Obscure Facts About Russia You Really Need to Know


Russia is more than just dancing bears, vodka, and oligarchs. It has those things in spades but at 6.6 million square miles with a population of 144 million you know there has to be a few more things going on. It’s a very misunderstood country with admittedly a lot of awful things going on, but it also has more than its fair share of the unusual as well. Here are some of the more obscure facts about Russia that few people realize.

10. Russia Has a Ton of Dangerous Elevators

Moscow is one of the largest cities in the world, with a population just shy of 12 million people. To serve the elevating needs of those people the city also has about 120,000 elevators. The country as a whole has over 450,000 of them.Now odds are you’ve never taken an elevator headcount before to determine if that number is incredibly low or incredibly high, but the answer is high. Very high. That’s more than double the number of elevators that you’ll find in New York City. So far so good. But not really.

The elevators in Russia are unreliable and old. Upwards of 200,000 people per year get stuck in elevators in Moscow because a solid 20% of them have exceeded their recommended lifespan. In 2017 it was estimated at least 27,000 elevators were in need of repairs. This is compared to Chicago which reports a mere 100 people per year stuck in elevators. 

Next time you’re in Russia, consider taking the stairs.

9. Russia Has a Record Number of Millionaires

We hear a lot in the media about Russian oligarchs, so much so that the word kind of loses meaning. An oligarch is basically just a very wealthy person whose wealth has afforded them political influence. The reason that term gets lobbed towards Russian business people so often is because Russia has an absolutely massive number of millionaires.

In 2018, Russia had 189,500 millionaires, a number that rose by more than 7,000 in a single year, making a millionaire growth record. There are also 106 billionaires in Russia and Moscow has the third highest number of billionaires of all the cities in the world. When you consider the entire population of Russia compared to the population of the US and China which ranked above it, both of which have several times the population of Russia, that’s a feat and a half.

8. Beer Wasn’t Considered Alcohol Until 2011

Russians have a reputation for drinking, but it should be noted that it’s also an outdated reputation. In recent years, Russian drinking has been curbed considerably and they consume far less than they did 10 or 20 years ago, on average. That said, they still enjoy their alcohol as witnessed by what they even consider alcohol. Beer, for instance, wasn’t officially alcohol in the country until a Presidential decree made it so in 2011. Prior to that, they considered beer a soft drink on par with Pepsi and Mr. Pibb.

Public health officials helped get the change put in place after beer-drinking had gotten so out of hand people were selling it on street corners from hot dog carts and you could see teenagers roaming the streets and riding the bus with bottles in hand.

The country was given two entire years to adjust to new rules regarding where and how beer was sold. In 2013 beer was only allowed to be sold by licensed vendors and not between 11 pm and 8am. It also banned the sale at places like gas stations and kiosks.

Prior to this move, Russians had been consuming upwards of 5 gallons of pure alcohol per year and about one in five Russian deaths was linked in some way to alcohol consumption.

7. Women in Russia Outnumber Men

There’s long been a stereotype of the mail-order Russian bride and it’s not all based in perverse fantasy and misinformation. Fact is, there are too many women compared to men in the country by a fairly impressive margin. There are 1,159 women for every 1,000 men in Russia. The ratio is slightly higher in urban areas and slightly lower in rural areas, but across the board there are more women. In total, that works out to about 10 million more women than men in the country.

For an added twist on this, there are about 20 million bachelors in Russia as well, the result of which is a fairly low birth rate overall. Why is there such a disparity between women and men? In part, you can head back to our previous point where, for many years, men particularly had an unusually high mortality rate related to alcohol. That’s not the only reason though. The Second World War destroyed the male population of Russia and in 1950 there were less than 77 men for every 100 women.The numbers got better as the years passed, but they never evened out again.

6. Russia Once Taxed Beards

It takes a certain kind of man to wear a beard and not everyone can pull it off. Sometimes they grow in patchy and weird, sometimes they make you look like a sasquatch. And once upon a time in Russia they were a financial liability. 

In the late 1600s, Tsar Peter the Great had a real hate on for beards. The thinking here was that beards were a little backward and a little old school and Russia was trying to modernize and be like the West. That meant an end to beards or, if you needed to keep one, you had to pay a tax on it. And if you did pay to keep your beard, you got a nifty coin to prove your beard was legal in the event anyone questioned you while walking around town as a hirsute gentleman. The beard tax stayed in place until 1722.

