“I love your country, Russia, its people, its historyc, its writer. My father was a communist at the time, he listened to Radio Moscow! It’s my culture, too.” - Gérard Depardieu

Are you completely lost when we mention the Soviet Union, communism, or Leningrad?

We’re talking about famous Russians, of course.

Did you know that there were only 28 Tsars in charge of Imperial Russia from 1547 and 4 Presidents since the creation of the Russian Federation in 1991?

While Vladimir Putin has spent over 5,000 days in charge of the country, political figures aren’t the only famous Russians worth talking about.

In this article, we're going to look at famous Russian political figures, historical figures, artists, sportspeople, and the Russians that everyone should know if they're studying Russian culture or learning the Russian language.

The best Russian tutors available
Keir
5
5 (7 reviews)
Keir
$35
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Varvara
5
5 (4 reviews)
Varvara
$50
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Julia
5
5 (4 reviews)
Julia
$45
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Sofia
5
5 (3 reviews)
Sofia
$28
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Roman
5
5 (2 reviews)
Roman
$45
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Olga
5
5 (2 reviews)
Olga
$25
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Natalia
5
5 (5 reviews)
Natalia
$30
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Tatiana
5
5 (4 reviews)
Tatiana
$50
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Keir
5
5 (7 reviews)
Keir
$35
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Varvara
5
5 (4 reviews)
Varvara
$50
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Julia
5
5 (4 reviews)
Julia
$45
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Sofia
5
5 (3 reviews)
Sofia
$28
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Roman
5
5 (2 reviews)
Roman
$45
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Olga
5
5 (2 reviews)
Olga
$25
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Natalia
5
5 (5 reviews)
Natalia
$30
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Tatiana
5
5 (4 reviews)
Tatiana
$50
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Let's go

Famous Russians

Ivan the Terrible, The First Russian Tsar

Ivan IV Vasilyevich was commonly known as Ivan the Terrible because of the regime he put into place during the 1560s. He led military campaigns against the Tatars, the Polish, and the Swedish. He remained head of Russia for nearly after that.

Ivan the Terrible appears regularly in the arts, even in the West. He’s appeared in everything from a painting by Ilya Repin to the video game Age of Empires. He’s an important figure who's responsible for starting the Tsarism in Russia.

Peter I or Peter the Great, the Emperor of All Russias

Then there was Peter I (or Peter the Great), who became the Tsar of Russia in 1682, then the Emperor of all the Russias in 1721. He is famous for wanting to bring together the clergy and nobility.

Who was the last Russian tsar?
Saint Petersburg was named after Peter I. (Source: fitzgeraldbc)

The name of the city of Saint Petersburg was inspired by this leader who founded the city and made it the capital in 1703.

To show off his power, he tried to get closer to the West. Following the Great Northern War, which ended with the Treaty of Nystad, Peter gained control of the Baltic Sea and the title of Imperator.

Learn more about Russia with Russian language lessons.

Russian Empress Catherine the Great

Catherine II, nicknamed “Catherine the Great” was Empress of all the Russias from 1762 and was part of the Romanov Dynasty. She was married to Peter III of Russia and is one of the most famous women in Russian history.

Did you know that Catherine II was raised by a French Huguenot, Babette Cardel, who taught her the customs of the French court?

She’s known for both her foreign and domestic policies as well as all the things she mentioned in her memoirs.

Nicholas II of Russia, the Last Imperial Head of State

The last Tsar in Russia history, Nicholas II, or Nikolai Aleksandrovich Romanov, reigned from 1894 to 1917. While the Soviets have a negative view of the tsar (owing to his opposition against the Bolsheviks), he was nicknamed Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer.

In the animated Anastasia film from 1997, the protagonist's father is Nicholas II. Of course, the story is completely romanticised but there are several theories that Anastasia survived despite the other Romanovs being murdered in 1918.

Under his reign, Russia grew economically, politically, and culturally.

The Great Russian Political Figures

Vladimir Lenin, the Creator of Soviet Russia

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, also known as “Lenin”, was the most famous revolutionary in Russian history. He was one of the leaders who created a Soviet Russia founded on socialism, an evolution of communism. The Marxist theorist became famous following the October Revolution in 1917 that overturned the imperial regime.

