Here is a list of famous Russians, who made a difference in the “world of standards”. Some are good, some are not. But we aren’t angels either, are we? So we think we should know both simply out of interest. We have tried to cover most of areas – art, literature, ballet, cinema, music, science, politics, sports, etc. But there is certainly someone missing. You are welcome to enlarge our famous Russians gallery.
They are all sorted in alphabetical order.
|Akhmatova Anna (1889-1966)
Akhmatova brought to the Russian lyric, according to Osip Mandelstam’s “the wealth of the nineteenth-century Russian novel”. Raised outside St.Petersburg, she married Nikolai Gumilev, organizer of the Guild of poets, in 1910. Her collections of poetry, from Evening (1912) to Anno Domini MCMXXI (1921), noted for their frank delineation of women’s passion, won her great fame. Increasingly denounced after 1923, her work was banned until 1940. The arrest of her son in 1934 prompted her cycle on the Stalinist terror, Requiem (1936), while Poem without a Hero is a 20-year meditation on the suffering of her time.
|Baryshnikov Mikhail (1948- )
Ballet dancer and actor
Born in Riga, Baryshnikov
studied in St. Petersburg and joined Kirov (now Mariinsky) theatre as a soloist in 1960. While on tour as a guest with a group from the Bolshoi in Canada in 1974, Baryshnikov decided to stay in the West, so that he could extend his repertoire to include modern ballets. An incredible virtuoso performer, he joined American Ballet Theatre and soon became its Director. In addition to making his famous version of the Nutcracker
, Baryshnikov has also ventured into acting with roles in The Turning Point and White Nights
|Brezhnev Leonid (1906-1982)
Started the politician career in the Ukraine, then Moldavia until he toppled Khruschev in Moscow in 1964. The grim conservatism of his rule was best exemplified by crushing of the “Prague Spring” in 1968. He proclaimed the right of Soviet intervention in any client state where Communism was threatened. Brezhnev
was for conservative tendencies, no positive reforms during his 18-year ruling period.
Historical fact: According to the protocol there may be only 1 person’s medal or award on a little cushion, carried by an officer during the burial ceremony. At Brezhnev’s one there were 44 (!) officers carrying numerous medals and awards on cushions. He has also been a bearer of thousands of jokes. Here is one of them: At Lenin it was like in a tunnel: it is dark around and the light is ahead. At Stalin it was like in a bus: one is driving, half is seating, half is trembling with fear. At Khruschev it was like in a circus – one is speaking, everybody else is laughing. At Brezhnev – like in a movie – everyone is waiting till the end.
The first man in space, Gagarin
was rocketed into orbit on April 12, 1961, aboard the Vostok I
spacecraft. His famous phrase at the very start “Poehali” (Let’s go) will always be a motto for world pioneers. Unable to steer the spacecraft, he orbited the earth once and after 108 minutes his craft parachuted safely down.
In December 1961 Anatoly Golitsyn, claiming to be a major in the KGB, knocked on the door of the American embassy in Helsinki and offered his encyclopaedic knowledge of Russian intelligence to the CIA. Golitsyn was arguably the most extravagant piece of good fortune ever visited upon Western intelligence, and his information led to the uncovering of a number of important spies. However, it is now proved that he was a double agent and was constantly reporting to the KGB authorities.
|Gorbachev Mikhail (1931-)
Soviet and Russian statesman
was the youngest leader since Stalin succeeded Lenin. He was a remarkable and forceful leader who changed the course of Russian history. General Secretary of the Communist Party from 1985, he embarked on a radical program of reform based on two premises: perestroika
(restructuring) and glasnost
(openness). The Soviet people achieved greater freedom of expression than they had enjoyed for over 50 years, but perestroika
introduced dramatic socio-economic changes which only gradually revealed their benefits. Gorbachev was a good diplomat and a bad economist – the economy of the Soviet Union nearly collapsed by 1990 and facing growing criticism in public, he was overthrown in 1991 in a hardline coup. We would guess that the reason is in his remaining Soviet mentality. Gorbachev resigned all his offices in December 1991, announcing the official dissolution of the Soviet Union into independent states. Nowadays Mr. Gorbachev is a live legend of the USSR and one of the very well-paid lecturers (appr. 10 000 USD per hour), traveling around the world.
