Russian Americans

For the Russian colony in present-day Alaska, see Russian America.
Russian Americans
Русские американцы
Total population

(3,163,084 self-reported[1]

1.0% of the U.S. population (2009)
409,000 Russian-born[2])
Regions with significant populations
New York City metropolitan area,[3] Alaska, California, Florida (South Florida), Pennsylvania, Maryland, Portland, Oregon, Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois, Texas, Washington
American English, Russian (Russian language in the US)
Eastern Orthodoxy, Judaism
Related ethnic groups
Belarusian Americans, Rusyn Americans, Ukrainian Americans

Russian Americans are Americans who trace their ancestry to Russia, the Russian Empire, and the former Soviet Union. The definition can be applied to recent Russian immigrants to the United States, as well as to settlers of 19th century Russian settlements in northwestern America which includes today's US states of Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington.

Some Ukrainian Americans, Belarusian Americans, Russian Jewish Americans, Russian German Americans and Rusyn Americans identify as Russian Americans.


Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, New York City, and other areas of the New York metropolitan area, are home to by far the largest Russian population in the United States.[3]

The Russian American population is reported to be 3.13 million.[4]

Many Russian Americans do not speak Russian,[5] having been born in the USA and brought up in English-speaking homes. In 2007, however, Russian was the primary spoken language of 851,174 Americans at home, according to the U.S. Census.[4] According to the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard, 750,000 Russian Americans were ethnic Russians in 1990.[6]

The New York City metropolitan area continues to be by far the leading metropolitan gateway for Russian immigrants legally admitted into the United States.[3] Brighton Beach, Brooklyn continues to be the most important demographic and cultural center for the Russian American experience. However, as Russian Americans have climbed in socioeconomic status, the diaspora from Russia and other former Soviet-bloc states has moved toward more affluent parts of the New York metropolitan area, notably Bergen County, New Jersey. Within Bergen County, the increasing size of the Russian immigrant presence in its hub of Fair Lawn prompted a 2014 April Fool's satire titled, "Putin Moves Against Fair Lawn".[7]

Sometimes Carpatho-Rusyns and Ukrainians who emigrated from Carpathian Ruthenia in the 19th century and the beginning of 20th century identify as Russian Americans. More recent emigres would often refer to this group as the 'starozhili', which translates to mean "old residents". This group became the pillar of the Russian Orthodox Church in America . Today, most of this group has become assimilated into the local society, with ethnic traditions continuing to survive primarily around the church.


Russian America

Main article: Russian America
Fort Ross, Established 1812 in what is now Sonoma County, California

The territory that today is the U.S. state of Alaska was settled by Russians and controlled by the Russian Empire. The southernmost such post of the Russian American Company was Fort Ross, established in 1812 by Ivan Kuskov, some 50 miles north of San Francisco, as an agricultural supply base for Russian America. It was part of the Russian-America Company, and consisted of four outposts, including Bodega Bay, the Russian River, and the Farallon Islands. There was never an established agreement made with the government of New Spain which produced great tension between the two countries. Spain claimed the land yet had never established a colony there. But due to the well armed Russian Fort, Spain could not remove the Russians living there. Without the Russians' hospitality the Spanish colony would have been abandoned due to their supplies being lost when Spanish supply ships sank in a large storm off the South American coast. After the Independence of Mexico, tensions were reduced and trade was established with the new government of Mexican California.

Russian America was not a profitable colony, due to high transportation costs and declining animal population. After it was purchased by the United States in 1867, the majority of the Russian settlers went back to Russia, but some resettled in southern Alaska and California. Included in these were the first miners and merchants of the California gold rush.

First wave

Russian immigrant home, New York City, 1910—1915

The first massive wave of immigration from all areas of Europe to the United States took place in the late 19th century, following the 1862 enactment of the Homestead Act. Although some immigration took place earlier – the most notable example being Ivan Turchaninov, who immigrated in 1856 and became a Union army brigadier general – millions traveled to the new world in the last decade of the 19th century, some for political reasons, some for economic reasons, and some for a combination of both. Between 1820 and 1870 only 7,550 Russians immigrated to the USA, but starting with 1881, immigration rate exceeded 10,000 a year: 593,700 in 1891–1900, 1.6 million in 1901–1910, 868,000 in 1911–1914, and 43,000 in 1915–1917.[8] The most prominent Russian groups that immigrated in this period were the groups seeking freedom from religious prosecution: the Russian Jews, escaping the 1881–1882 pogroms by Alexander III, moved to New York City and other coastal cities, the Molokans, treated as heretics at home, settled in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas,[8][9] two large groups of Shtundists moved to Virginia and the Dakotas,[8] and mostly between 1874 and 1880 German-speaking Anabaptists, Russian Mennonites and Hutterites, left the Russian Empire and settled mainly in Kansas (Mennonites) and the Dakota Territory and Montana (Hutterites). Finally in 1908–1910, the Old Believers, prosecuted as schismatics, arrived and settled in small groups in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and New York.[8] Immigrants of this wave include Irving Berlin, legend of American songwriting and André Tchelistcheff, influential Californian winemaker.

