Where, outside the former Soviet Union, is the Russian language so widely used that the knowledge of the other language in practically not required for traveller etc.?

In Ukraine, for example, Russian is so widely used that most of the books are in Russian, and in talk-shows people answer the question asked in Ukrainian in Russian. I don't say it's good, but the Russian-speaking traveller would have no communication problems. But this is the former Soviet Union, where knowing Russian was practically a must.

Are there any countries, that were not in Soviet Union, in which the Russian language is so widely used, that one can expect that almost everyone will be able to answer questions in Russian, etc.?

  • 3
    I heard that in Turkey you can get around with only Russian :) Jun 14, 2012 at 8:53

5 Answers 5


Technically, Russian is commonly understood in any country that used to be part of the USSR: Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. This differs from place to place, and in more rural areas the use of their native language was much heavier than that of the official Russian, but generally people born as late as the 80's are bound to understand Russian.

Outside of the former USSR, Russian is understood by older people from countries that used to belong to the Soviet Bloc - Hungary, former Eastern Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, and more so and even by some younger people in those where the the main local language and alphabet is similar to Russian, like Bulgaria, and where there is more trade and interaction with Russians today (near Kaliningrad, on the Black Sea coast, and in Prague and Karlovy Vary). There are parallel dynamics within the former non-aligned bloc of former Yugoslavia - Russian is most understand in Orthodox areas and on the Montenegrin coast.

However, in those places, as in some places within the former USSR, speaking Russian has political symbolism, depending on the exact context, that can be positive or negative.

There are also other favourite destinations of Russian-speaking tourists - places in Egypt, Tunisia, the Emirates and Turkey - where it is possible to visit using only Russian. In some neighbourhoods in Istanbul where many traders organise exports to the former Soviet Union, it is a lingua franca.

Unrelated to this, about a seventh of the population of Israel is made up of Russian-speaking immigrants and their children. You can visit Israel using only a working knowledge of Russian. There are significant Russian-speaking populations in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and many other places around the world, but the tourist infrastructure is not really oriented around Russian speakers in those places.

  • Regarded Germany: On a German wiki page is written that about 6 million people do speak Russian the half of which are from former Soviet Union. That's less than 10% who understand the Russian language, but still enough that I think it is right to mentioned that in your answer. But I wouldn't narrow it down to Eastern Germany, because Russian people do live in all parts of Germany.
    – Em1
    Jun 15, 2012 at 14:00
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    @Em1 I mentioned it because of the Soviet-oriented East Germany state, not so much because of the immigrants. But that too, of course. Jun 15, 2012 at 14:53
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    Former Soviet bloc (note spelling) countries often had Russian given in public schools (and some still may for trade reasons). I had met plenty people from former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria who knew at least some words, and some talked pretty fluently with some mistakes, without once stepping onto Russian soil.
    – theUg
    Jun 26, 2012 at 8:20
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    +1: A great answer but the statement on Russian in Israel is a little strong. You can often use Russian in Israel but not everywhere. Russian speakers are almost entirely the children of immigrants from the former USSR, which means the other 6/7ths would not speak Russian. Having said that, in enclaves such as Rishon LeZion it is definitely possible to get by in everyday life with only Russian. Jul 8, 2012 at 11:43
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    @Vitaly Well, the point was that only a minority speak Russian. The majority are not fluent Russian speakers, so to 'get by perfectly well' you would need to communicate with them via some means. I think to suggest that you could do this solely in Russian is very misleading - would you agree? :) Jul 8, 2012 at 20:50

For what it's worth, Russian language has been established as one of the official languages in the state of New York in 2009. All election documents must be translated into Russian and you can complete your driving license exam without knowing a single word in English.

  • Very interesting, +1. Do you mean New York City? It would be interesting to know the full list of its official languages as well, just for context.
    – rem
    Jun 20, 2012 at 12:01
  • What do you mean by Russian being established as an "official language" for NYC? I don't think any language but English is considered official there for all purposes; if there were an exception it would only be Spanish. At most I think you can expect to find here and there different situations where Russian may be used in public places, but not an overall law. For example, in some parts of NYC (not just around Brighton Beach) the subway ticket machines provide an option to get instructions in Russian, but that's not offered at all machines throughout the system.
    – KCd
    Jul 5, 2012 at 2:46
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    KCd: Please follow the link the in my answer. New York is also listed under Государства, где русский язык имеет официальный статус at ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Jul 5, 2012 at 10:19
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    Those links say that in New York State a city needs to provide election materials in Russian when it has a population of at least a million people. The only such city is New York City, so Russian is really not an official language for the state of New York. By the way, a link to the driver's license languages in New York state is nysdmv.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/9.
    – KCd
    Jul 7, 2012 at 21:57

Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union (I was born in Ukraine). Also, it's quite a unique place in that the Eastern part is very much Russian-oriented, while the Western-part is much more nationalistic. While it's not uncommon at all to meet people in Kharkiv that don't even speak Ukrainian, it's not uncommon at all to meet people in Uzhgorod that don't speak Russian.

