causes.

In August, 1910, a Международная женская конференция (International Women's Conference) was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen. Inspired in part by American socialists, German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed establishing an annual "International Woman's Day." The delegates, 100 women from 17 countries, agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote равноправие (equal rights), including избирательное право (suffrage) for women.

It long did not have a set date across the globe, but was most often celebrated on a Sunday. In Tsarist Russia and America, for instance, it was usually held on в последнее воскресенье февраля (the last Sunday of February). In 1913, Russian women отпраздновали (celebrated) their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February according to the Julian calendar, which used in Russia at the time.

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On February 23, 1917 (March 8 according to modern calendars), women in Saint Petersburg went on strike for «Хлеба и мира ("Bread and Peace!"), demanding the end of World War I and the food shortages that the war had helped cause. The next day, workers from the Putilov Plant подключились к забастовке (joined the strike), after which стычки с полицией (clashes with the police) occurred, and finally всеобщая рабочая забастовка переросла в вооружённое восстание (the general worker's strike transformed into an armed rebellion). Февральская революция (The February Revolution), as it came to be known, was put down, but was seen as a precursor to the Октябрьская революция (October Revolution) which would topple the tsarist government.

Following the October Revolution, Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Vladimir Lenin to учредить Международный женский день как официальный праздник (make International Woman's Day an official holiday) in the Soviet Union, but it was still a рабочий день (working day). In 1965, March 8th became a нерабочий день (vacation day). In the Soviet Union, this holiday was политизированный (politicized), until eventually becoming a day for women to fight против дискриминации (against discrimination).

International communists worked to make the day an international holiday, but apparently found international resistance because of the day's connection to the events that helped create the USSR. A story began to circulate, apparently originally from the French Communists, that традиция отмечать Международный женский день 8 марта (the tradition of celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8) began with a демонстрация (rally) held on March 8, 1857 by female workers of textile factories in New York в знак протеста против ужасных условий труда и низкой заработной платы (protesting terrible labor conditions and low wage). The women, the story goes, had to be beaten back by police.

Although there were many protests in New York of the sort described in the story, such a protest did not occur on March 8, 1857. Interestingly, however, the Communist authorities in the USSR began supporting this version – tracing the original roots of the day not to St. Petersburg in 1914, but to the US in 1857 and thus the story is widely accepted the world over.

In 1975, ООН начала 8 марта проводить Международный женский день (the UN began to honor March 8 as International Women's Day). Every year, they set a theme for the day, focusing on women's rights and issues. 

Currently, March 8 is an official holiday in many countries, including throughout most of the former USSR, China, Cuba, and some countries in Africa and Asia. In some countries, the day is not a public holiday, but is широко празднуется (widely observed) nonetheless.

In Russia, the political side of the holiday has been largely forgotten in favor of a romantic slant. The главный элемент (key element) of celebrating March 8 is вручение цветов женщинам (giving flowers to women) and говорит им комплименты (complimenting them). The most popular весенние цветы (spring flowers) to give are тюльпаны (tulips), ирисы (irises), гиацинты (hyacinths), ландыши (lilies), сирень (lilacs), and подснежники (snowdrops). In the Soviet era, мимоза (mimosas) were a popular flower to give. Точки по продажам цветов  (outlets selling flowers) significantly increase in number around March 8; in some of them, мужчины сметают весь ассортимент цветов за считанные часы (men will sweep away all the varied flowers in few hours). Studies show that Russians spend, on average, about a half billion dollars on flowers for the holiday. Spending on this holiday accounts for between 15 to 40 percent of Russia's two billion dollar a year flower market.

Many men не скупятся на подарки (are not stingy about gifts) and many will идти с женщиной на ужин (go out to dinner with a woman) on that day as well. Some men will выполнять домашние обязанности (do domestic chores) as a gift as well. The most popular gifts given on this day include косметика, парфюмерия, одежда, кондитерские изделия, алкоголь, ювелирные украшения, мягкие игрушки, бытовую технику, и электронику (cosmetics, perfumery, clothes, sweets, alcohol, jewelry, plush toys, household appliances, and electronics). 

Russia is also not short on holidays celebrating women. Russia also celebrates День матери (Mother's Day), which occurs on the last Sunday of November, but on which it is only принято поздравлять только матерей и беременных женщин (customary to congratulate only mothers and pregnant women). День матери was also only introduced to Russia in 1998 and is not widely celebrated there. Another recent import is День святого Валентина (St. Valentine’s Day), when Russians дарят подарки своим партнерам (give gifts to their partners). День святого Валентина is quite widely observed, however, and the Moscow metro can be seen overflowing with young men carrying flowers on this day. March 8 is different from both of these holidays because поздравляют всех женщин (all women are congratulated) on Международный женский день.

