Russia

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Climate

How cold do you think Russia can get?

The Russian winter certainly guarantees plenty of snow and frost… but not everywhere. And it doesn’t last forever. Russia’s climate varies dramatically, from the deep Arctic chill of the far north to the searing desert heat of some inland areas further south. Yet, throughout much of the country there are only two distinct seasons – winter and summer. Spring and autumn are only brief spells of change in between. [pic]Russian winter (photo by Irina Vasilevitskaya)

Winters in Russia’s European part are nothing like as terrifying as many myths have it. In Moscow and St. Petersburg the first snow usually falls in late November and stays till early April. The average winter temperature is about -10°C. Colder snaps are not uncommon, but winter chills are compensated for by splendid summers. St. Petersburg usually enjoys 20-25°C and Moscow often swelters in highs of 35-37°C.

Down south, Russia's vast steppe is hot and dry. Winters are short but cold. In the city of Volgograd, the weather starts flirting with freezing point as early as November. But the Black Sea resort of Sochi makes up for the rest of the country with a sizzling 35°C between June and August – no wonder it is Russia’s top summer holiday spot.

On the other side of the Ural Mountains, Siberia – contrary to its popular image – isn’t the land of eternal ice. It does have a summer – actually quite a warm and pleasant one, with temperatures climbing to 20°C and higher. The weather is rather wet though, so there are mosquitoes. But, true to form, winters are severe. A deadly -50°C is not unheard of. This bone-chilling cold produces the so-called “whisper of the stars”. As you breathe out, water vapor turns into tiny icicles that fall down with a melodic tinkle.

In the Far East, inland areas can get very hot with a tropical 40°C. Coastal regions are much cooler and wetter. Winter is normally milder than in Siberia. The port of Vladivostok sees a typical -13°C in January. And if you think that’s cold – stay away from the village of Oymyakon in north-eastern Siberia. With the lowest recorded temperature of -71.2°C, it’s the world’s coldest inhabited place.

Basic facts about Russia: Language

Russian alphabet — Cyrillic

A tongue of harsh accents, alien alphabet and a reputation as being hard to crack…

Russian may be all that and more but it’s certainly not the only language spoken in Russia. About 100 others are used across the country. But you don’t need to know all of them – Russian is official throughout the nation, although there are various co-official languages in different regions. [pic]Participants wearing Russian national costumes (photo by Alexey Bondarenko)

Russian belongs to the Indo-European family, which ties it to Greek and Latin. Its closest spoken relatives are Ukrainian and Belarusian. Over the centuries, its vocabu lary and style have been influenced by German, French and English. Modern Russian also includes a large number of international political, technological and scientific terms.

Until the 1917 revolution, Russian was the only official language of the Russian Empire. In the  Soviet Union, it enjoyed a privileged and unifying status. After the fall of the USSR, most ex-members reverted to their native tongues, with only Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan keeping Russian as an official language alongside their own.

The USSR’s superpower status guaranteed Russian worldwide prestige. It was taught in the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe but after the Warsaw Pact collapsed, the language was dropped as a must-have on school programmes. Still, it remains one of the official languages of the United Nations, and is widely used across the former Soviet Union. Fed by several waves of immigrants since the beginning of the 20th century, large Russian-speaking communities, each with its own flavour of language, exist in Israel, Germany and Turkey. In the US,...
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