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  • Yelena McCafferty

Are you Russian?

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

If you asked an English person living in Britain what his nationality was, he would most likely say: “British”. His mother may be from Wales and father may have some other ethnic origin, but to most Britons nationality is equal to citizenship, it’s about the country they hold a passport of.

Not so for Russians, which is evident from official documents we translate: in birth certificates, marriage certificates and the like there are two separate lines. One line is for citizenship (гражданство) which most people in the West will understand as nationality. The second line is for ethnicity (национальность) which may potentially be a false friend of translators as it’s pronounced natsionalnost’.

To add to the confusion, even if you are Russian by ethnicity and citizenship, in the Russian language we use different words to denote this “Russianness”: русский – for Russian by ethnicity, and российский – refers to people who are citizens of Russia, but may be Belarusian, Jewish or Tatar or anything else by ethnic origin.

Another intricacy we have to bear in mind as translators is with the word Caucasian. To Westerners, Caucasian means White European, but not to Russians: Russians understand Caucasian (Кавказский) to be from the Caucasus.

What often strikes foreigners about Russian ID documents is there are two types of Russian passport, one is for internal use which you have to hold from the age of 14 and the other one is for international travel, which was not too common before the collapse of the Soviet Union when the borders were effectively closed so not much foreign travel was taking place. The two passports have different categories of information; the internal one includes data such as place of registration, any under-aged children, marital status along with the identification information and photograph. An international passport, on the other hand, is in two languages: Russian and English and its contents are very much in line with standard passports of other countries.

Still confused? After a few years of living in Russia, it slowly starts making sense if you can grasp the logic!

Internal Russian passport is in one language only.

Internal Russian Passport

[Tip: If you are looking for a Russian translator, call us on 0207 0436940 or email]



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