Russia is an amazing country. It’s the largest country in the world – spanning 11 time zones – and is known for several things: being incredibly cold, the Cold War and its many secrets, and vodka, to name a few. However, there’s so much more to this country than just that (though you’ll see plenty of that on this list)! Since the year 2000, Vladimir Putin has been the President of Russia and it’s been a fascinating time. There’s a lot to learn about the country, though there’s just as much that’s kept a very tight secret. So, get ready to hear some seriously fascinating facts from the biggest country in the world:
1. It’s raining… women
Though a man, Vladimir Putin, rules Russia, men are outnumbered in the country. In 2014, Russia’s State Statistic Committee published a report that showed that there were 10.5 million more women living in Russia than men.
According to a member of the Russian parliament, Tatyana Moskalkova, there is an equal number of boys and girls at birth. However, at around the age of 30, males begin to pass away, falling victim to, among other things, industrial trauma, war, and car accidents.
2. Everyone can agree on one thing: vodka
Russians LOVE vodka. They love pretty much all alcohol, but vodka is the national favorite, traditionally downed neat. During the holiday season, spending on alcohol usually averages $400 alone!
Every year, 23,000 people die of alcohol poisoning, and that’s not even including deaths caused by alcohol-related homicides, assaults, and suicides. Russia has the highest of these rates in the world! Russia has tried prohibition, but it hasn’t really worked out for them.
3. Russia and bodybuilding
Weightlifting and wrestling are very popular sports in the former Soviet Union, resulting in a large number of Olympic champions originating from the region. Powerlifting is also considered popular, and believe it or not, these sports aren’t considered solely masculine.
Russian women have been lifting weights and ruling the ring for ages while maintaining their femininity. Some of the best known names include bodybuilders Julia Vins and Nadezhda Alexandrovna Yevstyukhina, who won a gold medal in the 69 kg category when she was only 17, Maryana Naumova, who was entitled the youngest powerlifting world champion with 15 world records to her name, and powerlifter and fitness icon Julia Vins.
4. Sharing a Pepsi
In 1959 when Vice President Richard Nixon traveled to Russia to met with Premiere Nikita Khrushchev, the two held a televised debate that became known as the Kitchen Debate. Nixon and Khrushchev held forth on the direction of each of their respective countries and how they might and might not cooperate.
Beside tackling serious topics, the two men also shared a Pepsi. At the time, soft drinks were nonexistent in Russia and Pepsi was nowhere near as successful as Coca-Cola. Now, Russia is Pepsi’s second largest market, accounting for around 8 percent of its sales.
5. Beauty pageant winners
The ‘Miss Russia’ beauty pageant is known to introduce some of the most beautiful faces to the world. The contest has been running since 1992, and the winner gets to represent her country in both Miss World and Miss Universe.
That’s not all the Russian beauties are up to, though. Past Miss Russia winners included a Power Engineer, a retired police officer, a global economics student, a cybernetic systems student and several ballroom dancers.
6. Russia used to have a Beard Tax
This fact is a bit historical, but it’s still pretty weird! A few centuries ago, in 1698, Emperor Peter I implemented a beard tax in Russia in an attempt to enforce a ban on the long and hairy facial hair that many sported.
Men would have to pay a tax in order to sport a beard, and if they couldn’t pay, the Russian police would forcibly and publicly shave all of the men’s beards. The reasoning behind this? The Emperor wanted Russia’s men to look more like Western European models.
7. There are at least 15 secret cities
There are several secret cities all around the world and Russia is speculated to have at least 42 of them. These cities are officially classified as secret by the Russia government and nobody really even knows what their names are or where they’re located!
These cities aren’t on any map and visiting them is very strictly prohibited. Many of these cites were formerly places of metallurgy, chemical, and military industry. They’re called ZATO: closed administrative territorial entities. Don’t you dare go in!
8. Many of the Cosmonauts have supposedly been lost
Everyone knows the story of the Cold War and the 1950’s race to the moon between the United States and Russia. Russia had some pretty huge successes: Sputnik in 1959 and the first manned flight in 1961 with Yuri Gagarin.
There were many sacrifices to reach the moon on both sides, but rumor has it that Russia covered up many of the deaths that occurred during flight testing and accidents during launches. These people even have a name: the Lost Cosmonauts. Their records have been pretty much completely erased!