Зимние Олимпийские Игры в Сочи - The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi

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Зимние Олимпийские Игры в Сочи пройдут (The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi will take place) from February 7-23, and all of Russia is gearing up to host this significant event. The Олимпийский огонь (Olympic flame) is slowly making its way south to Sochi, stopping in cities and towns along the way. Factors surrounding the Olympics, including its costs and security, have been the focus of news reports all over the world.

Competitions will be held in many different виды спорта (types of sports), some of which hold particular interest for Russia. Хоккей (ice hockey) is особенная олимпийская гордость (of particular Olympic pride) for Russians. Most Russians still know of the famous «чудо на льду» (“Miracle on Ice”) game in which the USA beat the USSR in 1980. This ended a streak for the USSR, which had won every hockey Olympic gold medal since 1960.

Фигурное катание (figure skating) is another high hope and another sport that Russia has traditionally done well in, as well as the биатлон (biathlon), which combines cross country skiing and shooting. Being able to shoot accurately and quickly after such strenuous exercise requires extraordinary mental and physical capabilities. Russia is likely to показать хороший результат (do well) in лыжные гонки (cross-country skiing) and лыжное двоеборье (the Nordic combined). The latter combines прыжки с трамплина (ski jumping) with лыжные гонки.

It is hard to predict Russia’s performance in other sports, such as горнолыжный спорт (Alpine skiing), керлинг (curling), бобслей (bobsleigh), конькобежный спорт (speed skating), фристайл (freestyle skiing), сноуборд (snowboard), шорт-трек (short track speed skating), скелетон (skeleton), and санный спорт (luge). However, much of the internal PR for the Olympics produced for Russian TV has focused on the керлинг team.

Current numbers show that over 25,000 волонтеры (volunteers) окажут помощь (will help) at the Olympics. They will have to cover their own travel expenses to Sochi, but получат возможность попасть на соревнования (will have a chance to visit the competitions).

Many new venues have been constructed in Sochi to accommodate both the sporting events and the millions of viewers expected to travel to the city. Infrastructure, such as roads and hotels, has been improved all over Sochi. The new sporting venues are divided into two groups, the горный кластер (mountain cluster) and the прибрежный кластер (coastal cluster). The opening and closing ceremonies will take place in the Олимпийский стадион «Фишт» (Fisht Olympic Stadium), and other major sites include ледовая арена «Шайба» (Shayba Arena), комплекс для прыжков с трамплина «Русские горки» (RusSki Gorki Jumping Center), and  центр санного спорта «Санки» (Sliding Center Sanki).

After the Olympics, the Олимпийская деревня (Olympic Village) будет продана в качестве элитного поселка (will be sold as gated community housing), часть построек поменяет назначение (some of the buildings will change their initial function), а некоторые объекты перевезут в соседние города и регионы (and some buildings will be transported to other cities and regions). For example, арена для фигурного катания станет велотреком (the figure skating arena will become a cycle track), ледовую арену для хоккея переместят в Ставропольский край (the ice hockey arena will be transported to the Stavropol region), and конькобежный центр отдадут властям Краснодарского края (the speed skating center will be given to the Krasnodar region) after being converted into an exhibition center. Медиацентр Олимпиады (the Olympic media center) превратится в туристический комплекс с гостиницей (will turn into a tourist center with a hotel).

Затраты на Олимпиаду огромны (expenses on the Olympics are immense). President Putin stated the cost was 214 billion rubles (6.3 billion USD), while the media cite quite higher amounts. Western media have often cited 50 billion USD, a figure that was originally published by Boris Nemtsov, an outspoken critic of Putin. One currently uncalculated addition is снабжать Олимпийские объекты снегом (supplying Olympic venues with snow), which will incur additional costs. There are 425 снежные пушки (snow cannons), which производят снег (make snow). The snow is then складируется (stored) в хранилища (in storage facilities). At present, about 450,000 cubic meters of snow is stored.

Building new sites and storing snow have not been Russia’s only tasks in preparing for the Olympics. Security issues are another factor that the Russian government has had to consider while getting the country ready for international attention. Currently, вводятся усиленные меры безопасности (substantial security measures are being introduced) in the Sochi area. According to указ президента Российской Федерации (a decree by the President of the Russian Federation), the Олимпийские объекты (Olympic sites) have been given the status of запретная зона (forbidden zones), while the city of Sochi and surrounding areas are specified as контролируемые зоны (controlled zones).

