Some people find it surprising to learn that I am Russian. “You just don’t look like somebody from Russia” – they say. It doesn’t offend me but it does make me want to say something like: “What do you know about Russians?” I don’t ever say that, instead I usually mumble something along the lines of: “Oh, I um…um…OK.” So, this post is my official opportunity to explain what a Russian person might look like.
First of all, the term Russian in itself is misleading to a lot of foreigners. What somebody from the former USSR associates with the term Russian and what somebody from the USA associates with the term Russian are two different things. People who were raised in and around the former USSR understand all the subtleties and complexities of the term Russian. I will try to address some of these subtleties and complexities in this post.
Let’s take the term American as an analogy. The term in its current interpretation implies someone who is either a Native American or is a citizen of the USA, whose roots can go back to anywhere in the world: Ireland, Germany, Mexico, Portugal, etc. The term Russian in its current interpretation is somewhat similar: it means that someone is either of Russian origin (their ancestors were Russian, at least to some degree) or that they are a Russian citizen whose origin can go back to any one of the former Soviet Republics or to one of the many lands that are or were owned by Russia. I would dare say that pure Russians would be extremely hard to find these days due to the sheer number of peoples that coexisted on Russian lands for many years. Despite the fact that some of them desperately try to preserve the purity of their people, migrations and mixed marriages did and do exist, perpetuating further mixing of the bloods. Each and every one of the former Soviet Republics represents a people with distinct physical features and cultural heritage. For example, peoples from the Caucasus region, such as Armenians and Georgians, typically have dark curly or wavy hair, dark brown eyes, olive skin, and more prominent noses; on the other hand, the Byelorussian people tend to have light hair, blue eyes, fair skin; the people of Udmurt Republic (which is a part of Russia) typically have red hair, a lot of freckles, and wider shoulders. I can go on and on about other peoples and nationalities that are or were a part of Russia at one time or another but my point is that all these people were and still are shaping the way an average Russian looks today. Let’s briefly look at my family tree. My grandparents on my mother’s side are from Zaporozhia (currently Ukraine, part of former USSR), they moved to Orenburg, Russia when they were young; they have dark hair and brown eyes. My grandmother on my father’s side was born in Russia from a German family who were a part of the German settlement; she had blond hair and blue eyes; my dad’s dad originates from a family of Don Cossacks; he has dark hair and brown eyes, they both met in Orenburg when they were young. …Eventually my mom and dad (who both have dark hair, light green eyes, and pale skin) had me. I have dark hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. Orenburg has a fair amount of Asian people from Kazakhstan because it is right on the border. Had my mom married a person from Kazakhstan, I would have been half-Asian, but… still Russian.
The bottom line here is this:
-Russia is still a very big country that houses more than one people
-In the not so distant past Russia was an even bigger country that housed even more peoples who migrated and mixed all the time
-You can become Russian in 2 ways: by being born in Russia or by moving to Russia and acquiring Russian citizenship.
-After the collapse of the USSR, some people chose to emphasize their origin (they say they are Armenian because they are of Armenian descent, even if their passport says Russian), while other people chose to emphasize their citizenship (they say they are Russian because that is what their passport says even if they are of Kazakh or Turkmen descend, which means they belong to the Asian race).