Should Black people travel to Russia?

Should people of color or black people go to Russia? The question was originally published as a blog post on the website Moscowthroughbrowneyes of a graduate student living in Moscow in 2009.

Because there is 'yes' and a 'no' answer I will post them both. And because Russia is a 'special' destination for black (and Asian) people I will also add a few links.

Should you go?


Says the blogger of Moscow Through Brown Eyes

A reader wrote to me:
I’m leaving this comment because since you have lived in Russia and know much more about what’s going on there than I do, I was wondering if you could answer a question for me. I was wondering, do you think it would even be smart at this point for a Black student to go to Russia to study? I was planning on going there after the summer for a year-long study abroad program but after hearing about all the racism I’m thinking that it might not be the right thing to do. Did you have a lot of close calls when you were over there?

This is a painful question for me.

On the one hand, I have had amazing experiences in Russia and I have been indelibly marked by the time I have spent with Russian history, literature and contemporary society. I can’t imagine my sense of the world outside of my interactions with Russia.

On the other hand, I simply don’t know if I can, in good conscience, advise people of Asian or African descent to travel to Russia in light of the continuing problem of racist violence.

In the past ten days, there have been attacks on Bangladeshi and Chinese students in Moscow, in addition to the earlier assaults this year on citizens of Cameroon and Vietnam. Last December, a nineteen-year-old African American was stabbed multiple times in Volgograd on his way home from the gym.

While these are certainly the most extreme types of violence, interviews with African students also reveal pervasive everyday racism in Russian society. If you travel to Russia, you are, quite frankly, playing a numbers game with your life and your well-being.

Read the full story at and read the comments and other postings.

Note: It's very good blog, but there is a risk you will stop reading and decide you will never set one foot in Russia.


Says Jonathan Fianu in Russia Beyond the Headlines

Recently, a reader of my blog wrote me an email asking what life was like on the ground for a black person in Russia, and if there was any truth to some of the stories about rampant racism she had heard in the United States.

Her son had studied Russian and was very interested in visiting Russia, but she was concerned about these issues. I knew that the issue was important; after all, it is normally the first question that pops into people's head when they hear that I work in Russia. But usually they ask something else. This particular question is generally left unspoken, or rather unasked. I know people are thinking about it, and I know people want to ask me, but they rarely do so.

In my experience, Russians are some of the most welcoming and accepting people around. As a black person in Russia, I have not only gone about my business unaffected, I have been embraced, welcomed and treated exceptionally well—even on par with being a celebrity in the smaller towns. Many people do not know this, but African students have been coming to study in Russia for decades. In fact, there is one in Chistopol, where I live. One day I was speaking to one of the directors in the local Vostok watch factory and he affectionately told me how he sold watches to this gentleman, who was training to be a doctor, and how he has been accepted.

Prime Minster Vladimir Putin touched on stereotypes about Russia in his speech in Zurich after his country won right to host the 2018 World Cup. He said something to the effect that there are still a large number of Soviet-era stereotypes prevalent in the minds of people in the West, and once these people have the opportunity to visit Russia, they will see Russia for what it is: a welcoming country that is continually modernizing. Read the full story at Russia Beyond the Headlines

Blogs and websites

The blog of a American graduate student, who worked in Russia for a one year. A top blog with a lot of links.

The blog of Afro-Russian blogger Sholademi (Russian)

The Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy, and English-speaking Christian congregation in Moscow

Some links to news articles in the Mocow times

The recent riots offered yet more proof that Russia still has not come to terms with what or who it is – a debate that has been simmering since the country’s foundation.
Link:Riots highlight need for Russia to define itself

I was sitting in the locker room at my local fitness club in Moscow on November 5, 2008, when a fellow sweat-producer remarked casually to a recent iron-pumper, "How about that American election, eh? Did they run out of white people over there or what?"
Link:Resetting race

The country's Africans know that the capital is no place to let your guard down.
"I knew folks who lost their lives," said Nigerian-born JK Samson. "Attacks, fights, even in the lecture room and with lecturers, just name it."
Link:Moscow’s mean streets


Video: 'The multinational heritage of Russia and all Russians'. An interesting video to get an idea about Russia's diverse population.

