Russia has a population of approximately 143 million, of whom women are in the majority. The population of 13 cities across Russia exceeds 1 million each, of which the largest ones are Moscow and St. Petersburg. Eighty percent of the population are ethnic Russians. There are over a hundred nations represented in the Russian Federation all speaking their own native languages, though all of them speak fluent Russian as well. Sixty percent of Russians are secular; the majority of religious Russians are Orthodox Christians.
The most popular Russian last names are Kuznetsov, Ivanov, Petrov, Smirnov and Popov; the preferred first names are Elena and Alexei. Russian brides are sought after for both their appearance and housekeeping skills. Many foreigners come to Russia just to find themselves a beautiful Slavic wife here and bring her back home with them.
Russians very much enjoy reading - one can always see quite a number of passengers with books in the subway and city transport system. Book stores and street kiosks are always full of customers. However, Russians are still lacking in their knowledge of foreign languages - the result of the iron curtain which kept the Soviet Union closed to Western influence during many years of totalitarian rule. Despite the fact that young people learn languages very actively, one might find it difficult to communicate with persons of the older generation.
Russia's culture is quite old, the alphabet derives from ancient Greece and the architecture is based on that of Bysantium. A number of architectural monuments have been preserved throughout the country, many of which are part of UNESCO's World Heritage List. The paintings of Russian masters are excellent, and such frescoes by Dionysius (about 1440-1505) can be compared with those of Giotto (1267-1337) in terms of their highly coloured expressivity. Icons by Andrei Rublyov and Theophan the Greek (end of the 14th - beginning of the 15th centuries) are highly appreciated worldwide.
The Russians are proud of their great compatriots, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov and many others. Five Russian writers have won the Nobel Prize: they are Ivan Bunin, Mikhail Sholokhov, Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky. Music by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Schnittke is performed throughout the world. The painters Kazimr Malevich and Vassili Kandinsky brought fame to the so-called Russian avant-garde movement in art.
The famous Left-Hander, a protagonist in the story of the same name by writer Nikolai Leskov (1831-1895), has become a symbol of Russian craftsmanship: the man was to talented that he managed to horseshoe a flea! The subtlety of folk craftsmen's work has always been especially distinguished. Russians are proud to be the progenitors of many innovations, ranging from samovars and world-famous matryoshkas to fundamental discoveries in chemistry, aviation and nuclear physics.
In 1961, Russia (then the USSR) was the first country to send a man into space. Russian tanks, warplanes and the renowned Kalashnikov machine-gun are undoubtedly among the world's finest. Russian classical ballet is second to none, as is the success of Russians in sports. Traditionally, Russia takes first place in team competition at the Olympic Games: swimmers, weight-lifters, gymnasts, figure-skaters, hockey players and other sportsmen are proud of their excellent achievements. The majority of world chess champions and Tennis Players are either Russians or have Russian ancestry.