9. Russians and Athletics
Russia has a very rich history of competing in sports and winter sports in particular, though the most popular sport in Russia is apparently soccer. Ice Hockey, tennis and athletics are also among the Russian favorites.
A lot of Russian athletes became regular household names: Professional tennis players Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova became international superstars, as well as Ice Hockey player Sergei Fedorov, and long jumper Darya Klishina.
10. There is no “the” in Russia
Russian is the largest native spoken language and the eighth most spoken language in the world. There are upwards of 260 million people who are fluent in Russian across the globe.
One of the most distinct features of the Russian language is that there is no “the” or “a.” Not one of its 260 million speakers could say, “Take me to the movies.” Nor could someone demand in Russian, “I want a doughnut.”
11. The meaning of “red”
The Red Square was built in the 16th century. It was initially constructed with the hope of becoming Moscow’s main marketplace. The square became the site for many public ceremonies, public declarations, and, every once and a while, it was where a Russian czar would hold their coronation ceremony.
Many believe that its name has to do with communism, but this isn’t true. Actually, the name comes from the word “krasnyi,” which another way to say, “beautiful.”
12. The deadly icicles
Russia is known for its freezing winters. Many historians often credit the unforgiving climate for helping to waylay invasions, especially those carried out by the armies of Napoleon and, later on, Hitler.
The frigid temperatures lead to extremely large icicles. These icicles typically hang from the gutters in Moscow. They are so dangerously big that the pavements below are blocked off. If they fell on a passerby, they’d likely injure them. In 2010, over 150 people were injured in St. Petersburg due to falling icicles.
13. Save the hares
In St. Petersburg, near the bridge connected to the Peter and Paul Fortress, is a statue of a small hare with a pensive look on its face. The sculpture is a memorial to the large number of hares that once lived on the island in which the Peter and Paul Fortress currently occupies.
Many of the hares died in the floods that terrorized St. Petersburg during the 18th century and into the 19th century. According to one legend, one hare managed to save itself by finding shelter in the boot of Peter the Great.
14. The Amber Room mystery
The Amber Room was an opulent chamber that featured amber panels with gold leaves and mirrors. The room was once located in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo, which is near Saint Petersburg.
During World War Two, the room was looted by the invading Nazis. It was then taken to Königsberg, a city in Germany, to be rebuilt. Today, the fate of the Amber Room remains a mystery.
15. A place where it’s always 2:10am
There is a very special clock on the mantelpiece in the White Dinning Room in the Hermitage Palace. That clock has been stopped at 2:10am for almost 100 years.
During the night of October 25, 1917, Russia’s provisional government was arrested by the Bolsheviks. It is at this moment, at 2:10am, that Russia became a communist country.
16. Tourists pay more
Each year, around 10,000 British tourists leave their country and come to Russia. Over 90 percent of these tourists exclusively visit two places: Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Russia charges these tourists, as well as other foreign visitors, more than its residents. To visit the Hermitage Museum, tourists pay 400 Rubles while Russians pay 35o Roubles. To see the Peterhof Palace, a foreigner pays 550 Roubles while a Russian can see the splendid palace for 400 Roubles.
17. Where the billionaires are
New York City is home to 62 billionaires, with a combined total wealth of 280 billion. London and Hong Kong each have 43 billionaires. None of these wealthy cities match the number of billionaires in Moscow.
Moscow has 84 of the world’s richest people. Combined, their wealth totals over 366 billion dollars. The billionaires include Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the Brooklyn Nets and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, as well as Leonid Mickelson. Mickelson is the wealthiest man in the world. His 14.4 billion dollars comes from the gas and petrochemical company Sibur, and the natural gas firm Novatek.
18. Pipelines bigger than planets
Russia is home to one of the world’s largest petroleum industries. Russia has the largest reserves of natural gas and is the biggest exporter of natural gas as well.
Such a huge supply of petroleum and gas require an abundance of pipelines. Put together, Russia’s pipelines are 259,913 kilometers long. The earth itself is just 40,075 kilometers in circumference. This means that Russia’s pipelines are long enough to wrap around the earth six times.
19. Dash cams are used to protect from fraud
If you go on any video site, you can find some pretty far out dashcam footage, most of which comes from police cars. The rest of it, believe it or not, comes from an assortment of cars in Russia.