Террористы Северного Кавказа cчитаются основной угрозой (terrorists from the North Caucasus are considered the main threat), and Russian President Vladimir Putin mentions террористические акты, направленные на подрыв международного сотрудничества (terrorist attacks aimed at undermining international cooperation) as a possible threat.

In July 2013, the глава самопровозглашённой организации «Умарат-Кавказ» (head of the self-proclaimed Caucasus Emirate), в видеообращении призвал своих сторонников (called on his followers in a video message) «приложить все силы» для недопущения проведения зимних Олимпийских игр в Сочи (to “do everything possible” to prevent the Winter Olympics in Sochi from happening).

The media reported that беспилотники (drones) will patrol the skies of the Sochi area, боевые корабли Черноморского флота (military ships from the Black Sea Fleet) will patrol акватория (the sea area), and 37 тысяч сотрудников полиции будет задействовано в обеспечении безопасности (37,000 policemen will be involved in ensuring security). Security services from many other countries окажут поддержку (will provide support) to российские правоохранительные органы (Russian law-enforcement authorities).  This includes the US, which has sent агенты ФБР (FBI agents) to help with security and intelligence and has readied war ships and jets for the event.

In addition to security issues, экологические проблемы (environmental problems) in the Sochi area have been under public scrutiny. According to Dmitry Kaptsov, a member of Sochi’s Environmental Watch, «строительство олимпийских объектов на территории национального парка грозит локальной экологической катастрофой» (“constructing Olympic venues in the national park will cause a local environmental disaster”). In particular, «вырубят около 20 тысяч гектаров леса, будет нанесен серьезный ущерб гидросистеме реки Мзымта» (“they will cut down about 20,000 hectares of forest, which will cause serious damage to the hydro system of the Mzymta River”). Река Мзымта была местом нерестилища ценнейших пород рыб и источником питьевого водоснабжения для города Сочи (The Mzymta River has been a breeding ground for valuable fish breeds and a source of drinking water for Sochi).

Greenpeace Russia says that Международный олимпийский комитет (the International Olympic Committee) has ignored statements from them о недопустимости обширной застройки буферной зоны Кавказского биосферного заповедника (about the inadmissibility of large-scale development of the Caucasian biosphere natural reserve buffer zone), взятого под защиту ЮНЕСКО (which is protected by UNESCO). Greenpeace says that developing this site will result in уничтожение ценных природных угодий (destructing valuable natural lands).

Meanwhile, Олимпстрой (Olympstroi), the Russian state-owned company charged with constructing the Olympic venues has argued that all buildings and construction have been specifically экологически безопасный (ecologically safe). They have an entire section of their official website devoted to this.

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Изменения во времени - Changes in Time

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Throughout history, Russia has had several changes in the way it отслеживает время (tracks time), both in terms of calendars and clocks. Some of the changes have given rise to new traditions, while other changes have only led to путаница (confusion).

Старый Новый год (Old New Year) is a holiday that произошел (originated) due to a change in the Russian calendar. In 1918, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution, the new authorities ввели григорианский календарь (introduced the Gregorian calendar), which, because of a difference in the calculation of the leap year, is 13 days ahead of the юлианский календарь (Julian calendar). Russia had previously adopted the юлианский календарь under Peter the Great. Therefore, under the Julian calendar January 1st is January 14th under the Gregorian.

Some Russians resolved the change by celebrating twice and now Старый Новый год is still an unofficial holiday in Russia that falls on January 14. Старый Новый год or Новый год по старому стилю (New Year’s according to the Old Style) marks the end of the long New Year’s holidays.

Another reason for celebrating Old New Year is that the Русская православная церковь (Russian Orthodox Church) продолжает встречать все церковные праздники по юлианскому календарю (continues to celebrate all church holidays according to the Julian calendar). Современный Новый год (the modern New Year) выпадает на сорокадневный православный Рождественский пост (occurs during the 40 days’ of the Russian Orthodox Christmas fast). New Year's in Russia is marked by a large meal with family and friends, meaning that the two traditions – modern and religious – are in conflict for those that follow Orthodox traditions. For the faithful, Old New Year allows them to отпраздновать Новый год (celebrate New Year’s).