Afro-Europe postings

My series of postings about Russia has come to an end, at least for now. Below the postings I wrote about Russia these two weeks.

Lily Golden, the Russian African-American social activist, has died
Video: Black in Russia - harsh life on the streets in Moscow
Black people in Russia - Yelena Khanga
The challenges of biracial children in Russia 

Update: Should black people travel to the Ukraine?

Ukrainian newspaper depicts Africans and Arabs as monkeys groping woman


  1. Thanks for this timely article, as well as the links. I've been to Russia several times over the years. First as part of a study tour - when it was still the USSR - in 1975 and for the last of several business trips in 2006. I have always been treated very well by my business partners and workshop participants, but know from a friend who's lived and worked there that there definitely is another (brutal) side to the story.

    I personally treasure my experiences in Russia, and would certainly welcome another opportunity to visit the country. But I would be very wary about staying there for a longer period of time based on the most recent reports I've read.

    I do hope, however, that the atmosphere will change there in the foreseeable future, so that more and more people of color can take advantage of seeing this fascinating country first hand and experience its culture and people - safely!

  2. Disturbing. I would think safety in numbers would work.

    1. Not so. I have travelled extensively throughout Europe, both in small groups(motorcycle trips, golf tours) and alone and I can tell you without reservation: in groups of more than two, people of color are viewed as a threat. Travelling alone, one may receive a glance or even a prolonged stare; have a few friends with you, speaking in English or another foreign language and you are immediately seen as a 'gang'.

  3. Hi Trina, thanks for sharing your experience!

  4. I've been to Russia twice actually, first time in the summer, when it was warm, so I visited so many places and cities, Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Novosibirsk etc. it was really nice. But the second time in winter... man that was cold for me.., I was just sitting around in my hotelroom playing slots and these kinds of things cause I just couldn't get out of my place! It was THAT cold hahha :D but for you folks I could advise you to go there during summer time, cause its more pleasant and the temperature is just amazing :) Good luck guys!

  5. Pieter, it’s also very cold in some places in South Africa during the winter. To be honest, because it was cold I never knew that black people actually lived in South Africa.

  6. It’s really unfortunate that there are many places in this world that Black people cannot go. Or better yet feel safe and not have to worry about being attacked. Russia has never been a place that I want to visit only because of the Russian people here in Chicago. They are not friendly at all and they have such bad attitudes. They send too much of their day talking about how they hate Jews. I say this because years ago I worked for a company that was mainly Russian people. And it was just ridiculous how they conducted themselves. And they thought it was fine that they could say so many nasty things about the Jews in front of me. And I said if they are saying this about the Jews just imagine what they were saying about Black people… But I corrected them and taped the conversations…. Because I knew once I made my feelings known they would retaliate. And they did and fired me… But I had my taped conversations…so they had to pay me… Otherwise I would have made sure it was on every news program here in Chicago. I was grateful to have a brother that is an attorney… His advice was golden. Now we understand that all people are not the same. But I would rather visit some place that is more excepting of Black people. Not that they have to like us…but not bother us when we visit. My next trip will be to Amsterdam in February..looking forward to seeing my friends. But not looking forward to all that cold and!

  7. negroamor4u, quite an experience. Thanks for the info! Well it's a very good weather now in The Netherlands, it almost feels like spring!

  8. Afro Europe It's like spring now... the other week it was cold and! Hope it's like that when i come...but i bet it won't be. You know the Bijlmer Project looks nothing like projects here. Or shall i say use to look like much have changed. But it looks like an up and coming area....

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. A lot of the whites from the poor European countries have the worst attitudes and behaviors: Russians, Spaniards, Poles (even though one of my best friends is Polish) and Italians.