Having a dash cam is pretty much a necessity there as the cams are used to protect from fraud. Many people will stage accidents involving feigned injury to get money, so dash cams are used to protect drivers from fraud and serve as evidence of forgery.
20. Beer wasn’t considered an alcoholic beverage until 2011
By now we’ve all learned about the Russian’s love of alcohol, so it’s not really surprising that for years and years, beer wasn’t considered to be an alcoholic beverage. This legally didn’t change until 2011!
Up until that point, anything that had an alcohol content less than 10% was just considered to be a foodstuff. Even with all of the new regulations on alcohol hitting the country, beer sales are still up a whopping 30%! Guess you really can’t take alcohol away from the Russians.
21. Dogs use the subway system too
Around 500 homeless dogs make their home in the subway stations of Russia. Some of these dogs have been deemed “metro dogs” due to their ability to use Russia’s subway system as a means of transportation.
According to Dr. Andrey Poyarkov, an acclaimed Russian biologist, the dogs use the subway to come to the city during the day for food and then to return to the suburbs at night.
22. How are you?
In America, it’s quite to common to be asked, “How are you?” The typical response is hardly more than word, and that word is often “good” or “great.”
In Russia, the answer to “How are you?” is expected to be long and detailed. Clipped responses are deemed rude by Russians and they are known to get upset at simple answers.
23. Here come the walruses
Despite the frigid weather, Russia features many popular beaches. Beside the Peter and Paul fortress in St. Petersburg, there’s a beach that’s popular not just in the summertime but in the wintertime as well.
Russians who believe in the therapeutic effects of freezing water flock to this beach in the wintertime. These Russians are known as “walruses” — the animal that is found in the Arctic and can slow down its heartbeat to withstand chilly water temperatures.
24. Big land, big rivers, and big lakes
When it comes to landmass, Russia is the world’s largest country. It takes up abut one-tenth of all of the land on earth.
Russia is also home to Europe’s biggest river, the Volga River, and the world’s deepest lake, Lake Baikal. The Volga River is estimated to be about 2,300 miles. As for Lake Baikal, it contains almost 20 percent of the world’s freshwater supply.
25. The animals of Russia
Russia’s vast landmass makes it an attractive place for many animals, including the Siberian roe deer, the Russian bear, and the Siberian tiger.
The Siberian tiger is the biggest cat in the world. They make their home in the Siberian Alps in Russia. As for the Russian bear, since as early as the 16th century the bear has been used a symbol for Russia’s might and power.
26. Inventing the helicopter
French inventor Etienne Oehmichen built and flew a helicopter in 1924. Oehmichen’s helicopter, though, only traveled one kilometer. Not until Russian aviation great Igor Sikorsky would there be a helicopter capable of flying for a sustained period of time.
Sikorsky started to work on helicopters as early as 1910. By 1940, Sikorsky’s VS-300 had become the model from which all other helicopters were built. Sikorsky also designed and built the first military helicopter, which he delivered to the U.S. army.
27. Chess masters
Chess has been popular for centuries in Russia. Czar Ivan IV is reported to have died while playing a match in 1584. In 1917, once the Bolsheviks came to power, chess became a national pass time.
In 291, Moscow held the first state-sponsored chess tournament. By 1934, 500,000 Russians had registered with the state chess program. Russians saw chess as symbol of their ideas. It was a game that required careful thought and planning. Today, more than half of the top 20 chess players in the world come from Russia or a country that was once a part of the Soviet Union.
28. They’re building underground sea tunnels connected to Alaska
Russia is super close to Alaska, so they’ve now begun a program which would create three tunnels underneath the sea connecting the country and the state. The project is called the TKM-World Link.
Costing $65 billion, the project is being considered one of the most phenomenal feats in the history of engineering ever. Many people are questioning the practicality of constructing the tunnels, but others argue that it’ll ultimately save billions in shipping costs!
29. There was nearly a war over fish farts
They say that many scientific discoveries come about in strange ways, and this one certainly must top the list! Sweden and Russia once nearly got into a war over some very silly fish noises and ended up making some brilliant discoveries!