5. Carpets are Wall Decorations in Russia

Have you ever watched Youtube videos from Russia or just footage of regular people in their homes in the country and noticed that there are a staggering number of Russians who have carpets on their walls? Because there really are a staggering number of people who have carpets on their walls in Russia. It’s a fairly commonplace wall covering in many parts of the country, and there’s a reason for it.

As the Soviet Union really kicked into high gear and people migrated from rural areas to the cities, many buildings were erected to accommodate the new metropolitan populace. These buildings were not necessarily the highest quality, though. There were a lot of cracks and drafts that ran down walls and could keep you cold on a harsh Moscow night. And they were also thin. Thin enough that if your neighbor has the TV on, you’re listening to it as well. Carpets become a multi-purpose wall decoration that looked artsy, kept you warm, and buffered against noise.

4. The Hermitage Museum is Full of Cats

Russians have an appreciation for art that is hard to wrap your head around. To understand this, look no further than the Hermitage Museum and its more than 3 million exhibits. THREE MILLION

According to those who have crunched the numbers, if you took one minute to appreciate each item for 8 hours a day, you could finish your museum tour in a brisk 15 years. You’d also have to walk about 6 miles through 350 exhibit rooms in 6 different buildings. There’s a lot of museum here. Also, there are cats.

Before the museum was a museum it was a place for the Russian Tsars. In 1745, Elizabeth of Russia ordered that cats be placed on guard to patrol for mice. Though the cats were killed off during the Second World War, more were brought in after and now there are over 70 cats that call the museum home. They even have their own press secretary, a kitchen to make them meals, and a small cat hospital.

3. Russia is Home to the World’s Largest and Deepest Lake

Russia is one waterlogged country by any estimation. Though Canada takes the cake for most lakes, Russia is home to the largest and deepest lake on Earth. Lake Baikal, in Siberia, is home to upwards of 1,800 endemic species including a species of freshwater seal and 20% of the world’s entire supply of fresh water. How much water is that? That’s 5,521 cubic miles of water, equal to all five North American Great Lakes combined. The maximum depth of the lake is 5,324 feet.

Lake Baikal attracts a lot of tourists to the area in part because all that water is stunningly clear as well. When the fresh snow melt is filling the lake you can see 130 feet straight down. The fact that it’s also the oldest lake in the world is probably drawing some people to its shores as well. Best guess is that the lake formed somewhere between 20 and 25 million years ago.

Along with the nerpa seals that are endemic to the lake, the Baikal oil fish, the omul fish, and the massive Baikal sturgeon are also only found in this lake. 

2. There are Wolf Super Packs in Russia

The average wolf pack in most parts of the world has 6 wolves in it, like a furry little Brady Bunch kids’ table. They can grow larger of course, and some massive wolf packs have been recorded having 37 wolves like the Druids wolf pack of Yellowstone Park. That gives you some perspective on how absolutely out of the ordinary it was in 2011 when the Russian town of Verkhoyansk had to deal with a supe rpack of 400 wolves. The wolves had reportedly taken down 30 horses in just four days.

The town of Verkhoyansk was a few miles down the road from nowhere and only 1,300 people lived there. It was so remote Stalin used to sentence people to go there as a punishment. But with 400 wolves on the loose, the government was offering cash rewards for wolf pelts and helicopter runs to shoot the wolves were scheduled. Experts claimed that the situation seemed dubious at best but town officials were adamant that this was a real issue. The lack of natural prey and the utter remoteness of the region could have greatly contributed to the merging of many smaller packs into one super pack at the time. Is it possible the number of wolves was exaggerated? Definitely. But it was believable enough that the Guinness Book of World Records took note of it.

1. Russians Divorce More Than They Marry

Marriage and Russia do not go hand in hand. The ratio of marriage to divorce in Russia in 2016 was 1 to 1.6. That means for every 5 couples that get married in Russia, 8 other couples get divorced. Every second marriage in Russia ends in divorce, making them world leaders in unsuccessful second marriages. The reason for the high rate of divorce is that you can do it with almost no effort whatsoever.

In Russia, laws dealing with divorce are extremely loose. For instance, for just a few hundred dollars, you can find a lawyer on the internet who will end your marriage without your spouse even knowing it happened. You don’t need to leave the house to do it, either.  Consent of your spouse isn’t necessary, the lawyer never needs to meet you, you could do it on your phone while having dinner with your spouse and be single in time for dessert.

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