Daily life in Russia
In this section you can read letters from some young Russians which will tell you a lot about their daily life, particularly school and after school activities but also such things as where they live, what it was like during the pandemic, how they get about in Moscow, a favourite recipe, a recommendation for a cool place to hang out in Moscow, how 12 year old boys might celebrate their birthdays, and what the ancient Russians wrote on. And more!
Most of the letters are from young Muscovites but there are two from much further afield - the republics of Ingushetia and Tatarstan so we've included information about those places too.
The main topics in this section are all based on the letters we received. Click on the questions below to find some answers.
Letters from Moscow
My name is Anya. I am 13 years old. And I am from Moscow. I live in a block of flats in a flat on the 8th floor with my parents and grandparents. I live not far from the Big Moscow Circus. When I was younger I liked it and used to go there quite often.
I study at school. My school is not near my house and it takes me about 40 minutes to get there: I walk, take a bus, then go by metro, and walk again. My school is in the centre of Moscow. It is just within ten minutes’ walk of the Kremlin and Red Square and there are a lot of museums around.
I go to school six days a week (from Monday till Saturday). And we have six lessons every day (from 9 a.m. until 2.40 p.m.). That’s OK, but what I don’t like is that there is too much homework I have to do every day after school (even on Sunday!). So I have too little time to rest and I hardly ever go to bed before midnight.
I have a hobby. I am interested in art. Four times a week after school I go to the Art School and stay there for about 3 hours. We have 7 different lessons on drawing, painting, sculpture, decorative art and history of art. And sometimes we draw outdoors in places like parks and zoos. I love it! We also go sometimes to art trips. For example, last October I went to Florence to study the art of Renaissance and to paint a little too.
At school we have long summer holidays (for all summer!) and 3 short holidays (only for a week) in every other season. I love traveling and try to travel a lot during my holidays. For the spring and autumn school holiday I usually go somewhere with my class and our class teacher. Russia is a big country, and we have already been to many interesting places in different parts of Russia. New Year holidays I always spend with my parents. We prefer to go out of the city somewhere we can ski and skate and have other winter fun with snow. In summer I sometimes go camping with the school tourist club.
And next summer I want to go on a real archaeological expedition to Velikiy Novgorod. We will be digging up a historical site. I hope I will find some real ancient item or a birch bark manuscript. I am really looking forward to it!
Anya, from Moscow
My name is Vera.
I live in Moscow, Russia. I am 15. I am home-studying now, so I have a lot of time for hobbies.
Last year I started playing drums, and this September my friends invited me to play with them on a school contest. I was really scared and nervous at the beginning, but they turned out to be super-nice and friendly so now I am very happy to play in a band. There are five of us - Kate and Julia play the guitar, Maria plays the bass and Igor plays the piano. I also play some other instruments and love music very much.
What I like the most in Moscow are markets that tourists don’t know about. One of them is called “Locus Solus”. It’s not just a flea market, but a very friendly place where you can always find a person to talk to. Besides, various events like master-classes or board-game competitions often take places there.
My name is Liza, I am 13 years old. I live in Moscow, Russia. I have a twin brother Luka and a big brother Nikita. We live in a block of flats on the 18th floor. Our apartment is rather small, I have to share the bedroom with my brothers.
Instead, we have a huge park just under our windows. In summer we usually ride bikes and play ping-pong there, in winter we do cross-country skiing or skating, there is a skating rink in our park with music and lights. Another favorite family activity is collecting mushrooms. There are no mushrooms in our park, we collect them in the forest near our country house in summer.
I study in a biology class. I go to school six times a week, Sunday is a day off. I, usually, wake up at 7:30 am and go to school by tube. In summer, I also can take a scooter, because it’s faster. First lesson starts at 9 o’clock. Each lesson lasts 45 minutes. We have a break for 20 minutes after each lesson. I, usually, have 6-7 lessons every day and finish school about 3-3:30 p.m., but two days a week I have 8 lessons and stay at school till 5:30 pm. In the biology class Biology and Chemistry are the main subjects. So I have 8 biology lessons and 6 chemistry lessons per week. Tomorrow, during the biology lesson we will be dissecting a small shark and studying its internal organs, and then we will be drawing them. This is a bit scary, but really exciting! I am looking forward to it. After that, my friend Xenia and I are going to paint the shelf for plants in our class. We have already painted the shelf pink, and now we are going to draw flowers on it. I think it will look fabulous.
