A Whole Lot of Nothing: Sayings with Ничего in Russian

Posted on 29. Jun, 2015 by in Russian for beginners

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Ничего́ (nothing) one of these seemingly basic words that you learn in the first months of learning Russian. However, it is also one that appears in a number of idioms and expressions that are not immediately obvious to the learner.

1. Ничего for doing well

Ничего is a popular response to the question “Как дела́?” It is a neutral answer, roughly equivalent to “alright.” Another answer with a similar meaning is “Норма́льно” or “Потихо́ньку.”

2. Ничего (стра́шного) for no worries

Ничего can also be a response to “Извини́те” (I’m sorry) or any other apology or explanation.

– Я забы́л поли́ть цветы́ (I forgot to water the flowers).

– Ничего́ стра́шного (That’s OK).

3. Ничего́ себе! for surprise

Ничего себе is used to express surprise or amazement. Many people oppose what they see as unjustified use of borrowed interjections like “ва́у” (wow) and prefer to use expressions like ничего себе or у́х ты!

– У мое́й ба́бушки бы́ло пя́теро дете́й (My grandma had five children).

– Ничего себе! (Oh wow!)

Ни фига́ себе is a colloquial and some would say vulgar variant of this phrase. There are many other similar expressions, some quite vulgar, that follow the same syntactic pattern and convey amazement.

4. Ничего for approval

Ничего can also mean that something or someone is alright or cool. “А до́мик у них ничего” (Their house is not too shabby). When used about a person, this usually refers to their looks. “А сосе́дка-то вполне́ ничего́” (Our neighbor is quite alright).

5. Ничего не поделаешь for acceptance

Ничего́ не поде́лаешь is used to express resignation and acceptance of the situation. Literally, the phrase means “there’s nothing we can do.”

Ничего не поделаешь, пришло́сь встре́чать Но́вый год в аэропорту́. – We had no choice but to celebrate the New Year at the airport. [As you may know, New Year’s is the biggest holiday of the year in Russia, and you don’t want to miss out on it.]

Are there any other expressions with ничего you can think of? This seemingly simple word is used in ways that may be unique to Russian and not obvious from its primary meaning, so I hope this post is useful. I would like to finish it with a song that makes extensive use of this word.

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Social Networking in Russia

Posted on 24. Jun, 2015 by in Culture, General reference article, News, Russian life, Russian movies, Soviet Union, The Russian Emotion, video, when in Russia

The age of the “Social Network” is upon us. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others, have popped up over the last ten years or so and dramatically changed our lives. These sites have greatly impacted our lives and they have been responsible for many things such as: increase in narcissistic behavior (i.e. selfies), entertainment, sharing photos and experiences with friends/family, overthrowing governments, and so on. The point is this: social networking is powerful, here to stay, and flourishing everywhere. It is interesting to note that the same social networking sites that flourish in one country may be obsolete in another. This post is about the social networking sites that are popular right now in Russia.

I recently “Googled” which social networking sites are popular in Russia right now and the results were interesting enough to inspire me to write about them. One particularly interesting fact was that Facebook was number four in terms of users per month. I will briefly describe four three most popular sites – you likely already know what Facebook and Twitter so I’ll leave them out.

It is worth mentioning that the data used for this blog came from www.pro-smm.com and slideshare.net

1.VKontakte (VK) is currently the most popular social networking site in Russia with just around 53 million users. VKontakte is the largest social network in Europe and it allows its users to send messages, create groups, share photos/audio/video, and so on. Nearly 25 percent of its members are under the age of 18. The odd resemblance to Facebook makes me wonder about who is really behind this project :-)…


The second most popular site is 2.Odnoklassniki (classmates). This site deals with helping current and former classmates and friends connect with one another. What I found interesting about this site was that you had to be at least seven years old to have an account.


3.Moi Mir (My World) is next on the list. It is run by mail.ru and attracts older people. Like Odnoklassniki, people go there to socialize. Nearly 70 percent of its members are women and over 50 percent are over the age of 45.

Moi Mir

4.Facebook is phenomenal on the world’s stage, however, in Russia it is still climbing to the top. It does well in terms of number of subscribers but not in terms of activity. For that matter, 5.Twitter averages a great deal more posts per month than Facebook – Twitter averages about 12 times more posts per user per month.