World War I dealt a heavy blow to Russia. Between 1914 and 1918, starvation and poverty increased in all parts of Russian society, and soon many Russians questioned the War’s purpose and the government’s competency. The war intensified anti-Semitic sentiment. Jews were accused of disloyalty and expelled from areas in and near war zones. Furthermore, much of the fighting between Russia, and Austria and Germany took place in Western Russia in the Jewish Pale. World War I uprooted half a million Russian Jews.[10] Because of the upheavals of World War I, immigration dwindled between 1914 and 1917. But after the war, hundreds of thousands of Jews began leaving Europe and Russia again for the U.S., Israel and other countries where they hoped to start a new life.[11]

Jewish Immigration and Antisemitism in the Russian Empire

Antisemitism was not foreign to Russia before 1881. Restrictions to Jewish movement began with Catherine the Great’s creation of the Jewish Settlement of the Pale in 1791. Russian Jews were required to live in this settlement on the Western border of Russia. The Pale was created to rid Moscow of Jewish influence.[12] Through the early nineteenth century, Russian Jews experienced periods of forced assimilation and relative acceptance from the Russian government and Russian society. Nicholas I, the Russian Tsar from 1825 to 1855, hoped to eradicate Jewish life entirely from Russia through forcing Russian Jews to convert. In 1827 the Tsar decreed that all Jews serve 25 years in the Russian army. While in service, Jewish recruits were pressured to convert to Russian orthodox Christianity. Furthermore, Nicholas I created state sponsored schools that focused on converting Jewish students to Christianity.[10] After ascending the throne in 1855, Russian Tsar Alexander II’s liberal reforms reached out to Jews and other minorities, encouraging Jews to integrate into greater Russian society instead of converting to Christianity. Universities and schools opened to Jewish attendance and Jewish graduates were newly eligible for government service. Russian Jews hoped Alexander II’s regime would be a permanent turning point in the national attitude towards Judaism. Jewish enrollment in university drastically increased; in 1853 only 1.25 percent of the student body in Russia was Jewish, while by 1873 this figure had jumped to 13.2 percent.[13]

These hopes were not fulfilled. A bomb thrown at his carriage assassinated Alexander II on March 1, 1881. A Revolutionary terrorist organization called the People’s Will carried out the attack, but rumors spread that a Jewish conspiracy was responsible. The national attitude towards Jews rapidly changed. The Russian press implied a large share of Jewish responsibility for the assassination of Alexander the II.[14] Anti-Semitic riots broke out throughout Russia. Jews were attacked and their property destroyed as police watched indifferently. In May 1882, Alexander II’s heir, Alexander III, ushered in pogroms known as the May Day Laws that suppressed Jews and other underrepresented minorities, reversing his father’s more liberal policies. While the boundaries of the Pale were never absolute, the May Day Laws strictly enforced these boundaries in order to “cleanse” the Russian country side. Jewish families were forced into the pale’s already overcrowded cities and ghettos. Alexander III reversed the opening of school and universities, and implemented a quota system. The system reduced Jewish attendance to 10 percent in the Pale, 5 percent outside of the Pale and 3 percent in St. Petersburg and Moscow schools.[13] Jews were forbade from working on Sundays and other Christian holidays, putting them at a disadvantage to Christian competitors who could work on Saturdays, the day of the Jewish Sabbath. On the first day of Passover in 1891 the Government expelled all Jews from Moscow, excluding a small number of aristocrats.[10] The government’s given reason for these laws were easing the “conflict between Jews and the native population”.[15]

The country’s attitude to Judaism caused some to convert to Christianity and baptize their children. This method was far from foolproof and most Jews still experienced discrimination despite converting. Many more Jews chose to immigrate to the US, Israel and other countries friendlier to Judaism.[16] Entire families immigrated, a sign their new home would be permanent. Jewish families were not sending money back like immigrants of different nationalities, but creating a new homeland in their adopted country.