In the 1980’s, the Swedish Navy discovered some weird underwater sounds that they automatically assumed were the sounds of hostile Russian submarines. Sweden accused Russia of trying to sabotage them and the conflict escalated quite so, until it was discovered that the sounds were actually fish farts. LOL!
30. Russia manufactures the most potent drug in the world
Russia has a lot of alcohol and drug addictions and is the world’s leading importer of heroin. However, they have another drug in the works that is much stronger than anything else.
The drug: krokodil. It’s ten times more potent than morphine and is named as such because it leaves its users with reptilian looking skin, as it becomes necrotic and gangrenous. After becoming addicted to the drug, most users die within two or three years.
31. A lot of the world’s serial killers come from Russia
So many things come from Russia, it’s not surprising that serial killers are on the list. U.S. is the serial killer capital, but Russia is far up on the list. In 1981, Nikolai Dzhumagaliev was accused of killing seven prostitutes using metal teeth!
Many of Russia’s killers are given nicknames, including “The Butcher of Rostov,” “Raskolnikov in a Skirt,” and “The Chessboard Killer” as he wanted to kill one person per square on the chessboard. Their killers have ranged from cannibals to many more chilling people.
32. Moscow has the world’s largest McDonald’s
In 1988, Moscow got permission to build the fast food giant McDonald’s in its city and it did not waste any expense building the food place. It was a MASSIVE success.
In 1990 when the chain opened, more than 5,000 people were there at its opening, and by the end of the day, over 30,000 people had been served, setting the record – some people waited in line for over 6 hours to have taste! We’re loving it.
33. Many bears in Russia are addicted to sniffing jet fuel
Every place has its own environmental issues, and the one in Russia is pretty sad. Many bears in the country have developed a strong addiction to the kerosene and gasoline in jet fuel, which is used by nature and environment workers.
Many bears will stalk power generators and helicopters to find their fuel, then will begin sniffing them, often for minutes at a time. Once done, they lie down in “nirvana” position and pass out from the fumes. It’s a sad life for these brown bears!
34. Former planet Pluto is smaller than Russia
Once upon a time, there used to be a planet called Pluto. Well, not anymore! However, it’s still a pretty large mass of object out in space, but it’s not as big as Russia! That’s right, this former planet is actually smaller than one of our countries.
Russia is the largest country on Earth when measured by land mass, coming in at 17,098,322 square kilometers. That’s pretty huge! Pluto, by comparison, is only 16,647,940 square kilometers. That means that Russia is more than 400,000 square kilometers bigger than the 10th largest mass in the solar system. Impressive, huh?
35. Russia has a ‘National Day of Conception’
Russia’s population is rapidly dwindling – and that has not gone unnoticed. In 2005, the governor of Ulyanovsk came up with a plan to deal with the declining population… declare September 12 a “Day of Conception.”
On this day, couples are granted half a day off from work to procreate, and it works! The birth rates in June usually triple every year and couples who give birth closest to June 12 – exactly nine months later – are even given prizes including cars, cash, and appliances!
36. There’s a theater where everyone is cats
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Moscow Cats Theatre, cats and dogs aren’t just pets or even man’s best friends, they’re the actors that make the theater run. Over 200 cats work at the Moscow Cats Theatre!
Just last year, the theater celebrated its 25th anniversary of delighting theater-goers everywhere with its unique productions. Putting together shows with these cats can take quite some time – one production rehearsed for 2.5 years while another took 7! However, many say it’s worth it!
37. The first tsar
In 1547, Ivan IV (aka Ivan the Terrible) become the first Russian ruler to formally assume the title czar. During Ivan’s reign, Russia began trade with England and expanded the country westward.
To gain access to the Baltic Sea, Ivan IV went to war with both Poland and Sweden. Successful at first, Ivan IV lost the war and was forced to give back the lands he had gained.
38. The Nutcracker is born
In 1891, Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was commissioned to compose music for Alexandre Dumas’s adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s story, “the Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”
Though the first performance of “the Nutcracker” was not deemed a success, the ballet would go onto become one of the most famous ballets of all-time. Tchaikovsky also composed the music for ballet classics like Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake.
39. There’s a lake that can kill you in an hour
Just like every other country, Russia has a problem with pollution. For the most part, it’s manageable, except for when you get to Lake Karachay. Make sure to stay very far away, as it can kill you within an hour… literally.
