Why Is Russia So Bleak? (11 Reasons Why)

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Morgan Stephens

Morgan Stephens has been to 43 countries and counting, and he's never content to stay in one place for too long. Right now, he's living in South Korea, but he's always on the lookout for his next adventure.

Many people regard Russia as bleak, and to an extent, it’s very accurate. Just like anything else, there are exceptions to the rule, but when that rule is “Russia is bleak,” you can imagine there’s also a lot of truth to it.

The most common images of Russia are usually the colorful buildings of the Kremlin in Moscow, but when you look at Russia as a whole, cities like Moscow are only tiny dots on a big, bleak map. Here are more reasons why Russia’s bleak.

Why Is Russia So Bleak?

1. It’s A Relatively Flat Tundra

With a few regional exceptions, Russia is essentially an enormous, flat tundra. While it’s not always cold and contrary to common belief, the country has actual seasons, which is a significant factor contributing to its bleak nature.

One of the longest railways in the world runs across a large portion of the Siberian tundra, and that is as flat and bleak as you can ever imagine a place to be. Unending flat, gray stretches of land where the tallest thing around is the grass.

When most people think of Russia, this is the most common image that comes to mind. Some bustling cities are few and far between, leading to a massive expanse of land that locals can do with very little.

2. Russians Don’t Use Fake Smiles

People often think of the Russian people as gruff, depressed, and largely unsmiling. While the unsmiling part may be true, there is a reason. Russians don’t use fake smiles, and that concept may be hard to swallow for Americans.

Americans have taken fake smiling to a previously unheard-of level. We smile at work talking to a boss we hate, we smile when we’re being inconvenienced to an incredible degree by an officer pulling us over; it’s in our nature.

Russians generally will not smile if they are not actively engaged in being happy. This doesn’t mean the whole country needs antidepressants, and it just means that if you see a Russian smile, you know they’re honestly delighted.

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3. Soviet-Era Construction Is Common

When people picture the bleakness of Russia, one of the things they often picture is giant, gray housing blocks with gray factories pumping out gray smoke just next door. This image can be seen all over the country, in many cities.

In many cases, this isn’t a reflection of modern Russia; it is merely the leftovers from soviet-era construction and city planning. Cities like Chelyabinsk perfectly illustrate this, and while this reflects an older Russia, it’s still common.

There isn’t a lot of investment going into Russian cities other than the hub of Moscow, which means outlying cities still languish in their soviet communist-era housing blocks, dilapidated houses, and aging factories.

4. Poverty

Just as there isn’t a lot of investment in Russian cities, there isn’t a lot of investment in the Russian population as a whole. Russian people are subjected mainly to the poverty that comes from Russian oligarchs hoarding money.

Large cities like Saint Petersburg and Moscow can give you a glimpse of what Russia could be if there weren’t so many billionaires hoarding money they’ll never be able to use, but that isn’t the case, and the Russian citizens are poorer for it.

Even larger cities, cities with a population of a million or more, are subjected to this intense poverty. Pictures of homes in Voronezh may look like abandoned places, but they are inhabited and frequently bleak and miserable.

5. There’s A Lot Of Gray

One of the side effects of the architecture being primarily Soviet and Cold War-era leftovers is the neverending stream of gray that Americans are subjected to. This could come as a shock if you were expecting a lot of Moscow color.

We’re used to everything being colorful, enticing, and attractive in America. This is frequently a result of advertising designed to separate you from your money, and there is a staggering lack of this in Russia because most people are poor.

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This poverty has resulted in very little in the way of colorful retail establishments, billboards, and other things commonly associated with the “decadence” of capitalism.

6. Rebellion Is Uncommon

Rebellion Is Uncommon

One of the most significant ways that Russian people seem to have a bleaker existence than “westerners” is that they have been conditioned to be highly obedient. They submit pretty quickly to those with any sort of power, be it political or military.

This stems from the Russian history of being subjected to the authority and power of Tzars, Emporers, and their currently “elected” President. This power has had religious roots throughout history, much like the UK.

7. Indifference Of The People

Russia often seems bleak to those on the outside looking in because of the incredible indifference of the people. Russians have become indifferent over the years because corruption is common while nearly everything is illegal.

This corruption comes from money, and those who have it, generally don’t need to follow the same laws because they can just buy their way out of the repercussions.

The President, judges, police, and anyone else with authority are commonly corrupt. Because of this, Russians feel that they are expendable and have no desire to effect positive change in their own country.

8. Overlegislation

Everything is illegal in Russia. Well, not everything, but most things. So many laws govern every tiny aspect of the average Russian’s life that they simply stop caring about most things.

This is reflected in the dilapidated appearance of nearly everywhere that ordinary people live. Broken lights, graffiti, and more are rampant, and the overlegislation is often seen as a co-occurring disorder with indifference.

9. Bleak Religious Hegemony

There is an overarching religion in Russia that gives the country a very bleak feel, as one of the only things the typical person has to look forward to is death. The orthodox religious officials also contribute to significant misinformation.

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Religion in Russia is commonly seen as denying things like science and claiming that common diseases come from stress, the environment, or even from life-saving vaccines. Even the military has mobile churches that can be deployed in battle.

10. Fatalism

Countless Russians subscribe to a philosophy of “it’s not our fault; that’s just how it is.” Often this manifests as thought processes like no crime is big enough to cause protests, and laws just aren’t important enough to follow.

This concept of fate has been a focal point of Russian philosophy for many years and is even at the center of some of the great Russian literature throughout history.

11. Educational Delusion

Even though Russians claim to have top-tier education, quite the opposite is true. There are countless “Russian” Nobel winners who live out of the country and are “claimed” by Russia.

Russia consistently claims that it has world-class education, yet credentials from Russian universities are often considered worthless on the world stage.

To learn more, you can also read our posts on why Antarctica is guarded, why Ottawa is boring, and why New York is so dirty.


There you have it, 11 of the biggest reasons that Russia is bleak. Many of these reasons aren’t things that make Russians feel like their homeland is bleak; they simply reflect how Americans see life and how we see Russia through that lens.

Even though we may consider Russia to be incredibly bleak overall, there are still some beautiful places, wonderful people, and unforgettable experiences to be had if you choose to travel there.


  • Morgan Stephens

    Morgan Stephens has been to 43 countries and counting, and he's never content to stay in one place for too long. Right now, he's living in South Korea, but he's always on the lookout for his next adventure.

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