The most common explanation of this Jewish migration is persecution, but economic deprivation was also influential. Advocates for an economic cause of Jewish migration point out that large scale Jewish migration began in Russia a decade before the May Day Laws were enacted. Often, persecution and economic disadvantages went hand in hand in Russia. Economic deprivation radically worsened after Alexander II’s assassination. Jews could no longer perform certain jobs such as inn keeper or tavern owner. Shop signs were required to bear the shop owner’s full Hebrew name, alerting possible customers that they were buying from Jewish sellers. The overcrowded Pale could not support enough business to provide for the entire Jewish community and, along with fighting intense competition, access to capital, equipment and credit was limited in the Pale. To add to the problem, the Jewish population in Russia almost quadrupled between 1860 and 1910.[12] Quality of life in the Pale quickly deteriorated. At the turn of the century it is estimated 30 to 35 percent of the Jewish population depended on relief provided by Jewish welfare institutions (50 Gitelman). Mortality rates in the Jewish community were twice as high as those in non-Jewish Russian communities.[13] The migration was also likely a reinforcing cycle. Extended families followed each other over seas to keep families intact.[17]

Second wave

Main article: White Emigre
Russian-speaking bankers in Chicago, 1916

A large wave of Russians immigrated in the short time period of 1917–1922, in the wake of October Revolution and Russian Civil War. This group is known collectively as the White emigres. United States of America was the second largest destination for those immigrants, after France. This wave is often referred to as the first wave, when discussing Soviet era immigration. The head of the Russian Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky, was one of those immigrants.

Since the immigrants were of the higher classes of the Russian Empire, they contributed significantly to American science and culture. Inventors Vladimir Zworykin, often referred to as "father of television", Alexander M. Poniatoff, the founder of Ampex, and Alexander Lodygin, arrived with this wave. The American army benefited greatly with the arrival of such inventors as Igor Sikorsky (who invented the Helicopter and Aerosan), Vladimir Yourkevitch, and Alexander Procofieff de Seversky. Sergei Rachmaninoff and Igor Stravinsky are by many considered to be among the greatest composers ever to live in the United States of America. The novelist Vladimir Nabokov, the violinist Jasha Heifetz, and the actor Yul Brynner also left Russia in this period.

As with first and second wave, if the White Emigre left Russia to any country, they were still considered first or second wave, even if they ended up moving to another country, including the US at a later time. There was no 'strict' year boundaries, but a guideline to have a better understanding of the time period. Thus 1917-1922 is a guideline. There are Russians who are considered second wave even if they arrived after 1922 up to 1948.

Soviet era

During the Soviet era, emigration was prohibited, and limited to very few defectors and dissidents who immigrated to the United States of America and other Western Bloc countries for political reasons. Some fled the Communist regime, such as Vladimir Horowitz in 1925 or Ayn Rand in 1926, or were deported by it, such as Joseph Brodsky in 1972, or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1974, some were communists themselves, and left in fear of prosecution, such as NKVD operative Alexander Orlov who escaped the purge in 1938[18] or Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Joseph Stalin, who left in 1967. Some were diplomats and military personnel who defected to sell their knowledge, such as the pilots Viktor Belenko in 1976 and Aleksandr Zuyev in 1989.

Following the international condemnation of the Soviet reaction to Dymshits–Kuznetsov hijacking affair in 1970, the Soviet Union temporarily loosened emigration restrictions for Jewish emigrants, which allowed nearly 250,000 people leave the country,[19] escaping covert antisemitism. Some went to Israel, especially at the beginning, but most chose the US as their destination, where they received the status of political refugees. This lasted for about a decade, until very early 1980s. Emigrants included the family of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, which moved to the US in 1979, citing the impossibility of an advanced scientific career for a person of Jewish descent.

The slow Brezhnev stagnation of the 1970s and Mikhail Gorbachevs following economic political reforms since the mid-1980s prompted an increase of economic immigration to the United States, where artists and athletes defected or legally emigrated to the US to further their careers: ballet stars Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1974 and Alexander Godunov in 1979, composer Maxim Shostakovich in 1981, hockey star Alexander Mogilny in 1989 and the entire Russian Five later, gymnast Vladimir Artemov in 1990, glam metal band Gorky Park in 1987, and many others.

