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Russian Culture
The Russian Federation, or more commonly called “Russia”, is the largest country on
earth. It is home to 143.4 million people, with only a small percentage of that populating the
capital city of Moscow. Russia stretches almost seven-million square miles, and from coast to
coast, Russia spans over eleven different time zones. A testament to Russia’s vast size is the fact
that its easternmost cities are closer to San Francisco in California than they are to Moscow in
their own country. Although Russia spans a great distance over Europe and Asia, the cultural
influence does not reflect much Asian influence at all. Russia recognizes only four official
religions which are orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism. (Central Intelligence
Agency, 2019)
The Russian language is spoken by over 300-million people in various countries, making
it the fifth most spoken language in the world. It is believed that sometime around the years 3500
to 2500 BC the group of people called the Indo-Europeans began to split into different migration
and nomadic groups. As some Indo-European tribes moved to different areas, the Slavic tribes
became separated from other tribes and began to develop their own language, which was called
Common-Slavonic. These Slavic tribes settled in the area that is now present-day eastern Europe.
Somewhere around 500 AD the Common-Slavonic speaking tribes separated into Western,
Eastern, and Southern groups. The Eastern Slavs would eventually settle near the Dnieper River
in the area of present-day Ukraine. Once settled, the dialect of local languages would continue to
change and adapt to neighboring tribes and would eventually merge to create the Russian
language spoken today (Buck, 1998).

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Russia has a very deep, rich culture with many contributions to fine art, ballet, classical
music, and cuisine. Like any other culture, Russians have a set of values and beliefs that they
hold true to. Russian people believe that as a nation, individual achievement is not nearly as
important as team effort and that results are more important than goals. Because of the long and
harsh influence by the Soviet rule, a weariness of anyone outside of the family unit and close
friends has been created. Family and familial honor is quite possibly the most valued aspect of
Russian culture. Like many cultures’ family connects through food, and in Russia it is no
different. It is not uncommon to find a wide variety of preserved foods in households,
supermarkets, and restaurants. Preserved foods became popular centuries ago because of how
cold the weather would be in some area for over ¾ of the year, so households would preserve as
much food as possible to get them through the long and very harsh winters. Preserving methods
included salting, smoking, pickling, and fermenting various fruits, vegetables, meats, and
seafoods which are still common today in Russian cuisine (Ziegler, 2009).
One part of Russian culture that may seem stereotypical is how gender roles are played
out. Like many cultures that are thought of as misogynistic, many people would unwillingly
admit that they have a predetermined notion of Russian men being chauvinistic and patriarchal.
However, some would find it surprising that a large percent of Russian men do not believe that
women are a weaker sex, but instead a “prettier sex”. Although the wording may make it seem
like this is a positive thing, it may actually have a negative impact on the women of Russian
culture. Many women feel that they need to live up to this expectation and it is common to find
Russian women dressed in high heels and designer clothing when attending a social gathering or
going out in public. Even when the weather starts to reach freezing temperatures, the women are
expected to adhere to this kind of unspoken dress code. However, it is also common for Russian
men to behave in a very chivalrous manner, contrary to what many Americans might think.
When compared to modern-day “American norms” most people find it surprising that the
majority of Russian women dedicate their time and efforts to finding a husband, and then caring
for their children. Where many Russian women do receive a formal education and have a career,
most will set these aside until their children are grade school age because the woman is expected
to raise the children (Buck, 2012).
Traditional Definitions of Health and Illness, Health Practices
Some Russians believe that illness is due to the will of God and that becoming sick is a
test of their faith, or is a punishment for some wrongdoing. Russians believe that by reducing
stress, dressing in warm clothes, having regular bowel movements, and attaining proper nutrition
will ward off illness (HealthCare Chaplaincy, 2013). Many elderly believe that illness results
from being cold. To prevent this, it would be best to keep oneself covered and to drink warm
fluids, such as tea, to prevent sickness. If a Russian person gets sick, they would more often put
the blame on it being cold inside the home than on a virus attacking their immune system
(Jewish Vocational Service, n.d.). Some choose to indulge in folk remedies in hopes to heal
themselves naturally, such as by using homeopathy or herbs (HealthCare Chaplaincy, 2013).
Traditional Folk Diseases and Treatments
Russians try to be brave and not mention the illness unless someone else mentions it to
them first. They also are more likely to self-diagnose themselves using medical books and use
herbs to alleviate symptoms (Diversicare, 2006). Russians believe intake of too much medicine
is bad for the body because of the chemicals they contain, so it is not uncommon for a Russian to
go see a doctor first, and then go to a herbalist, homeopath, or acupuncture specialist as a second
opinion, because they do not trust the doctor (not all). For example, to treat nausea, instead of
taking medication, Russians would try eating lemon slices, drinking ginger ale, or warm tea with
lemon. Additionally. they may practice cupping, which is the Chinese practice of putting suction
cups on the back to remove toxins from the body. Because they do not like cold, they will not
follow doctor’s orders telling them to put a cold pack on a sore body part. Family is foremost for
Russians, and as such, homemade meals are cooked that are nutritious so that the family member
will feel better (Cultural Approaches to Pediatric Palliative Care in Central Massachusetts:
Russian, n.d.).