|Kandinsky Vassily (1866-1944)
Originally trained in law, Kandinsky
began painting in 1896, when he was 30 years old. Influenced by Fauvism he began simplifying his images until line and color, rather than subject matter, became the vehicle with which he expressed emotion. In 1911 he founded Der Blau Reiter
, a group of artists sharing his belief that “the creative spirit is conceived in matter”, and in 1912 published Concerning The Spiritual in Art,
which set out his theories of a non-objective art based on harmonies of color and form which could appeal directly to the senses, like music. In 1914 he returned to Russia and after 1917 Revolution worked in the Visual Arts Section of the People’s Commisariat for Enlightenment. Disillusioned by official attitudes to art, he left for Germany in 1921, securing a teaching post at the Bauhaus through which his ideas were widely disseminated. On its closure by the Nazis in 1933 he moved to France, developing a highly personal pictorial language of invented amoeba-like symbols. Perhaps the first truly abstract artist, his legacy to later twentieth-century artists was immense. Some of Kandinsky's works of art are displayed in Russian Museum
|Kapitza Peter (1894-1984)
left Russia in 1921 having lost his wife and children in the famine following the Revolution. He worked with Ernest Rutherford at the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge, specializing in magnetism. He discovered that helium displayed super-fluidity – having no resistance to flow – when cooled to -271 C. In 1934 he returned to Russia but was not allowed to leave. Although he did valuable research which helped Soviet industry, he suffered house arrest because of his opposition to nuclear weapons development. He gained the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics. In his later years he worked on satellite research and nuclear fission.
|Khrushchev Nikita (1894-1971)
As Soviet Prime Minister (1958-1964) Khrushchev
dismantled the Stalinist system which he had survived by becoming clown prince to the tyrant. But similar clowning, as at the United Nations (where he took off a shoe and started threatening the United States) did not delude foreign statesmen about his propensity for dangerous brinkmanship. His adventurism twice threatened war: in Hungary in 1956, and more seriously in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. However he was the first to publicly confirm the embodiment of the new Thaw of peaceful co-existence. In the Soviet Union he was remembered by enthusiastic corn planting, even in the places where it is not supposed to grow and also the so-called “Khrushobas” – apartment houses, built for temporary accommodation of the Soviet people.
He was toppled in 1964 by conservatives, led by Brezhnev.
|Lenin Vladimir (1870-1924)
The revolutionary and founder of the Bolsheviks party, Lenin
was upheld for over 65 years as the founder of the Soviet Union. Having studied Marxism at the University of St.-Petersburg, his involvement with revolutionary politics earned him three years exile in Siberia from 1897. He moved to Switzerland in 1900, becoming leader of the Bolsheviks during the abortive revolution of 1905. After the deposition of the Tsar, Lenin returned to Russia with German connivance in March 1917 in a “sealed train” and won power in the October Revolution that year. He had a murderous assault in 1918, which led to a long-time recovery. Unsatisfied with the idea of “Military communism” he instituted the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921 which permitted limited free enterprise. After his death Stalin abolished NEP and redirected Lenin’s ideas into the more severe and cruel interpretation.
|Malevich Kazimir (1878-1935)
experimented with various styles, including Cubism, before formulating Suprematism, a system of abstraction which did not derive from observed reality, but depended on the basic geometric forms of square, rectangle, triangle and cross. First exhibitied in 1915, his Suprematist works were initially in black and white. He later introduced color and began stretching and fragmenting his shapes into bars, rhomboids, and ellipses, but by 1918 was using only square, for him the purest form, painted in black and white. Having reached the ultimate distillation of his ideas, he largely abandoned painting to teach.
Medvedev Dmitry (1965-)
Dmitry Medvedev was born September 14, 1965, in Leningrad.
Graduated from the Faculty of Law of Leningrad State University in 1987 and completed his post-graduate studies at Leningrad State University in 1990. Holds a PhD in law and the title of associate professor.
1990-1999: Lectured at St Petersburg State University.
At the same time, between 1990-1995, was an adviser to the Chairman of the Leningrad City Council and an expert consultant to the St Petersburg City Hall’s Committee for External Affairs.
1999: Deputy Government Chief of Staff.
1999-2000: Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office.
2000-2003: First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office.
2000-2001: Chairman of the Board of Directors of OAO Gazprom, in 2001 – Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of OAO Gazprom, from June 2002 – Chairman of the Board of Directors of OAO Gazprom.