Besides, we study Geography, English, Computer science, Algebra, Geometry, History, PE and Physics in school. I also have Russian lessons, where we study how to write correctly, and literature, where we study different authors and their writings. At school we mostly read Russian authors: Pushkin, Lermontov, Chekhov, Gogol, but we read English and American authors as well: Shakespeare, Dickens, O. Henry. Now in my class we discuss To Kill a Mockingbird by Nelle Harper Lee and my twin brother studies Lord of the Flies by William Gerald Golding. I prefer to read something more contemporary though, some fantasy or stories about teenagers and school life.
Sometimes instead of studying in school I go to Zvenigorod Biostation with my biology class for several days. It is not very far from Moscow and I like it there. We study ornithology, hydrobiology and botany (field biology) there. I love nature. ;)
Despite hard studying at school, I have some hobbies as well: I play the guitar, study in the Art school and love to bake. I can cook different dishes like cakes, spaghetti, pizza, salads and others.
I have sent you the recipe of the pancakes I make sometimes. Bliny (in Russian) are quite popular in Russia.
I’m a 12 year old Russian boy and I’m a pupil at No.1317 school.
The main language in our school is Russian. We study maths, geography, English, history, biology, civics, PE and literature.
We start our school day at 8.30am. We usually have six lessons each day. We have a 15 minute break after every lesson. We have to wear a blue school uniform. We also can’t take away our food from the canteen.
We sometimes go on day trips with our teachers. The last trip was to the theatre. We always celebrate on every occasion by making a concert, it’s really interesting.
By the way I also play tennis. I have my tennis lessons from 3 to 5 times a week after school. I often take part in competitions. I have visited a lot of cities such as Ryazan, Minsk, Perm and Kazan. The last competition was in Perm and I took second place and got the cup.
Have a good day,
My name is Misha and I am 12 years old. I live in Moscow, near the main university and I get to
school by metro every day. I am in 7th grade in school.
Beside school I study in some extra classes for things I like. For example, on Mondays and Thursdays I go to my theatrical studio.
There are about 15 students and every year or half a year we are getting ready to present a show. Two years ago we presented «The Government Inspector» by Gogol', a Russian writer, and this year we are doing Chekhov. Every «class» is 2 hours and we rehearse for the show, but it is also a very happy experience because there we are all friends.
On Wednesdays I learn in VMSh – the evening maths school. Even my parents had studied in this class when they were my age! It is also for 2 hours. In the beginning everyone gets a sheet with some math problems – and we just solve them! When you solve one, you have to call one of the «teachers» - usually they are university students - and describe to him your solution.
On Thursdays, before theatre I have the «What-Where-When»-game practice. It is an intellectual competition similar to Brain Ring. Our class has our own team in the whole school's competition!
On Fridays I have even two different classes: first – the linguistic club. We discuss one or two linguistic problems, similar to the ones in the Moscow Traditional Olympiad. In those, you are given a bunch of words or sentences translated to some weird language you don’t know, but somehow you are able to recognise a rule in this language and translate some sentences yourself.
The second class is VPSh – the evening programming school. Those lessons could be different week by week: sometimes we learn how to build a particular program; sometimes we are working in a practice competition for starter programmers and sometimes our teacher just explains how something works.
I like all my classes and it’s good that I’m able to visit all of them.
Soon there are the New Year holidays. Every year when school ends my family and I go to our dacha in the countryside, near a small town called Hot’kovo, in Abramtsevo. We meet there altogether – me, my parents and brother, my grandparents, my other grandmother, my uncle, aunt and three cousins. Usually, in winter it’s very snowy there, so – me, my cousins plus my friend who also comes for holidays with his family – we all spend the time outside. We play just primitive snowballs, or build snow castles and snowmen.
On New Year’s Eve we decorate the Christmas tree and then, after midnight, we have a big dinner with all my family. Then we take the presents from under the tree and give them to whomever they are addressed to. When the presents are finished, we go out to see the fireworks.
New Year is the most important celebration of the year because we start getting ready for it long before itself and people often celebrate it with all their family.
Two of our letter writers come from the Russian Republics of Ingushetia and Tatarstan. The republics are countries within Russia (properly called the Russian Federation), not independent states.
