Russian language lesson: KGB

KGB language lesson: it seems our readers appreciate Russian language tips and here is one for today. The photo you see is the logo and initials of the feared “KGB” in the Cyrillic alphabet. While Russian can be a complicated language with changing grammar cases, a longer alphabet, formal and informal levels, etc, at least in one area it is simpler than some other languages: phonetics.

When most English speakers attend school they study English phonics, the practice of putting the name of letters together with their sounds. Fortunately, in most instances when speaking Russian the sound is the name of a letter, thus generally eliminating the need to spend a lot of time on phonics. So, in the photo you see the letters K-G-B, sounded by using the names of the Cyrillic letters which are КГБ, “Kak-Geh-Beh.” Easy!

Now you know how to say KGB like a good Russian: “Kak-Geh-Beh” however as the KGB is now the “FSB” in Russia, we’ll have to detail that one for you in the next installment.


Umbrella season in Russia, with language help.

It is that time of the year again, бабье лето (Indian summer), and that means we’re frequently reaching for a зонт (umbrella), spoken as “zont” in Russian. Autumn is осень, pronounced “O-sin” in Russian and with it comes the need for protection from rain and light snows on latter autumn days.

Umbrella vending. Photo: Anna Shikunova
Umbrella vending. Photo: Anna Shikunova

It isn’t too often in the West that one finds a vending machine for umbrellas (зонты) but we do have them in Eastern Europe. This one can be seen in Saint Petersburg and offers three varying styles. The term for such a vending machine is Зонтомат (“ZON-ta-maht) and from this machine we are offered:

лёгкий (“lyo-ki”) is a lightweight umbrella for just 100 rubles ($3).

антиветер (“ahn-ti ve-ter”) is a more sturdy windbreaker umbrella for 200 rubles ($6).

сувенирный (“su-ve-nyer-nee”) is an umbrella with a city logo and thus sold as a souvenir. Priced at 300 rubles ($9)

So, you’re almost ready for autumn weather in Russia. Oh, what is the term for weather, you ask? Weather is погода, spoken as “pa-GO-da.”

Now you are ready for autumn.

Exciting changes to Red Square pedestrial area

One of the entryways to Red Square, никольская улица (Nikolai or Nicholas Street) is no longer open to vehicular traffic and has been made a pedestrian walkway. This is great news as it is a short street leading from the Lubyanka Square, past the Chinatown wall, and up to Red Square with the GYM (“ghoom”) shopping centre on the left, the Kazanskaya Cathedral on the right and the famous Nikolai (Nicholas) tower of the Kremlin straight ahead.

Nikolai Street open as pedestrian b

The entire street from Lubyanka Square (former KGB prison) to Red Square is now a pedestrian walk and has been decorated very nicely! On 25 August Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin presided over the opening of the new pedestrian area and was accompanied by clowns and people in period costumes from earlier times.

Sergei Sobyanin, centre.
Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, centre, with the red Nikolai (Nicholas) tower behind him.

It is about 615 metres (673 yards) from Lubyanka to the Nikolai Tower and city workers laid over fourteen thousand square meters of modern granite paving, added 32 new outdoor lighting fixtures and 187 small architectural forms such as flower and tree pots , benches and signs.

Nikolai Street to Lyubanka

Summer is practically over as on many days the weather already calls for wearing jackets but come to Moscow and enjoy the new pedestrian conversion of historic Nikolai Street!

Russian product review: facial cream

Russians like natural products and whenever Mrs. Mendeleyeva is in the USA she constantly reads labels, tossing aside just about any product with ingredients she can’t read or pronounce. So to keep your face clear for those times when facing a camera here is a recommendation:

Facial cream St John's wort

чистая линия = pure line (organic)
фитотерапия здоровая кожа = herbal for healthy skin
крем для лица = cream for the face (facial cream)
зверобой дикорастущий = Saint John’s wort grown in the wild/forest

Cost: 50 рублей (50 rubles, under $2)

(Men, never test what happens by telling your wife that you really don’t care whether or not it works, but you sure do like the pretty packaging and nice aroma.)

Should Russia oppose Washington on Syria?

Having experience in Syria, often the question is asked about Russia’s opposition to the USA over Syria. As Orthodox Christians we feel no choice but to oppose the USA on this issue based on firsthand knowledge. But that comes with the responsibility to point out why…as if the lack of vital interests for the USA shouldn’t be reason enough. So here goes.


Russia is a sovereign nation and there is no justification for Americans to expect her to roll over and bow down every time Washington sneezes. You may be surprised to learn that Russia has very good reasons to be concerned about who takes over after Assad. First is the increase in Islamic radicalization of Russian republics in the Caucasus mountain regions, for example. The pattern is for young radicals to cross international boundaries easily to fight for allied causes. Boston, anyone?