October 2003-November 2005: Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office.
In November 2005, appointed First Deputy Prime Minister.
March 2, 2008: Elected President of the Russian Federation.
Married to Svetlana Vladimirovna Medvedeva. The Medvedevs have a son, Ilya (born 1995).
For some people - Shy, reserved, well-read, polite, family-oriented, for others - A weak, indecisive, easily-led man, Nicholas
succeeded to the Russian imperial throne in 1894 on the death of his father, Alexander III. He inherited a vast, unruly empire, riven by political and social discontents, which required a ruthless autocratic ruler to control it. Nicholas could not provide the strength or political acumen to hold his realm together. Resentment boiled over into revolution of 1905, during the disastrous Russian-Japanese war, and although Nicholas was quite prepared to order his troops to suppress the uprising, he also accepted the creation of an elected Duma
(parliament). Unfortunately he refused to allow it any power to introduce reforms, further alienating his people. At the same time, he lost the support of the aristocracy when his wife Alexandra came under the influence of the “mad monk” Rasputin, reportedly the only man who could cure the hemophilia of Nicholas’ son and heir. By 1917, in the midst of another disastrous war, revolution broke out again, this time with more success. In March, faced with implacable and almost universal opposition, Nicholas abdicated; in July 1918 he and his entire family were executed by the Bolsheviks, at Ekaterinburg.
|Pasternak Boris (1890-1960)
Novelist and poet
is world-famous for his anti-Stalinist epic Doctor Zhivago
(1957), the Western cold war reception of which has obscured his avant-garde past and anti-fascism. His early early poetry appeared under a futurist imprint, the best published in My Sister Life
(1922), an Themes and Varia
tions (1924) and in fragments appended to Zhivago.
Boris Pasternak was awarded a Nobel prize for Doctor Zhivago
in 1958 but the Soviet government did not allow him to leave the country and go to the ceremony, his son received the diploma only in 1990.
After seeing a performance of Sleeping Beauty
at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg at the age of 9, the young Pavlova
was so impressed that she resolved to become a dancer. The following year she entered the St. Petersburg Theatre School and, two years before her graduation, danced on the Mariinsky stage in the Pas des Almees in La Filled u Pharaon.
Her superb graduation performance of 1899 brought her to the attention of the critics. In 1903 she danced the role of Giselle and the Fairy Variations in the Prologue of Sleeping Beauty,
before achieving the role of Aurora in 1908 – her goal since she saw her first ballet performance. Having danced 18 leading roles on the Mariinsky stage, in 1907 Fokine created for her the role of Cygne (the Dying Swan) which became her most famous solo. She began touring abroad with the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1908, and settled at the Ivy House in London in 1912, her home for the rest of her life. Fragments of her dancing the Dying Swan were filmed in Hollywood by Douglas Fairbanks in 1924-25. Never strong, Pavlova died of pneumonia at the age of relatively young age of 49.
|Prokofiev Sergei (1891-1953)
began composing at a very early age he was first noted for his outstanding piano playing. While studying at the St. Petersburg Cinservatory under Rimsky-Corsakov he won the Rubenstein Prize for performing the first of his own piano concertos. Then followed the success of his “Classical Symphony” (1917) which revealed his talent for pastiche work. Like many Soviet composers Prokofoev found the political pressure to conform too restricting and so fled to the United States. Here he was warmly received as a pianist but had more difficulty being accepted as a composer. Finally he had a breakthrough in Chicago in 1921 with his opera The Love for Three Oranges.
After the United States Prokofiev moved to Paris where he struck up an exciting new relationship with the renowned Diaghilev, writing music for his ballets. In 1934 Prokofiev returned to Russia where some say his style mellowed. According to the Central Committee of the Communist Party his style did not mellow enough and they criticized his work in 1948 as being “modernistic and anti-melodic”. In Prokofiev’s reply he pledged to use a more “lucid melody” and a “simple harmonic language” but others say he really continued to compose exactly as he liked.
Putin Vladimir (1952-)
, born in 1952 in Leningrad, is the current president of Russia. A few headlines of Putin’s biography:
1975: graduated from the Law Department of Leningrad State University and started working for the State Security Committee (KGB).
1985-1990: worked for the KGB in East Germany.
From 1990: assistant rector of Leningrad State University for international affairs, later adviser to the Leningrad mayor.