On the southern border of European Russia, high in the north Caucasus mountains, Ingushetia has an external border with Georgia to the south and internally it borders two other Russian Republics, Chechnya and North Ossetia.
Its capital is Magas and the country has under half a million inhabitants.
Ingushetia has a rich and interesting history and very beautiful mountain scenery. It first became part of the Russian empire in 19C.
Did you know: the wheel might have been invented in Ingushetia about 5000 years ago!
I’m Leila and I’m 13. I live in the best republic, Ingushetia.
I live in the countryside and because of the Covid lockdown I’m not having much fun.
I’ve got a large family and spend most of my time outdoors because I have to help my mum in the vegetable garden.
Because of the lockdown we had lessons online. To be honest I’m really missing school, my teachers and classmates. As for schoolwork, I’ll tell you in secret that it’s easier to do it in school than at home. They explain things better and everything is completely different.
Now it’s the holidays and one of the things I have to do is look after the chickens – feed them, give them water, watch that our neighbour’s cats don’t get them. When I have free time I normally play with my friends and things like that.
I haven’t told you about my old granny – she’s 80 – and I also need to help her.
I hope that the rest of the summer won’t be so boring, that all the lockdown problems will go away and most of all that we get to go away on holiday. Maybe to the sea, or to the mountains. We have very beautiful mountains and wonderful wildlife. My mum has relations in a mountain village so I’d like to go there too.
Leila, age 13. Ingushetia
My morning begins at 7am. When I get up the rest of the family are usually already up and my mum is making breakfast, probably fried eggs.
After breakfast I set off for school, and in winter if it’s cold outside I have to put on lots of warm clothes so that I don’t freeze.
I’m at School No. 167, which is 10 minutes walk from my home. My friend Samira often walks with me – we are in the same class. Most days we have five 40 minute lessons and a long break when we have lunch in the canteen. I don’t like the food there, particularly the meatballs, but sometimes they make something good. I often take a packed lunch – apple, chocolate, biscuits and juice.
When lessons are finished I have afterschool classes: music school, piano, choir, English, fashion club, dance, computer studies, art. I’ve almost no free time.
I get home around 6 or 7 in the evening and in the winter it’s getting dark by then. I’ve still got my homework to do.
I like to message friends on social media and lie on the sofa with my phone. Later in the evening when my parents have put my little sister to bed we watch some TV together or play a board game.
Sabrina, age 11. Tatarstan
Tatarstan is also in European Russia, on the river Volga about 1000 miles from Moscow on the west and bordering the Ural mountains on the east. It has a population of 3.7m people.
An important trading area before the Mongols took it over in the 13C, Tatarstan has been ruled from Moscow since Ivan the Terrible captured Kazan, its capital, in the 16C. Converted to Islam in the 10C Tatarstan is still an important Islamic republic, and nearly 60% of the population today are Muslim.
Did you know: a delicious crunchy sweet called chakchak (fried scraps of dough soaked in honey) is very popular in Tatarstan.
Where do people live?
The great majority of Russians live in flats, mostly built in the 20C or more recently. Many flats have children’s playgrounds at the back, like these.
Other types of Russian housing are “dachas” (holiday houses in the countryside, often with vegetable gardens, see below left); misnamed “cottages” (kottedzhi in Russian) which are expensive suburban houses for the wealthy like the estate in the centre photograph below; and a diminishing number of old wooden houses, mainly in provincial towns (the example on the far right below is in Syzran on the Volga near Saratov). They have beautiful carvings but are sadly often in poor condition.
See Hot'kovo in winter in this video:
On the left is the main building of Anya’s school. Her classroom is in the old building (centre) and she also sent us a photograph of what that looked like 100 years ago.
Most schools have numbers not names – Nikita tells us he goes to School No. 1317 and Sabrina is at School No. 167.
Schools have eleven classes – pupils start in Class 1 at 6 or 7 years old and finish in class 11 at 17 or 18. Many children have had 3 or 4 years in kindergarten before they start school so will have learned the basics of reading and arithmetic there.
The school year starts on 1 September which is the Day of Knowledge (or the “First Bell”) and treated like a festival. This video shows Class 1 pupils taking part in events at their new school with flowers for their teacher and a poetry recital.
The long summer holiday lasts from the beginning of June to the end of August.
Not all schools have a uniform but some do.
Most schools are coeducational.
