Russia is a multinational state, in which more than 190 nationalities live peacefully together. During the time of the USSR, it was necessary to indicate your nationality for the government to register the number of nationalities. Nowadays mentioning your nationality is optional. It is no longer in the Russian passport. For this reason, there are no longer exact numbers of how many nationalities live in Russia. According to the constitution, the official language is Russian. Republics have the right to establish their own language in addition to Russian. For example, in the Republic of Tatarstan, the second official language is Tatar. Most of the ethnic groups speak Russian in addition to their own national language. Moreover, national languages are taught in schools.
The Russian constitution recognises equality at the heart of this multinational picture: "We, the multinational people of the Russian Federation, united by a common fate in our land, establishing human rights and freedoms…"; that is how the preamble to the constitution begins. According to the first paragraph of Article 3, the multinational people are the bearers of sovereignty and the source of power in Russia.
Geneticists classify the nationalities of Russia into 3 distinct characteristics:
● Northern Europeans with light hair and eyes, straight nose; represented by Russians.
● Southern Europeans with dark hair and eyes, represented by nations from the Caucasus.
● East Asians with stiff dark hair, small nose, represented by Yakuts and nations from the Far East.
Of course, these features get mixed; for example, among the Tatars and Bashkirs, it is very easy to find representatives of all three of these types.
Only seven nations have a population of more than one million: Russians, Tatars, Ukrainians, Bashkirs, Chuvash, Chechens, and Armenians. The largest proportion of the population in Russia are Russians (more than 80%), the others are Tatars (3.9%), Ukrainians (1.4%), Bashkirs (1.2%), Chechens (1.04%), Belarusians (0.8%), Mordvins (0.7%), Armenians (0.4%) and others.
Tatars are the second largest nationality in Russia, living in the Volga region in the central part of Russia. They form one of the biggest groups of Sunni Muslims. Their native language is Tatar, which belongs to the Turkic languages. In the Republic of Tatarstan, the Tatar language is the second official language after Russian.
Ukrainians form 1.4% of the population. Most live in big cities. The extensive settlement of Ukrainians started during the Russian Empire. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Cossacks and archers began to move from Ukraine to Siberia and the Far East to live in urban settlements.
In fourth place are Bashkirs. They represent an indigenous Turkic population. Their religion is Islam. Until the end of the 19th century they led semi-nomadic lives, but gradually settled and learnt to farm. Agriculture plays a significant role for Bashkirs as well as bee-keeping and cattle-raising.
Chuvash, another Turkic nation, are claimed to be descended from the Bolgars, who emigrated from Central Asia to the Volga region. However, their language does not belong to the Turkic languages. Most of them are Russian Orthodox.
Chechens live in the Caucasus. They are Muslim, and their language belongs to the Nakh group. They are famous for their hospitality towards their guests, no matter what nationality or religion they may have.
Yakuts, or as they name themselves, Sakha, is a nation originating in the east. They are indigenous people of northwest Siberia. The weather in winter is extremely cold, and temperatures can drop below -60 °C. Many Yakuts have in recent generations lost their beliefs in Shamanism, but it has not fully vanished as many still believe in supernatural powers. Some Yakuts have converted to the Russian Orthodox religion.
Chukchi are an ancient Arctic people, who live at the eastern tip of the country. The climate is very severe in this remote place. Their religion is best described as a form of shamanism. They believe that nature and animals have their own spirits. Chukchi continue to preserve the traditions and customs of their ancestors. Traditionally Chukchi who live on the coast use dog sleds for transportation, while others use sleds pulled by reindeer. Their activities are fishing, hunting sea mammals, and gathering firewood.
Buryats live in the south and east of Lake Baikal. They are concentrated in and around the Republic’s capital city of Ulan-Ude. Their language is close to that of Mongolian and is spoken at homes and taught in schools. The Buryat language is classified by UNESCO as an endangered language. They are famous for their arts, in metalwork and jewellery-making, fishing, leather crafts and wooden sculptures. Traditionally their society has been organised around clans.
The ethnic composition of the Russian Federation paints a vivid picture. All ethnic groups differ in origin, language, culture, custom, and traditions, most of them indigenous people. And then there are peoples whose motherland include other countries like the Ukrainians and Armenians. Ethnic Russians are the largest group of the population, living in different parts of Russia from the north to south, from east to west. Beside large groups of more than a million people, there are also a number of very small nationalities that can amount to several hundred, even several individuals. Living so near each other, nations are always integrating, but most try to preserve their origins by maintaining their unique culture, language, clothes, folklore, and national cuisine.