Who led the Russian revolution?
Lenin played a huge role in Russian history. (Source: Niko_Shogol)

Lenin was also famous for his skills as an orator. In 1918, when he was on a train that was stuck in the snow, he gave a speech about the proletariat that motivated the passengers to dig the train out of the snow.

Pretty convincing, right?

The bloody events of the resulted in Lenin taking the role of head of state of the new Soviet Russia. He created the communist block in 1919 and installed a single-party dictatorship. He died in 1924 following an illness.

Leon Trotsky

Lev Davidovich Bronstein, better known as Leon Trotsky, was a Ukrainian-Russian Marxist revolutionary, political theorist and politician. Ideologically a communist, he developed a variant of Marxism which has become known as Trotskyism.

A leader in Russia’s October Revolution in 1917, and later commissar of foreign affairs and of war in the Soviet Union (1917–24). In the struggle for power following Vladimir Ilich Lenin’s death, however, Joseph Stalin emerged as victor, while Trotsky was removed from all positions of power and later exiled. He remained the leader of an anti-Stalinist opposition abroad until his assassination by a Stalinist agent.

Joseph Stalin, the “Dear Father” of Russia

Stalin was the ideological (and elected) successor to Lenin. However, Stalinism was different to Leninism, especially with the arrival of Gulags, the Soviet forced-labour camps. Joseph Stalin had many affectionate nicknames, including “Dear Father”.

The term “Destalinisation” came about following his death. He is well known for a dark period in Russian history owing to the nationalisation of land and the Great Purge (also known as the Great Terror). That said, he is still a hugely influential and famous figure.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the USSR’s Last President

Gorbachev was the leader behind the end of the Cold War as well as responsible for ending the Leninist and Stalinist communist regime in the USSR. He created economic, cultural, political programmes dubbed Perestroika and Glasnost. Somewhat paradoxically, the Russian people hold a generally negative view of one of their most democratic leaders...

He was a philanthropist, pacifist, environmentalist, and a staunch critic of the Kremlin.

You should know that we won’t be talking about Putin in this article. We’ll probably have to save that for another article.

Find out more about Russian TV.

The best Russian tutors available
Keir
5
5 (7 reviews)
Keir
$35
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Varvara
5
5 (4 reviews)
Varvara
$50
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Julia
5
5 (4 reviews)
Julia
$45
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Sofia
5
5 (3 reviews)
Sofia
$28
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Roman
5
5 (2 reviews)
Roman
$45
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Olga
5
5 (2 reviews)
Olga
$25
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Natalia
5
5 (5 reviews)
Natalia
$30
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Tatiana
5
5 (4 reviews)
Tatiana
$50
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Keir
5
5 (7 reviews)
Keir
$35
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Varvara
5
5 (4 reviews)
Varvara
$50
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Julia
5
5 (4 reviews)
Julia
$45
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Sofia
5
5 (3 reviews)
Sofia
$28
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Roman
5
5 (2 reviews)
Roman
$45
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Olga
5
5 (2 reviews)
Olga
$25
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Natalia
5
5 (5 reviews)
Natalia
$30
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Tatiana
5
5 (4 reviews)
Tatiana
$50
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson free!
Let's go

Renowned Russian Artists

Alexander Pushkin, the Franco-Russian Poet

A 19th-century Romantic poet, playwright, and novelist, Pushkin is famous for the following works:

  • The Fountain of Bakhchisaray
  • Poltava, 1828.
  • Mozart and Salieri, 1830.
  • The Captain's Daughter, 1838.

The Russian language and civilisation institute is called the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute.

Who are the most famous Russian artists?
Dostoevsky was also one of Russia's most famous artists. (Source: jackmac34)

Nikolai Gogol, a Russian-Speaking Writer

Nikolai Gogol was a Russian writer of Ukranian origin who often wrote about Saint Petersburg.

  • The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich, 1832.
  • Nevsky Prospekt, 1835.
  • The Portrait, 1835.
  • Mirgorod, 1835.