As for the main question, you can easily get away with only Russian in certain parts of Turkey, especially the sea resorts, especially Black Sea resorts, but not everywhere. Same with Egypt: Russian will be just fine in the resorts but not in rural area half-way between Aswan and Luxor (trust me, I've been there). You may easily be able to get away with only Russian in Bulgaria, because Bulgarian language is very similar to Russian (both written and spoken).

Other than that, in almost any country you will find concentrated Russian-speaking communities where Russian will be more than enough, for example, the (in)famouse Brighton Beach in New York, or Coolidge Corner in Boston. However on a more global scale you'd be hard pressed if Russian where all you knew.

  • Actually if you read carefully, the OP did say Ukraine was former Soviet but used it as an example he was familiar with rather than an example of a non former Soviet country. Jun 14, 2012 at 9:24
  • Fair enough. That wasn't my main point, anyway :)
    – Aleks G
    Jun 14, 2012 at 9:26

About a tenth of total population of Israel can speak Russian, especially in East Jerusalem and other disputed territories where Israeli government settles the new immigrants. In some shops and supermarkets the staff is required to know Russian.

Russian is also widespead in many Arab countries, especially, Egypt and Syria but also Jordan and the Palestine territories. Several factors had contributed to this: the cooperation with the Soviet Union, the Soviet staff and advisers to these countries, the fact that many of the specialists of those countries were studying in Soviet universities.

Also many Russian women dream of a marriage with an Arab man. Only in Syria there are up to 10000 Russian women married local men (with about a total of 30000 Russian citizens living in the country not counting the staff of the Russian naval base in Tartus). The number possibly as high in Egypt. In Jordan and the Palestinian territories the number is also high.

Other women go for sex tourism for which the preferred destinations are again Egypt and Turkey.

In general in many other tourist destinations you will be able to encounter services or other tourists speaking in Russian. It is quite common in Thailand for the staff of hotels and restaurants speak Russian and provide a Russian menu.

  • Sources, sources, sources. Where are they?
    – theUg
    Jan 12, 2013 at 5:57
  • @theUg for what part?
    – Anixx
    Jan 12, 2013 at 6:07
  • Any of them. For instance, define widespread in Arab countries? I am aware of extensive trade and military relations, but for me widespread means I can go to the corner market or, I don’t know, a shisha café, and get by.
    – theUg
    Jan 12, 2013 at 6:31
  • @theUg gramota.ru/lenta/news/world/8_2393 "В Египте сегодня не менее 16 тысяч выпускников советских и российских вузов и более 30 тысяч выпускников советских военных учебных заведений. В Египте относительно большая диаспора русскоговорящих, основу которой составляют женщины из России, стран СНГ, вышедших замуж и проживающих постоянно в Египте. Самая большая диаспора в Хургаде. В настоящее время русский язык более всего востребован в туризме."
    – Anixx
    Jan 12, 2013 at 6:41
  • @theUg "Востребованность в русском языке большая, несмотря на то, что поток туристов снизился в 2009 году на 10-12 %, количество желающих изучать русский язык не уменьшилось. Показателем востребованности русского языка является также постоянное появление «серых» курсов русского языка"
    – Anixx
    Jan 12, 2013 at 6:42

To answer the question exactly: the only country outside of the former Soviet Union where you can simply ask almost anybody a question in Russian is Bulgaria. (The answer, however, will probably not be in perfect Russian.) In Serbia, Montenegro, Republika Srpska and Macedonia there is also some hope. (This is because the language and alphabet are similar, and politically the connotations are not too negative.)

In all the other cases outside of the former Soviet Union, we cannot speak of general knowledge across the country, and certainly it will be less than in those cases. In terms of similarity of language, the other Slavic countries can compete, but there, as in Hungary or Romania, there is also non-nil risk of a negative reaction.

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