Common remedies for illness include herbal teas, boiled milk with honey, and heating
pads to help the symptoms for a while. Putting feet in hot water or drinking a half teaspoon of
vodka with sugar to cure coughing could also occur. Instead of prescribing medicine, doctors
might prescribe alternative therapies instead, such as aromatherapy, massage, or chiropractic
services (Jewish Vocational Service, n.d.).
Current Health Care Problems – Morbidity and Mortality
Although many people are split between whether they believe traditional medicine and folk
remedies work, we cannot discredit the deep cultural belief in such things. On the other hand, we
can use scientific data to see trends in mortality and morbidity rates in Russian culture.
According to world health data, over a ten year span the rates of heart disease has remained the
number one cause of death, stroke has remained the second most common cause of death, lung
cancer has remained the sixth most common cause of death, and lower respiratory infection has
remained the ninth most common cause of death. In the same ten-year timeframe diseases like
Alzheimer’s, cirrhosis of the liver, colon cancer, and COPD have increased while
cardiomyopathy, self-harm, alcohol use disorders, and stomach cancer have seen a decrease in
numbers (Evaluation, 2017).
One major contribution to the mortality rate among Russians was the morbidities that
came with excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption such as lung cancer and cirrhosis of the
liver. For monitoring tobacco use, trends have been measured using the Global Adult Tobacco
Survey. This survey was issued to individuals aged 15 years or older, with standard tobacco
monitoring indicators. The initial survey was given in 2009, and the second was given in 2016.
The results of this survey found a 21.5% reduction in the prevalence of smoking, from 2009 to
2016. The survey numbers showed that the reduction was lower among men with 16%, than it
was among women with 34%. The reduction in tobacco use may go hand in hand with a federal
law passed in Russia in 2013. This law created a smoke-free policy for public areas, increased
taxes on all types of tobacco products, created advertisement bans, and strengthened prohibitions
on selling tobacco to minors. Beside tobacco use, it is also reported that there was a decrease in
alcohol consumption. The decrease in drinking alcohol use was greater for men with a 16.9%
decrease, than it was for women with a 10.4% decrease. The reductions in alcohol use may have
resulted from policies put into place over the past decade. These policies focus mainly on
gradually raising of the minimum price on spirits since 2010 (Rehm & Ferreira-Borges, 2018)
Disability – Causation and Meaning
In Russia, the term for a person who has a disability is “invalid”. This term pertains to
any person who is sick or has an impairment. Someone who needs social protection and has their
abilities diminished. As of 2004, Russia had about 9 million registered officially disabled
individuals. (Tarasenko, 2004). Many more disabled people do not have the disabled status
officially because the process to legally declare it can be difficult.
During the communist era, disabled people were seen as objects who were to be pitied and
looked down upon. Adults and children alike were seen as charity receivers. Many were isolated
by their family and peers and were institutionalized (Kireyev, 2014). There were no disability
rights for children or even just any disability status available for anyone. Instead, children were
brought up in special “homes” with very bad conditions (Tarasenko, 2004). Currently, 30% of
Russian children with disabilities live in state-operated orphanages which contain a lot of
neglect. Shockingly, 95% of children with at least one living parent live in these orphanages
because healthcare workers pressured the parents to give them up, citing they would not develop
properly, or the parents lacked resources needed to care for the children (Russia: Children with
Disabilities Face Violence, Neglect, 2014). In 1995 after communism ended, Russia created a
law called the “Concerning the Social Protection of Invalids” law (Tarasenko, 2004). This law`s
goal was to provide equal opportunity for “invalids” when it came to their rights and freedoms in
civil, economic, and political areas. Only in 2012 did Russia join the United Nation`s
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities council, even though it was initially
created in 2006 (United Nations Treaty Collection. (n.d.)).
Cultural and Religious Beliefs
Russians form a big ethnic group in Brooklyn, New York City. The Russian culture is steeped in
traditions and customs spanning centuries ago. Their culture covers literature, classical music,
painting, and ballet. Russian culture places great importance on family ties. The closeness of
family ties is associated with communism and its accompanying problems that left many people
dependent on family members for support of basic needs (Bradford, 2017).
Religion has always influenced beliefs and attitudes in Russian society. With over 5,000
religious associations, many Russians practice Judaism or Orthodox beliefs. Others also practice
Islam, and Christianity (Bradford, 2017). Russian folk tales derive their origin from Slavic myths
rooted in ancient practices.
