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I've only been studying Russian for about a year (and slowly at that), so I'm probably misunderstanding a lot.

From what I understand, though, идти and ехать are both unidirectional verbs of motion and basically mean "to go." However, идти implies walking and ехать implies some other form of transportation. I understand that it's more nuanced than that, because my professor has said that you can still use идти if you're driving a short distance in the context of your everyday life and it's not very important to specify that you drove.

I'm basically wondering about the history of this type of distinction (walking vs. other) and whether/how it has changed over time in the language. It seems like technology changes (more forms of transportation now than before, maybe less walking?) would have some sort of effect on the usage of идти/ехать and similar pairs like ходить/ездить.

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I unfortunately cannot tell anything about the diachronic aspect of their usage, but within a locality in specific cases one can use идти even when taking a ride to the destination. One such case i can think of is announcing one's destination when leaving home or reporting about a trip on return home

Я иду в кино
Я пошёл к сватам
Я ушёл на работу
Я ходил на рынок

which doesn't mean a person arrives/ed there solely on foot

That's basically analogous to usage of to go in English.

However this doesn't work for destinations such as areas, in contrast to specific locations. One would't say Я пошёл в центр (downtown) unless one truly moves on foot. Likewise Я иду в новый район.

Speaking of moving somewhere outside of a locality always requires usage of ехать.

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technology changes did have an effect on Russian. If you are using plane, you need to use the verb "лететь":

Она улетела (полетела) в Нью-Йорк.

The rule of a thumb is to actually consider the means of transportation.

But as long as you are not mentioning the destination point and just want to mention that you are leaving, you can say:

Я пошел - (literal: I went) I'm leaving. Мне надо идти - I need to go. Она уже ушла. - She has left.

So basically when you use the word "уходить" like that, without destination or not focusing on it, the English equivalent is "to leave".

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