What else would you like to know?
In larger cities like Moscow and St Petersburg the Metro (underground) is quickest for long distances. This is part of the Moscow Metro map: Anya goes to school on the red line, which goes over the river and right into the centre.
You would find it easy to spot a Metro station because they have a large M in front.
The stations are very grand and don’t have advertisements on the walls. Here are some examples – can you find them on the map?
Other forms of transport include buses, trolleybuses, trams, minibus-taxis and taxis. Or scooter in summer? Cycling isn't so popular due to dangerous traffic and exhaust fumes as well as the cold weather in winter - but enthusiasts have started an annual Winter Bike Ride along the river beside the Kremlin walls. The picture at the top of this section shows what that route usually looks like.
These are greetings cards for some of the main holidays celebrated in Russia.
NEW YEAR'S EVE
Feb / March
March / April
Misha and Ania sent us descriptions of NEW YEAR and MASLENITSA. What can you find out about the other holidays?
Misha: “On NEW YEAR’S EVE we decorate the Christmas tree and then, after midnight, we have a big dinner with all my family. Then we take the presents from under the tree and give them to whomever they are addressed to. When the presents are finished, we go out to see the fireworks. New Year is the most important celebration of the year because we start getting ready for it long before itself and people often celebrate it with all their family.”
Ania: “MASLENITSA is another feast people celebrate in Russia. It takes place in late February or early March, just before the Great Lent. It lasts for a week and in every home people bake pancakes and sometimes go to see their relatives or friends to eat pancakes together. There are different recipes of pancakes (‘bliny’ and ‘oladi’ in Russian), but my favourite are thin ones made with milk and yeasts, my mum cooks them only during Maslenitsa. Our school usually organizes charity fairs that week, children can buy home-made pancakes and cookies, and other various home-made crafts which they brought from home. For younger children some games and game competitions are organized in the schoolyard. At the end they also watch how Maslenitsa (a big doll) is burnt in a bonfire. I’ve never thought about what the Maslenitsa doll symbolises. Probably it is a pagan symbol.”
The Maslenitsa doll
Younger children play games at Maslenitsa
Liza has a good blini recipe!
Russians like to start their main meal of the day with soup, and a favourite soup in both Russia and nearby Ukraine is Borshch. It is often accompanied by "black" bread - actually dark brown rye bread which you can see in the header picture above.
Blini are also very popular in Russia, with a variety of fillings. At Maslenitsa they are the main dish, like pancakes on Shrove Tuesday in the UK.
And Russians also make a variety of winter salads with cooked vegetables - their favourite is often the "Olivier Salad".
Here are some recipes:
3 beetroots, 2 potatoes, 2 carrots
¼ cabbage, 1 onion
3 teaspoons tomato puree
I litre stock (stock cubes in boiling water are fine)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sour cream and (if you can find it) a sprinkling of dill to garnish each bowl.
Wash the vegetables. Peel and chop the beetroot, carrot and potato, slice the cabbage and onion thinly.
Put all the prepared vegetables into a saucepan.
Add the tomato puree (or a thinly chopped tomato) and cover with hot water or stock.
Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes without covering the pan. Stir occasionally.
Add salt and pepper and cook for another 10 minutes or so.
Delicious served with sour cream and finely chopped herbs (eg dill).
Makes approx. 6 servings
Liza’s recipe for blini (pancakes)
To make the dough you need:
1 cup (130 g) of flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 cup (250 ml) of milk
1 tablespoon of cooking oil
Combine and mix all the ingredients well in a large bowl.
Spoon the batter into the hot frying pan; cook on both sides until golden brown.
Serve the pancakes with honey, jam, caviar, sour cream or cheese
Olivier Salad (Russian Salad)
6 large potatoes
2 medium carrots
4 large pickled guerkins
250g cooked meat OR mushrooms
1 small can of peas (or use frozen peas)
mayonnaise and (optional) sour cream
salt and pepper to season; dill to flavour and decorate
Peel and boil the potatoes and carrots until cooked
Boil the eggs for 8 minutes
Peel and dice the potatoes and carrots into small cubes and chop the guerkins
Dice the meat or mushrooms
Mix everything together
Drain the peas and add them
Mix with mayonnaise (can be combined with sour cream)
Add salt and pepper to season. Scatter chopped dill on top
Store in the refrigerator until ready to eat