Rutube is Russia’s version of Youtube and it is immensely popular. For those learning to speak Russian, you might really enjoy all of the videos on every topic imaginable. You must be able to read a bit to navigate the site but it is well worth it.


Although there are so many social media sites to visit in your own country, it can be fascinating to check out those in another. For those of you that grew up in another country and emigrated, these sites can really help you when you are homesick or just trying to reconnect with people. You might agree that there has never been an easier time to connect with people – the world is getting smaller by the second :-)

Does Learning Russian Endorse Oppression?

Posted on 22. Jun, 2015 by in language, Russian life


I was once talking to a young American teacher, who told me he had started learning Russian but gave it up in protest of LGTB rights violations in Russia. It is, indeed, not hard to be discouraged from learning Russian when Russian governments and people, past and present, commit offenses against principles one holds dear.

However, is Russian (or any language, for that matter) solely the language of the oppressor? Does learning it mean the learner endorses the oppression? I will leave these questions here for our readers to ponder. For most causes involving Russian-speaking perpetrators, there is also a Russian-speaking champion of the oppressed. By learning Russian (or any other “implicated” language), we can hope to gain access to the cause and support the champion.

Foreign Intervention

Prague architectureOne can come up with many examples of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, or present-day Russia meddling in the affairs of other nations. One such example is the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968. The intervention was justified by the Soviet government as fending off NATO influence, but was likely triggered by the liberal reforms in Czechoslovakia. In the words of a Soviet official:

Трудно было представить, что у наших границ появится буржуазная парламентская республика (!), наводненная немцами ФРГ, а вслед за ними американцами. [It was hard to imagine having a bourgeois parliamentary republic next to our border, filled with Germans from West Germany and, later, Americans.]

However, not everyone in the USSR shared this outlook. On August 25, 1968, 7 people went to Red Square in Moscow to protest the invasion. They were arrested and most of them received prison sentences or were involuntarily committed to mental institutions. One of the protesters, Larisa Bogoraz, offered this motivation for the protest in her last plea (последнее слово) in court:

Я оказалась перед выбором: протестовать или промолчать. Для меня промолчать — значило присоединиться к одобрению действий, которых я не одобряю. Промолчать — значило для меня солгать. Я не считаю свой образ действий единственно правильным, но для меня это было единственно возможным решением. [I was faced with a choice — to protest or stay silent. For me, staying silent meant expressing approval for actions I do not approve. Staying silent meant lying. I don’t consider my decision the only way to go, but that was the only way for me.]

LGBT Rights

Another factor contributing to Russia’s poor human rights record is cracking down on the LGBT community. Requests to hold a pride march are routinely denied and people coming to the marches are assaulted by protesters and often arrested by the police. While homosexuality is legally shielded from persecution, Russia has recently passed a law supposed to protect (“protect”?) minors from “LGBT propaganda.”

One of the more infamous Russian politicians, member of the St. Petersburg legislature Vitaly Milonov said:

…обеспокоенность тем, что нельзя будет подкатывать к восемнадцатилетним, и вызывает эту волну протеста у гей-активистов, я могу предположить” [“I suppose this wave of protesting by gay activists was unleashed by their concern they won’t be allowed to hit on 18-year-olds anymore”].

two young womenWhile Russian society as a whole is becoming increasingly intolerant towards LGBT people, this cause is not without its champions. Lena Klimova started a project called Childen-404 (Дети-404), which shares stories of LGBT teenagers and their struggles. She has been fined under the new law. Here is her take on why this law hurts LGBT youth:

Психологи сейчас, по сути, из-за недавнего закона ходят по грани. Они помогают ребятам, говоря им: вы нормальные. С вами всё в порядке. Это не беда, не болезнь, не грех, не порок, просто так бывает. Сейчас любого психолога, к которому обратится ЛГБТ-подросток, можно будет осудить за «пропаганду гомосексуализма». И это страшно. Закон запрещает помогать и говорить правду. [Psychologists are essentially walking a thin line because of the recent legislation. They are helping kids, telling them, “You’re normal. You’re fine. This is not a catastrophe, disease, sin, or vice; it simply happens.” Today any psychologist counseling an LGBT teen can be convicted for “homosexual propaganda.” And that is scary. This law forbids helping and telling the truth.]

These are just two examples of human rights abuses associated with Russia. I’m sure we can come up with others — for Russia or for other countries. What do you think? Would or did you quit a language out of protest of a country’s policies? Did you learn a language to support an oppressed group?