    My favorite book is "Crime and Punishment." I love Russian literature and architecture. The place though is too cold for me to want to visit; so, I'll like Russia from a distance.

    I work with two Russian women. One is really, really nice. The other is a total diva. I feel like telling her "Cut the attitude! You can take your butt back to Moscow with your snottiness."

  11. Well, you know what happened to Trotsky. Russians seem to have a problem with Jews.

  12. i am a african american male who has an opportunity to work in russia for three years but after reading some of you guys post about all the hatred and toward african american people i am having second thoughts i would like some feed back whether i should go or not

  13. Anonymous, I only know from Russia what I have heard from others and what I posted on this blog. I know that Moscow can be challenging sometimes for people with a dark skin tone. Even a Spanish waiter got in trouble because of his dark complexion.

    I am going to be honest, when I did a small research for these post on Russia I read many forums and stories about this subject and always the aspect of safety came up. As I said, not only for Black people but also for people from for instance India. The answer was always be careful, especially in Moscow. But as always, it depends in what region, city, or place you are.

    I found an article of Jonathan Fianu, a black investor who travels to Russia. I posted one his stories on the blog, but I found another one which I will add to this post. Fianu feels safe in Moscow during daytime in busy areas, but at the night he travels by cab.

    In his story “Tackling the race question” he answers the question you are having now. He is the one who is positive about visiting Russia. But he didn’t live there for a long period, he only visits Moscow. But If you don't have to work in Moscow things might be different.

    But for an opportunity to work in Russia there are of course other aspects to consider. So if I would be in your place I would mail Afro-Russian blogger Sholademi.

    He is a blogger and a world traveller, and he has put his e-mail address on his website so people can get in contact with him. I am sure he can give you the detailed “on the ground” information you are looking for. Check his blog at

  14. Hi all, i wish to contribute my lot in this discussion about racism. Well, i live in Prague, in the beautiful city of Prague, in the Czech Republic. Though Prague will never be a Russia 2, Though blacks live here in some harmony with the locals, the fact remains that racism is present, here too, towards black people. One would think i am saying some stories here, but this is the pure truth. I loved Prague from day one, as an afro guy, i thought it would be nice to discover this very unknown country, to me, then. They never attacked me, or violenced me in any way, but violence is not the only manner to express hatred and racism (except for this local gang called: 'Skin-heads'), we all would quite agree on that. In the aspect of my work, as a model and actor, i have seen what i call ''soft racism'', here in Prague. You get to a casting agency, you register with them,and you wait on. One day, you get, not a call from your agency(because they never called back to a black guy, of all that i know), but from a kind friend who wishes to show another face of the locals, more open-minded, and tells you look there is this casting coming up soon, would you like to.... Yes. I am interested in it. Fine, this is the contact person, go there on so date, and tell him you're from me. On getting there i tried fleshing out the contact_P, and then i did succeed. Hello...Hello i am from...Yes, i know him. But you see, this production is not really intended for people of colour, because.... Then you have the long suite of lies. You're off. The next time, i went to some other agency, trying to get registered with them too, since it works much better with agencies here, i notice; i came across an ongoing casting for an electronic game project, invited to join the casting by a girl in charge,with a kind of: ''well-what-else-to-do-the-fucker-is-already-here'' attitude, i joined and waited for my turn, my chance. Do this, turn like that, say this , act like that. Never got a call-back, but was informed by the egyptian boy next to me, with whom i became friend, that he, not being extremly white, but not so BLACK also, got a chance and that he was the only of his colour chosen, out of the 8 or 10 people of colour we were. So i did not register anymore, and promised to do that the next day. When going to their office, It was amazing to see how that everyone got so quickly busy with the white candidates for registration, than the black candidate for registration. I waited for 20 minutes, and saw those who came after me, get done, well before i was remembered by the registration officers. The white were taken to the photo studio, with good lighting and all that, i had my shots taken on the corridor, with no light and all that, just as a mere asilum seeker. Maybe so that i do not get selected by the potential movie maker. You get a smile here, as a black, when you are ready to disburse some cash and make a purchase that brings in money to a czech, or when they wish to fee the texture of your skin or hair, if they are seing a black for the very first time. So even go as far as saying that touching a black can bring some luck or fortune to one white czech. These are, but a few experiences i have been through. When i got closer to my fellow blacks, and asked why so? They told me this: The czechs are gamblers, liars, but racists. When they chose a black guy or girl, it means the director is dreaming off having a taste of the guy's manhood, or to sleep with the girl. So afro guys are more estimated for the pleasure they can give in bed, than for the great and enriching contribution of their ethnic diversities. In Prague, 80% of the commercials shown in here, in which blacks appear, and play some lead roles, or visible supporting roles, are shot in other countries. Mainly in the U.S.A or France or other nations, where to be black is not considered as bad or crap. So Russia could be spotted out as one arena of racism, but i think Czech Republic is one of them too. Thank you.

