Russia – Interesting / Striking facts

In a random order:

Trans-Siberian railway

In 1886 Tsar Alexander III decided to build the Trans-Siberian railway. He saw the railway as both the key to developing the land beyond the Urals and also as the means to transport his troops to the Armur region which was being threatened by the Chinese. Construction began in 1892.

The greater part of the Trans-Siberian Railway was built without heavy machinery, by men with nothing more than wooden shovels.

There were few problems in laying foundations for the rails across the open steppeland of the Siberian Plain, but cutting through the almost impenetrable forests of the taiga proved extremely difficult. Much of this area was not only thickly forested, but swampy in summer and frozen until July. Consequently the building season lasted no more than 4 months in most places. Parts of the route in eastern Siberia were locked in permafrost and, even in mid-summer, had to be dynamited or warmed with fires before rails could be laid.

Conditions for workers were very tough. Accommodations were dirty and uncomfortable. Winters were very long and extremely cold. The brief summer brought relief from the cold but added discomfort of plagues of black flies and mosquitoes in the swamps of the taiga. There were numerous outbreaks of disease.

The whole railway was complete in 1916.



Race diversity is surprisingly rare in European Russia. For example, we hardly saw colored people (nor Muslims) in Moscow. I wonder how local companies fulfill their CSR obligations regarding diversity… 😉



It’s huge!

Siberia extends from the Ural Mountains in the West to the Pacific Ocean in the East and southward from the Arctic Ocean to the hills of north-central Kazakhstan and the borders of Mongolia and China.

With an area of 13 million km², Siberia accounts for 77% of Russia’s land area, but it is home to just 40 million people (27% of the country’s population). This is equivalent to an average population density of about 3 inhabitants per km² (approximately equal to that of Australia), making Siberia one of the most sparsely populated regions on Earth.

If it were a country by itself, it would still be the largest country in area.

Siberia produces most of Russia’s mineral wealth.

The winters are so long that many cars are still equipped with winter tyres…


Forced conversion of Russian people to Christianism by Vladimir in the 10th century

The great Prince Vladimir ruled Russia from Kiev. By the late 980s he had found it necessary to adopt monotheism from abroad. Until then Slavs worshipped a range of pagan gods. Vladimir wanted to unite the people under one religion. So he went “shopping” for a Church. In the year 986, Vladimir met with representatives from several religions. The options? Islam, Judaism, the Catholic Christianity of Western Europe, and the Orthodox Christianity of Eastern Europe (though as yet, there was no official break between the Orthodox and Catholic Christians).

The result is amusingly described in the following legendary anecdote. In the meeting with Muslim representatives, Vladimir found their religion unsuitable due to its requirement to circumcise and taboos against alcoholic beverages and pork; supposedly, Vladimir said on that occasion: “Drinking is the joy of the Rus.” He also consulted with Jewish envoys, questioned them about their religion but ultimately rejected it, saying that their loss of Jerusalem was evidence of their having been abandoned by God (others say that he didn’t like the Shabbat since he considered abnormal to have one day per week without work). Catholic Christianity was all right, but what impressed the grand prince was the dazzling worship his ambassadors described seeing in the great Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

So Vladimir opted for Orthodoxy because of its beautiful worship. Orthodoxy was also the religion of the most powerful, wealthy, and civilized of Russia’s border nations, the Byzantine Empire.

How did he forge a national Church? He ordered mass conversion of the Russian people, with whole towns being baptized simultaneously.

Whatever the truth it’s rather interesting that Christianity was adopted quite “recently” in Russia: in late 900 (during the Middle Age).



Siberian food is intended to be hearty and substantial, a key element in surviving harsh winters.

The meals are usually filling (to say the least).

Each family has a vegetable (and fruit) garden, either at home or, when living in the city, in their datcha (a country house typically used as a second or holiday home). The tradition comes from the Soviet times where ration cards were not sufficient so people had to home-grow food for their subsistence.



One of our guides (Yulia, a young girl) summarized quite well the feeling of most of the people we discussed with: “Before there was stability but no freedom. Now is the opposite: you are free to do whatever you want but there is no stability.”

I thought that it would be very interesting to get a local insight on the judgment of the locals on the main political leaders since Lenin, so I asked questions to the people we met to understand better.

Caveat: this is not a political judgement; it is only the opinion of the few people we could speak to for a few hours (mainly educated people such as guides and interpreters).

What I could understand is basically (roughly) summarized below:

Lenin and Stalin: people are aware of the negative actions associated to their leaderships but they also (much) recognized their good actions (Stalin won the WWII). While Stalin is not much “visible” (Stalin’s cult of personality was dismantled by Khrushchev), there are statues (and streets) of Lenin everywhere.

Gorbachev: while he is credited in the West with bringing about the end of the Cold War, Russians do not have a great opinion of Gorbachev; in their view, he kind of “sold off” the Soviet Union. The USSR is indeed still much regretted by the elders.

Yelstin: worst impression (unanimously shared by people). They were ashamed of their president.

Putin: good leader. Such a vast country needs a strong man. He is standing up to the western world and it makes people proud to be Russians, which we could feel is very important to the local people. They resent the US, which are responsible of the economic sanctions that are affecting them.


5 Replies to “Russia – Interesting / Striking facts

  1. Very interesting stories. I didn’t know about the Orthodoxe Church. I am not surprised by the political opinions and point of view of the people you met and I guess you will hear the same kind in China 🙂

  2. Fascinating insights – thanks Cedric. Traveling on the Trans Siberian railway has always been a dream of mine, so thanks for allowing me to enjoy it vicariously . . also, the pictures (as always) are outstanding. I look forward to following the next adventure. Look us up when you come to Chicago . . if your kids want to experience an authentic Chicago summer sports camp we can find one and as some of my kids may be away all summer, we may be able to help you out with accommodation – 8 miles from Chicago.

    1. Thanks for your comment Aoifinn and sorry for this late answer…
      I hope you’re fine.
      Summer sports camp for our kids could indeed be a great idea. How long in advance do we need to decide?

  3. Mon Cédric adoré, c’est magnifique de s’instruire via tes yeux, tes oreilles et ton ressenti! J’apprécie aussi énormément les liens que tu places dans le texte. Merci! !!

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