The family continues to play a central role among Russian living in New York City. Elders in the
family are expected to take care of children when both the mother and father are working.
Children are in turn expected to take care of their parents during old age (Bradford, 2017).
Children are also expected to show utmost respect to the elderly, often using titles such as Mr. or
Mrs. whenever addressing them. The close-knit family structure requires that family members
are consulted on health care planning and issues surrounding medical consent for release of
information are usually discussed at the family level.
Implication of Culture on Healthcare
The Russian culture emphasized diets high in fat and carbohydrates. The traditional belief
was that foods rich in fats were likely to “hold you to the earth” especially in times of famine
occasioned by early communist policies. Conventional wisdom suggested that fats enabled
people to work hard (Laitin, 2004). Such diets are likely to compound health challenges
especially increased prevalence of diabetes Type 2, gastrointestinal diseases, hypertension, and
other coronary diseases. Today, the Russian diet is rich in fish, dried meat, dumplings, potatoes,
and vegetables.
The most common health concerns among Russian living in Brooklyn include diabetes,
hypertension, and coronary diseases. Others include substance abuse, mental illness, and
tuberculosis. Some Russians believe that mental illness and disability are caused by some
immoral acts done by the patient (Laitin, 2004). In particular, mental illness is considered
culturally as an embarrassment and many Russians would be uncomfortable to disclose a history
of mental illness in the family. Generally, good health among Russians Americans is associated
with proper dieting.
Russian Culture and Human Development
Cultural beliefs and practices play an important role in human development. Culture is
likely to affect how families interact with health care providers, especially on sensitive areas
such as mental illness. For example, many families would be unwilling to take mentally ill
children to the care of professionals for fear of stigmatization (Laitin, 2004). Negative cultural
beliefs associated with mental illness would, therefore, hinder the mental wellness of this ethnic
group. Similarly, Russians who have been naturalized in the United States may not be familiar
with the cultural etiquette of American medicine.
While Russians may expect emotional and compassionate support from American
physicians, this cultural expectation may not be forthcoming. There is a danger that Russian
patients would be dissatisfied with the care provided. In other areas, physical examinations in
many eastern European countries differ from American culture (Laitin, 2004). In these countries,
patients are examined while in their undergarments and nudity is not considered shameful as may
be the case in American culture. The conflict in cultural expectations may have negative effect
on patients if not well understood.
Russian cultural and religious beliefs also affect the extent to which medical practitioners
disclose medical information to the patient. For example, Russians believe that a loved one who
is approaching end-of-life should not be told that death is imminent. This may affect how the
medical practitioner approaches information sharing with patients diagnosed with incurable
diseases. There is also the danger that family members might demand that the medical
practitioner withhold important information that might otherwise be useful for the patient’s final
preparation before death. End-of-life care should be designed to improve the quality of human
life regardless of the diagnosis. This is only possible when the patient is aware of the full extent
of diagnosis and the possible end of life.
9. Case Scenario
A 14-year-old female patient that you have been seeing for a few weeks enters the clinic
complaining of a recent ankle injury. She sustained a tear to her ATFL during soccer practice last
night and has recurrent swelling in her lateral ankle of the right foot. After your exam you
determine that the best treatment plan for this individual would be pain and inflammation
reduction via ice pack application every 20 minutes for a few hours a day since the injury is in
the acute phase, OTC pain relief such as ibuprofen or naproxen, and to keep her leg elevated as
long as possible during rest to help with the swelling. The patient tells you that their grandmother
will get upset if she uses an ice pack because the cold will make her sick, and that she also makes
her use herbal teas and treatments for pain reduction.
HealthCare Chaplaincy. (2013). A Dictionary of Patients` Spiritual & Cultural Values for Health
Care Professionals. Retrieved from
Bradford, A. (2017). Russian Culture: Facts, Customs & Traditions. Live Science. Retrieved
from https://www.livescience.com/44154-russian-culture.html
Laitin, D. D. (2004). The De-cosmopolitanization of the Russian Diaspora: A View from
Brooklyn in the” Far Abroad”. Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, 13(1), 5-35.
Jewish Vocational Service. (n.d.). Culture Guide. Retrieved from
Diversicare. (2006). Russian Culture profile – Diversicare. Retrieved from
Cultural Approaches to Pediatric Palliative Care in Central Massachusetts: Russian. (n.d.).
Retrieved from https://libraryguides.umassmed.edu/c.php?g=499760&p=3422607
Russia: Children with Disabilities Face Violence, Neglect. (2014). Retrieved from
Tarasenko, E. (2004). Problems and Perspectives of Disability Policy in Russia … Retrieved
United Nations Treaty Collection. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Kireyev, M. (2014). Life for people with disabilities in Russia is getting better. Retrieved from

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