  15. Anonymous

    Thank you very much for your comment. I'm an African American grandmother who, inspite of my many differenced with your situation, still can identify with you. I hope things improve for you and other dark skinned people in your country and in other parts of the world, including in the USA where things have improved since I was your age, but there's still a lot that needs to occur before race has not positive or negative personal valuation and there's no institutional racism.

    Your comment about people touching you for good luck motivated me to write this post on my cultural blog about that subject.

    Thanks for inspiring me to write that post!

    Best wishes to you!

    Racial & Societal Implications Of Touching Black People's & White People's Hair

  16. Visit Russia? No way! This place is not good even if one is white. Russians are not people who can be trusted in general. And even less so if you are a person of colour.

  17. Your blog is awesome, keep up with the writing! Also check out my <a href=">Europe travel blog</a> when you get a chance.

  18. Personally, I had no interest in visiting Russia until I made a good friend out there. So, it became, "Do I let my fear keep me away from a potentially good opportunity? And how can you love to travel and go to all of these places, but not visit someone whom is simply, the bee's knees?"

    And while I am still terrified, I'm going to go. I lucked out because he lives in the Republic of Tatarstan, where Johnny Fianu lives (a million thanks for his perspective! It really made me excited to go!), so I hope that the varied population will be a lot more tolerant than some of the more Wild Wild West parts of Russia (specifically Moscow, which I don't think I could ever muster up the courage to visit).

    I think that as long as black person does their diligent research and their gut agrees with them, it's worth checking out. Although this is one country where I wouldn't bother going without being invited by friends.

  19. Yes, I know I'm a bit late for the party but I would like to add my 2 cents here. It really pains me to see articles that seem to suggest that we, as Black people, have to curtail our lives and movement because of bigots. This is 2015, not 1915. We can't and shouldn't roll backwards into some sort of 'self-segregation' mode. What kind of message does that send out to the world? I think if a person wants to go to Russia, or anyplace else, they should. Fact of the matter is that anyplace can be dangerous. Even one's own hometown. It's time we step out of our comfort zones and get out there. How else will anything change in this world? After all, one can always travel with a tour group if they want to feel safe. As for me, I wouldn't let race, gender or age get in the way. I've always believed that travel is good for social, intellectual and spiritual development. Travel and participating in various cultures is a good way to learn that we are really more similar than different. My only drawback travel-wise is finances and available vacation time. If had the money and vacation time on the job, I'd go to Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe in a heartbeat. Mostly to see the art and architecture and also learn more of the Eastern Orthodox Church of which I am a convert.

  20. There are idiots everywhere in the world but overall Russians are friendly to black people.

  21. Russia is also the best tourist attraction for all the time. Photos you shared in this blog is really looking fantastic and beautiful . Thanks for sharing your experience and photos with us.keep posting like this.

  22. I am from Trinidad and tobago the Caribbean and I went for the world cup and the Russian people were very warm and friendly and asked for pics with us

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