Lake Karachay is considered to be the most polluted place on the entire planet, tainted badly by nearby nuclear facilities. Standing near the shore for just an hour will give anyone horrible radiation poisoning, to the point of causing death!
40. Russia has the highest WWII casualty counts
World War II took a huge toll on everybody who participated, but the war was particularly brutal to Russia. The final death toll of the war remains a subject of contention everywhere and in every country, but Russia did have the highest casualty count of all.
Russia did some pretty incredible things during the war – including single handedly defending an entire front against the Germans. However, in this defense, they lost over 30 million people, including many civilians. This accounted for nearly 14% of their entire population!
41. Smiling with meaning
Russians are stereotyped as not very friendly and not too prone to smiles. The truth is that Russians save their smiles for when they are mean them.
According to a Russian proverb, “Laughter for no reason is a sign of foolishness.” This means that Russians won’t smile if the occasion doesn’t merit it. When a Russian smiles, it’s said to be due to formality, it’s not out of sincerity.
42. There’s a huge drinking problem there
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to introduce a massive anti-alcohol campaign to Russia in 1985 that sought to decrease the production of alcohol and raise their prices massively. It worked for a few years until the fall of the USSR caused a massive nation-wide party.
People drink tons of vodka, but they also drink lots of illegal “samogon,” a homemade liquor that sometimes has alcohol levels twice as high as vodka… and often contains a cocktail of toxic ingredients. It’s safe to say that prohibition didn’t work and alcohol is there to stay!
43. The Ushanka
The Ushanka, or the “ear flap hat,” is a fur cap designed to protect its wearer’s ears, chin and jaw from the wind and cold. This cosy, fuzzy hat is very popular in colder climates, though it is mostly identified with Soviet Russia.
The Ushanka has been made part of many armed forces’ winter uniform, including the Russian army. Want people to think you’re tough? Keep your Ushanka’s ear flaps tied behind your head at all times, unless the temperature drops below 68 degrees. Otherwise, you’d be considered a weakling.
44. The Odd Flower
Russian tradition has plenty of beliefs and superstitions that would seem very odd to outsiders. One of those superstitions is all about something most people associate with gifts and joyous occasions–giving flowers. If you want to give flowers to a loved one, always make sure they’re in odd numbers.
The reason for this strange rule is that flowers in even numbers are only used at funerals. Breaking this traditional rule is considered very rude, and come on, you don’t want to be THAT person.
45. The Purring Custodian
The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg is known as one of the greatest museums in the world. With artworks by the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael, and El Greco as well as a vast collection of antiques from all over the world, you’d expect its patrons to pay special attention to their precious exhibits. But just how special?
As it turns out, the Hermitage Museum’s custodial staff consists not only of skilled humans, but also a large number of cats! These well cultured cats live inside the museum and even have their own press secretary, as well as a number of caretakers. Their job? To keep the place mouse free, of course.
46. The Twin Stars
Like oddly themed restaurants? You’re going to love this. Moscow’s Twin Stars restaurant has quite the extraordinary staff, and you need to be part of a twosome to work there. That’s right, this restaurant only employs identical twins, and obviously, they have to wear identical clothes while waiting tables and serving drinks.
According to the restaurant’s owner, Alexei Khodorkovsky, the quirky concept was inspired by a 1964 surreal Soviet film named Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors, about a girl and her identical twin who live in alternate realities. How appetizing?
47. A Glass Half Empty
Russians are usually pretty good at holding their liquor, so this a pretty important rule to those going out for drinks with Russian companions–if you’re not much of a drinker and you don’t want to get hammered, never let your cup run empty.
An empty cup usually means you’re ready for another drink in Russian culture, meaning your hosts will just fill it up again. Don’t want anything to drink at all? Try telling your drink buddies the doctor said you aren’t allowed to drink a all. Works like a charm!
48. Saint Basil’s Cathedral
You know that beautiful, colorful church that basically looks like candyland located in Moscow’s Red Square? Currently used as a museum, this unusual structure was erected in 1561 and was originally intended to commemorate the capture of cities Kazan and Astrakhan.
The cathedral is designed to look like roaring flames rising into the sky. Legend has it that after the church was complete by acclaimed architect Postnik Yakovlev, he was blinded by Czar Ivan the Terrible so he could never build anything as beautiful again.
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