Post-Soviet era

Russian speakers in the US
^a Foreign-born population only[24]

With perestroyka, a mass Jewish emigration restarted in 1987. The numbers grew very sharply leading to the United States, forbidding entry to those emigrating from the USSR on Israeli visa, starting October 1, 1989. Israel withheld sending visa invitations from the beginning of 1989 claiming technical difficulties. After that the bulk of Jewish emigration went to Israel, nearing a million people in the following decade. Those who could claim family reunion could apply for the direct US visa, and were still receiving the political refugee status in the early 1990s. 50,716 citizens of ex-USSR were granted political refugee status by the United States in 1990, 38,661 in 1991, 61,298 in 1992, 48,627 in 1993, 43,470 in 1994, 35,716 in 1995[25] with the trend steadily dropping to as low as 1,394 refugees accepted in 2003.[26] For the first time in history, Russians became a notable part of illegal immigration to the United States.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent transition to free market economy came hyperinflation and a series of political and economic crises of the 1990s, culminating in the financial crash of 1998. By mid-1993 between 39% and 49% of Russians were living in poverty, a sharp increase compared to 1.5% of the late Soviet era.[27] This instability and bleak outcome prompted a large new wave of both political and economic emigration from Russia, and one of the major targets became the United States, which was experiencing an unprecedented stock market boom in 1995–2001.

A notable part of the 1991—2001 immigration wave consisted of scientists and engineers who, faced with extremely poor job market at home[28] coupled with the government unwilling to index fixed salaries according to inflation or even to make salary payments on time, left to pursue their careers abroad. This coincided with the surge of hi-tech industry in the United States, creating a strong brain drain effect. According to the National Science Foundation, there were 20,000 Russian scientists working in the United States in 2003,[29] and the Russian software engineers were responsible for 30% of Microsoft products in 2002.[28]

The Soviet Union was a sports empire, and many prominent Russian sportspeople found great acclaim and rewards for their skills in the United States. Examples are Alexander Ovechkin, Alexandre Volchkov, and Andrei Kirilenko. Nastia Liukin was born in Moscow, but came to America with her parents as a young child, and developed as a champion gymnast in the U.S. Maria Sharapova moved to the United States at the age of seven.

Statistics by country

US population born in the former USSR
Born in Population
 Russia 340,175 386,529
 Ukraine 275,155 345,620
 Armenia 65,280 86,217
 Belarus 38,505 56,958
 USSR (unspec.) 37,335 N/A
 Lithuania 28,490 31,458
 Latvia 27,230 21,364
 Uzbekistan 23,030 65,375
 Moldova 19,505 43,564
 Azerbaijan 14,205 N/A
 Georgia 10,530 N/A
 Estonia 9,785 N/A
 Kazakhstan 9,155 29,859
 Tajikistan 2,665 N/A
 Kyrgyzstan 2,375 N/A
 Turkmenistan N/A N/A
Total 903,420 1,066,944

Russian American communities

Distribution of Russian Americans according to the 2000 census.

US communities with high percentages of people of Russian ancestry

The top U.S. communities with the highest percentage of people claiming Russian ancestry are:[32]

  1. Nikolaevsk, Alaska 67.5% [33]
  2. Pikesville, Maryland 19.30%
  3. Roslyn Estates, New York 18.60%
  4. Hewlett Harbor, New York 18.40%
  5. East Hills, New York 18.00%
  6. Wishek, North Dakota 17.40%
  7. Eureka, South Dakota 17.30%
  8. Beachwood, Ohio 16.80%
  9. Penn Wynne, Pennsylvania 16.70%
  10. Kensington, New York and Mayfield, Pennsylvania 16.20%
  11. Napoleon, North Dakota 15.80%

U.S. communities with the most residents born in Russia

Top U.S. communities with the most residents born in Russia are:[34]

  1. Peaceful Valley, Washington 12.2%
  2. Sharon Springs, New York 6.0%
  3. West Buechel, Kentucky 5.7%
  4. Big Delta, Alaska 5.6%
  5. West Hollywood, California 5.3%
  6. Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania 5.2%
  7. Deltana, Alaska 5.1%
  8. East Whatcom, WA (Whatcom County, Washington) 4.9%
  9. Fair Lawn, New Jersey 4.7%
  10. Belleville, Pennsylvania 4.5%

Apart from such settlements as Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, concentrations of Russian Americans occur in Bergen County, New Jersey; Queens; Staten Island; Anchorage, Alaska; Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; The Bronx; other parts of Brooklyn; Chicago; Cleveland; Detroit; Los Angeles; Miami; Nashville; Houston; Dallas; Orlando; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; Sacramento; San Francisco; and Seattle. In 2002, the AmBAR was founded, to help the Russophone community of Palo Alto, California.