Празднование Старого Нового года (celebrating Old New Year) is более спокойное и менее пышное (calmer and less luxuriant) than the официальный праздник Нового года (official celebration of New Year). As Старый Новый год is celebrated during Святки (the Christmas season). Again, because of the calendar change, Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated January 7, which is December 25 by the юлианский календарь used by the Russian Orthodox Church. Especially in some smaller towns, children колядовать (go caroling) for Старый Новый год and some girls still гадать на суженого (try to learn the name of their fated husband) by having their fortunes told as the New Year was known an especially good time to do this in Russian folklore.

Another example of confusion caused by принятие в России григорианского календаря (Russia’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar) is the Октябрьская революция (October Revolution), when Bolsheviks seized power in St. Petersburg. Under the Gregorian Calendar, now used by most of the western world, this actually happened on November 7. However, by the Julian calendar, used in Russia at the time the revolution took place, the date was October 25. In February 1918, the Gregorian calendar was introduced, and although все годовщины революции отмечалась 7 ноября (all anniversaries of the revolution were celebrated on November 7), революция по-прежнему ассоциировалась с октябрем, что отразилось в её названии (the revolution was still associated with October, which is reflected in its name).

The Soviets made other experiments with the calendar system, although they eventually went back to the Gregorian calendar. In 1929, the Soviets adopted the Советский революционный календарь (Soviet Revolutionary Calendar) which featured 12 months, each with six 5-day weeks. There were five national holidays, which were days off, but other days off were staggered. The system was implemented to increase factory production, but was so confusing and disruptive that it was changed again in 1932 to a new calendar with twelve months of five six-day weeks, which gave regular days off. This system was still a source of confusion and complaint, however, and in 1940 the seven-day week and the Gregorian calendar were brought back in full.

Another shift in time came during the late 19th century, when московское время (Moscow Standard Time or MST) was introduced. This attempted to standardize time throughout Russia primarily for the purpose of scheduling trains and other modern transport. Trains and ships still run on Moscow time. So, departure for a train in the Siberian town of Yakutsk, if scheduled for 2am, would actually leave at 8am local time as Yakutsk is six time zones away from Moscow. Planes have been allowed to function according to local time.

The standard for московское время was changed when the Soviet Union was founded, shifting by a half hour. So, while it was originally set at Всемирное координированное время (Coordinated Universal Time – UTC) + 02:30, which was used by much of Europe by this time, the Soviets simplified the global conversion by shifting Moscow time to UTC+02. At the time of this reform, the Soviets also standardized the eleven часовые пояса (time zones) throughout the Soviet Union.

These time zones changed again for Russia in March 2010. Under then-President Medvedev's proposal to сократить количество часовых поясов (reduce the number of time zones) from 11 to 9, an укрупнение часовых поясов России (consolidation of Russia’s time zones) took place. The time zone Msk+1, which was represented by the Udmurt republic and the Samara region, перестал существовать (ceased to exist) and joined Moscow time. The Kemerovo region, Chukotka, and Kamchatka at Russia's Far East also сместились на 1 часовой пояс западнее (shifted westward by one time zone). This was done to help unify the country more and make it easier to call Vladivostok in the East from Moscow in the West, for example, at some time close to standard working hours.

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Russian Far East

Hours have changed more often in Russia and the former USSR. For example, on June 21, 1930, the Soviet Union adopted daylight savings and перевел вперед все часы на один час (turned all clocks ahead by one hour), and the nation ran on летнее время (daylight saving time) for five months until the order was аннулирован (annulled) and the clocks were shifted permanently back. Daylight savings was reintroduced in 1981.

With the fall of the USSR, some changes arose in tracking time again. For example, in 1993, time смещалось (was shifted) in the Novosibirsk region when they advanced their clocks by one hour, in 1995 and 2002 the Altai and Tomsk regions, respectively, did the same.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev unexpectedly announced on February 8, 2011 that Russia will no longer переводить часы на один час назад (turn clocks back one hour) for daylight saving time. Currently, ведутся жаркие дебаты (heated debates are held) about this, with critics complaining about the раннее наступление темноты (early darkness). This is especially true for those eastern regions where time was advanced by two hours by the consolidation of Russia's time zones. Some people complain that идешь на работуеще темно, приходишь с работыуже темно (when you go to work, it is still dark, and when you come home, it is already dark). «Верните зимнее время(“give us back our winter time!”), some Russians write in online forums.

While Russia has certainly had more shifts in its time keeping than many countries, it is certainly not alone in having had such reforms. Most countries have gone through reforms as the science of calendar keeping was refined, as mechanical clocks were introduced, as modern transport necessitated standardized time keeping across large geographic zones.

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