Russian Language Blog

Russia – the Land of the Crocodiles Posted by on Jul 8, 2013 in Culture

You might already know that Россия – родина слонов (Russia is the home of elephants). But did you know that крокодилы (crocodiles) are also very popular in Russia? Don’t believe me? Back in 1582 Russian летописцы (chroniclers) mentioned an appearance of crocodiles near the city of Pskov. But that’s all ancient history. It’s time to meet Russia’s three best-known crocodiles.

Крокодил Гена – Gena, the gentle Crocodile

Arguably, the most famous of Russian crocodiles is the friendly, gentle and highly melancholic Gena the Crocodile. Some might say that he’s a Robin to Cheburashka’s Batman, or  a Chewbacca to Che’s Han Solo, in short – just вторая скрипка (a sidekick). That’s полная чепуха (total nonsense)! So get to know Gena a bit better, in other words, watch this entire cartoon (with English subtitles), and you’ll get to know the real Gena, the croc that

– wears a hat and a coat and walks on two feet

– smokes a pipe a la Sherlock Holmes

– works full-time at a zoo where his профессия (occupation) is crocodile

– his hobbies include чтение газет (reading newspapers), playing accordion and helping others

– his birthday song, better known by its opening line Пусть бегут неуклюже пешеходы по лужам (Let them run clumsily over the rain puddles), has been a birthday hit since it came out in 1969. Even adults know that к сожаленью день рожденья только раз в году (unfortunately, a birthday comes only once a year)

– has several памятники (monuments) in his honor (although that’s not something mentioned in the cartoon)

Безымянный крокодил Чуковского – Chukovsky’s nameless hero (or villain)

Russian Dr. Seuss, Корней Иванович Чуковский (Korney Ivanovich Chukovsky) frequently mentioned crocodiles in his work. Yet he never named them. Which is convenient because we can think of them as one character who

– is married with children. Even though the wife also remains nameless, the kids names are Тотоша, Кокоша and Лелёша

– loves leisure walks around St. Petersburg

– speaks Turkish

– loves to eat галоши (a kind of rubber overshoes or crocs) like the ones in the poster above

– also loves to eat sponges, small dogs, small children, evil guys, good guys, and the Sun

– has been deported to his native Nile at least once for eating some of the above

– is a friend of доктор Айболит, a pediatrician/veterinarian/doctor-without-borders whose name can be translated as Dr. Ouch, and Мойдодыр, a talking vanity with a “cleanliness is godliness” agenda whose name translates as Scrub-until-holes-appear

– had several памятники in his honor. While none survive to this day, they were featured in at least 3 blockbuster movies.

Журнал Крокодил – The only croc that bit… with satire

It’s amazing how this едкий юмор (caustic humor) of 30+ years ago is still amazingly relevant (with some minor adjustments). The caption reads “Sergeant, beat the main articles of our Constitution into the heads of the protesters” and the batons have words “freedom of the press”, “freedom of speech”, “freedom of assembly”, etc on them.

This particular crocodile is not even an animal. Instead, it’s журнал (a magazine) that began its life in 1922. It sputtered out of existence sometime in 2006-2008. In its heyday, it was one of the most popular print publications. Works of quite a few famous writers, poets and caricaturists were printed in this magazine over the years. If you are interested, you can find most of the архив (archive) online. Some of the old caricatures continue to be злободневный (topical, current) even today.


Here, a surgeon asks a nurse about the condition of the patient. In Russian the word состояние means both “condition” and “fortune”. The nurse replies that the patient’s wealth is two million dollars. To which the surgeon says “then we may begin.”

What other famous crocodiles and alligators can you think of?

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  1. Khuzama:

    спасибо, i enjoyed this post so much :), i like gina the crocodile( birthday song & blue wagon), also medvid in ( masha & medvid cartoon ) .. so cute :))))

    • yelena:

      @Khuzama I’m glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 Oh, I love Маша и Медведь (Masha and Medved’) cartoons. I think it’s cute, funny and smart.