From June 1991: chairman of the St. Petersburg City Hall's committee for foreign relations; from 1994 also held the post of first deputy mayor of St. Petersburg.
From August 1996: deputy chief of the Russian President's business administration department.
From March 1997: deputy chief of the Presidential Executive Office, chief of the President's main control department.
From May 1998: first deputy chief of the Presidential Executive Office.
July 1998: appointed director of the Federal Security Service (FSB); from March 1999 also Secretary of the Russian Security Council.
From August 1999: Prime Minister of Russia.
From 31 December, 1999: Acting President of Russia.
26 March, 2000: elected President of Russia; assumed office on May 7, 2000.
14 March, 2004: re-elected President of Russia for a second term.
8 May, 2008: appointed Prime Minister by presidential decree.
Ph.D. in Economics; fluent in German and English.
Family status: married to Lyudmila Putina, with two daughters, Maria (b. 1985) and Katerina (b. 1986).
|Rachmaninov Sergei (1873-1943)
Composer and pianist
Many think of Rachmaninov
as the composer of the ever-popular second piano concerto or of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
However few realize that he was also the composer of the most exquisite songs and, although not as popular as his piano concertos, they gave a valuable insight into the more intimate side of his character, Sadly these songs are not performed as often as they deserve. It has also become apparent from recordings that Rachmaninov was an exceptional pianist of virtuosic quality and probably one of the finest pianists the 20th
century has ever seen.
|Rasputin Grigori (1871-1916)
was undoubtedly one of the most controversial personages of the tsar Russia. He rose to influence in 1907 through his miraculous ability as a starets or holy man to cure the Tsarevich Alexis’ haemophilia, succeeding where the best surgeons had failed. He was adept at hypnotism and, oddly enough, when Alexis began to bleed only Rasputin was able to calm the childm soothe the agonies, and slow the bleeding. This gave him an entrée to court which he exploited greedily in a scandalous life of debauchery, arousing the jealousy of the aristocracy and dragging the image of royal family and court further into the mud. The Tsarina Alexandra was completely under his hypnotic spell and as she guided the Tsar, Rasputin’s political influence soon grew. Key political and military personnel were chosen or dropped according to his whim. He was assassinated by a group of monarchists led by Prince Yusupov (You may visit Yussupov Palace
in St.Petersburg to find out more).
|Solzhenitsyn Alexander (1918-)
Born in Kisolvodsk in the Caucasus and educated at the University of Rostov, Solzhenitsyn
fought in the Red Army during the Second World War, was arrested for criticizing Stalin and sent to a labor camp (GULAG) in 1945. Released in 1953, he subsequently became a teacher. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
(1962) is his stark account of life in the camp. Cancer Ward
(1968) were published abroad, and in 1969 he was expelled from the Writers’ Union. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970. Publication of the Gulag Archipelago
prompted his deportation in 1974, and he emigrated to the USA. He returned to Russia only in 1991.
The failed priest and bank robber who made the Soviet Union a superpower, from 1903, Stalin was successful as a propagandist for Bolshevism in his native Caucasus, and in raising funds at gunpoint. Lenin dubbed him “the wonderful Georgian”, and coopted him on to the party’s Central Committee. As a political Commissar he helped his future chief of the armed forces, Voroshilov, defend Tsaritsyn (later Stalingrad, now Volgograd) against the Whites. In 1922 Lenin appointed him Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party, the key post he held for the next 30 years. Lenin soon regretted the promotion and in his pre-deathbed “Testament” specifically warned the other old Bolsheviks against him. Stalin brought trumped-up charges against them at the Moscow Show Trials of 1936 and had them shot. He had already caused over a million deaths by collectivizing the farms, against the Old Comrades’ advice. He went on to purge the Army, leaving it almost fatally weakened to resist Hitler’s 1941 invasion. A combination of the strong industrial infrastructure produced by successful five-year plans and the talent of generals like Zhukov threw the Nazis back to Berlin and annexed their eastern empire. The Yalta peace conference (April 1945) confirmed his conquests, which were held by extending his secret police terror and slave-labor system. Paranoia affected his judgement; he miscalculated over the Korean war and the Berlin Airlift and died in 1953 as he was about to arrest more “plotters” against him. His memory still has an uncomfortable resonance in his demolished empire.
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