Perhaps you remember how Chechen fighters so freely entered the battles against Georgia in 2008. It may have seemed odd at first to have Chechen pickup trucks outfitted with machine gun platforms alongside Russian tanks and troop carriers given that the two are mortal enemies.

To the untrained eye it may have been a surprise that Chechen fighters came out of the woodwork to fight alongside their traditional ethnic enemy. However the Chechen fighters came because the two Georgian breakaway provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, are primarily Muslim.

Georgia adopted Christianity in the 300s, not long after Armenia became the first Christian country in the world in 301, and neither of these countries in the Caucasus were conquered by Muslim kingdoms as happened to so many neighboring lands. Many Muslims worldwide see Christian Georgia and especially Christian Russia as prime targets for conquering in the name of Islam.

Syria map
Russia is on the front lines of the war against Islamic radicalization and the fall of moderate/secular Syria in Russia’s back yard would be significant. Thus as the Americans arm the Syrian rebels, and in effect converts the American military into “the Air Force for Al-Qaeda,” Mr. Putin feels that he is justified in opposing America’s reckless lurch back into the arms of Al-Qaeda and their drive to create a new Islamic caliphate.

In the broad overview however, President Putin understands that he represents a primarily Christian Orthodox country with a significant Muslim minority and it is the destabilization of Syria, and the radicals who would most likely step into the vacuum, that concerns Russia first. Syria is a lot closer to Russia geographically than it is to the USA and the fallout with a radical victory is going to eventually threaten Russia long before it threatens the USA.

USA cartoon

A second concern to Russia is the concept of Moscow as the “Third Rome” of Christianity. While the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople still retains his ‘see’ as a position of honour, in practicality over half of all Orthodox Christians in the world fall under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarch. Reviving a practice that was shelved during the Soviet period, the Russian Church has reclaimed the idea of Moscow as the “Third Rome” of Christianity and Mr. Putin takes seriously the responsibility for Christian minorities in Muslim lands.

What about chemical weapons? First, so far there is proof that they were used but not by whom. Washington desperately wants to believe it was the Syrian government so that we can begin a new conflict, but would the Syrian government be so careless as to use them on the very day before UN inspectors were scheduled to arrive? This smells to us like rebels are to blame, perhaps coordinated with Washington given the timing.

Unfortunately many around the world believe that the same Washington that would lie about WMD in Iraq would also lie about them in Syria. We’re sorry for those who may be offended by truth.

Russian beach landing surprise

The Russian Navy hovercraft is currently the largest in the world and takes a while to come to a stop. So what happens when you have a Navy exercise on an afternoon when the local populace has decided to spent the afternoon on the beach…which just happens to be part of a Navy training area? Oops.

The beach is not a public area but obviously it wasn’t closed off very well to the public either. Thankfully nobody was hurt.

Kaliningrad is not connected to Russia geographically so in that sense is similar to how Hawaii or Alaska are separated from the mainland USA. It belonged to a country named Prussia (German) that no longer exists and after WWII was given to Russia by the Western Powers. It is Russia’s only ice free link to the Baltic Sea.

Egyptian Christians burned out of homes and churches

(Aljazeera) Angry that the church was not siding with deposed president Mohamed Morsi, whose supporters were being violently evacuated from two sit-ins in Cairo, a crowd of Morsi supporters marched around the village, circling the homes of Christians and stopping at the Virgin Mary church to chant anti-Christian slogans.

They did the same following afternoon prayers, and by the evening, they had started throwing rocks at the church, breaking its windows.

Egypt cpotic churches burn

Buktor Saad Ghatas, 52, the priest at that church, said that roughly 300 mostly local men stormed the church, setting fire to the first two floors, breaking and looting the ceremonial hall and offices. Ghatas lives next door to the church so he saw and heard most of what he described as “ferocious aggression” on the village’s population of roughly 300 Christians. Coptic Christians comprise about ten percent of Egypt’s population.

The attackers, he said, “want to create a sectarian conflict and destroy the country’s heritage”. “They want to draw us into [violent] evil acts,” Ghatas told Al Jazeera, adding that most local residents support the Christian community. “Out of 50,000, you will find maybe 1,000 that are like this – the rest are peaceful,” he said of his Muslim neighbours.

According to Human Rights Watch, attacks on Christians in Egypt have increased since the ouster of Morsi.

Meanwhile the Muslim Brotherhood blames the new government for the persecution of Christians, all the while issuing threats of what they will do if Christians support the military.