Russian Press in the United States

Slavic Voice of America media group servers Russian-speaking Americans out of Dallas, TX.

See also


  1. "Selected Social Characteristics in the United States: 2007". U.S. Census American Community Survey. 2007. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  2. "2007 ACS Study". Integrated Public Use Microdata Series. 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-23.
  3. 1 2 3 "Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status by Leading Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) of Residence and Region and Country of Birth: Fiscal Year 2013". U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved March 27, 2016.
  4. 1 2 "Rediscovering Russian America". Institute of Modern Russia. 2011. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
  5. "Growing Up Russian". Aleksandr Strezev, Principia. Retrieved 4 Apr 2015.
  6. "Immigration: Russia. Curriculum for Grade 6–12 Teachers". Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. Retrieved 2008-05-09.
  7. Matt Rooney (April 1, 2014). "Putin Moves Against Fair Lawn". Save Jersey. Retrieved March 19, 2016. In a move certain to carry dire geopolitical consequences for the world, the Russian Federation has moved troops into the 32,000-person borough of Fair Lawn, New Jersey, only days after annexing Crimea and strengthening its troop positions along the Ukrainian border.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Nitoburg, E. (1999). Русские религиозные сектанты и староверы в США. Новая И Новейшая История (in Russian) (3): 34–51. Retrieved 2008-05-08.
  9. Chapter 1 – The Migration in Molokans in America by John K. Berokoff, 1969
  10. 1 2 3 Gitelman, Zvi. A Century of Ambivalence, The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union, 1881 to the Present. 2nd Ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988. Print.
  11. Barnarvi, Eli ed. A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People. New York: Schocken Books, 1992. Print.
  12. 1 2 Rogger, Hans. Jewish Policies and Right-Wing Politics in Imperial Russia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. Print.
  13. 1 2 3 Lesklov, N.S. Some Notes on the Jewish Question. U.S.A.: Darwin Press, Inc. 1986. Print.
  14. Aronson, Irwin Michael. Troubled Waters: The Origins of the 1881 anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990.
  15. "Ryesheniya Obsch. Sobran. Senata," 1888, No. 25
  16. Lewin-Epstein, Noah, Yaacov Roi and Paul Ritterband eds. Russian Jews on Three Continents, Great Britain: Frank Cass and CO LTD, 1997. Print.
  17. Lewin-Epstein, Noah, Yaacov Roi and Paul Ritterband eds. Russian Jews on Three Continents, Great Britain: Frank Cass and CO LTD, 1997. Print.
  18. Trahair, R. C. S. (2004). Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 249–250. ISBN 978-0-313-31955-6. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  19. History of Dissident Movement in the USSR by Lyudmila Alexeyeva. Vilnius, 1992 (in Russian)
  20. "Appendix Table 2. Languages Spoken at Home: 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2007.". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  21. "Detailed Language Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for Persons 5 Years and Over --50 Languages with Greatest Number of Speakers: United States 1990". United States Census Bureau. 1990. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  22. "Language Spoken at Home: 2000". United States Bureau of the Census. Retrieved August 8, 2012.
  23. "Language Use in the United States: 2011" (PDF). United States Bureau of the Census. Retrieved November 4, 2015.
  24. "Mother Tongue of the Foreign-Born Population: 1910 to 1940, 1960, and 1970". United States Census Bureau. March 9, 1999. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  25. "Fiscal Year 1999 Statistical Yearbook" (PDF). Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
  26. "Refugees and Asylees: 2005" (PDF). Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
  27. Branko Milanovic, Income, Inequality, and Poverty During the Transformation from Planned to Market Economy (Washington DC: The World Bank, 1998), pp.186–90.
  28. 1 2 Russian brain drain tops half a million
  29. "Утечка мозгов" – болезнь не только российская. Экология И Жизнь (in Russian). 2003. Retrieved 2008-05-09.
  30. Census 2000
  32. "Ancestry Map of Russian Communities". Retrieved 2008-08-07.
  33. American fact finder, Nikolaevsk, Alaska, Census 2000-Selected Social Characteristics (Household and Family Type, Disability, Citizenship, Ancestry, Language, ...)
  34. "Top cities with the most residents born in Russia (population 500+)". Retrieved 2008-08-07.

External links

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