His earlier works were signed under the pseudonym V. Alov. His work Revizor (1836) brought him literary fame.

The Countess of Ségur, a Writer of Russian Origin

Born Sophie Rostopchine, the Countess of Ségur was her literary name. She was from a noble family and she spent her youth in Russia before marrying a French ambassador. Her works reflect her ideology of “write what you know”.

Her works help us to see the links between Russian and Western European culture.

Leo Tolstoy

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer, a master of realistic fiction and one of the world’s greatest novelists.

Tolstoy is best known for his two longest works, War and Peace (1865–69) and Anna Karenina (1875–77), which are commonly regarded as among the finest novels ever written.

He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1902 to 1906 and for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902, and 1909. It is a major controversy that he never won either. 

Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky was a Russian painter and art theorist. Kandinsky is generally credited as the pioneer of abstract art.

Along with Franz Marc, he founded the influential Munich group Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”) and taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture.

Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall was a Russian-French artist of Belarusian Jewish origin. Chagall was born in Vitebsk (Belarus, which was still an integral part of the Russian Empire).

An early modernist, and predating Surrealism, his early works were among the first expressions of psychic reality in modern art.

Art critic Robert Hughes referred to Chagall as "the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century". According to art historian Michael J. Lewis, Chagall was considered to be "the last survivor of the first generation of European modernists".

Famous Russian Sportspeople

Olga Korbut

Olga Valentinovna Korbut is a former gymnast who competed for the Soviet Union. Nicknamed the "Sparrow from Minsk", she won four gold medals and two silver medals at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympic Games, and was the inaugural inductee to the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1988.

While Korbut retired from gymnastics in 1977 at the age of 22 (which was considered young for gymnasts of the period), Korbut's influence and legacy in gymnastics was far reaching. Korbut's 1972 Olympic performances are widely credited as redefining gymnastics, transforming the sport from emphasising ballet and elegance to acrobatics, as well as shifting the popular opinion of gymnastics as a niche sport to one of the most popular sports in the world.

Maria Sharapova

Maria Yuryevna Sharapova is a Russian former world No. 1 tennis player.

She is one of ten women, and the only Russian, to hold the career Grand Slam. She is also an Olympic medalist, winning a silver medal in women's singles at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Sharapova achieved a rare level of longevity in tennis, with several tennis experts and former players describing Sharapova as one of tennis' best competitors.

Sharapova became the world No. 1 for the first time in 2005, at the age of 18, becoming the first Russian female tennis player to top the singles rankings. She held the ranking for five times throughout her career. She was also considered to be one of the greatest rivals of Serena Williams, who is widely considered to be the greatest female tennis player of all time.

Anna Kournikova

Anna Sergeyevna Kournikova is a Russian-American former professional tennis player, model, and television personality. Her celebrity status has made her one of the best known tennis stars worldwide.

Despite never winning a singles title, Kournikova reached No. 8 in the world in 2000. She achieved greater success playing doubles, with Martina Hingis as her partner, and where she was at times the world No. 1 player.

Other Renowned Russian Figures

The Myths Surrounding Grigori Rasputin

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was a Russian mystic and is famous for influencing the Russian court. He commonly appears as a character in the arts, be it in cinema, music, or video games.

However, a lot of his life is shrouded in mystery. This has led to myths including one that claims he was the Devil in human form sent to kill the Tsars.

Take a Russian course London.

Olga Khokhlova, an Influential Russian Ballerina

Khokhlova was one of the most influential Russians of the 20th century. She was the star dancer of the Ballets Russes directed by Sergei Diaghilev.

Did you know that she was Picasso’s mistress and then his wife and had two children with him?

She also inspired the painting Olga Khokhlova in the Mantilla, one of Picasso’s most famous paintings.

Who was the first man in space?
Yuri Gagarin was also huge celebrity in Russia and is still famous today. (Source: snow-dog)

Andrei Sakharov, the Most Famous Russian Scientist

Born in 1921, Andrei Sakharov was a Russian nuclear physicist who was famous for having worked on the atomic bomb. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for his work in fighting for human rights in the USSR (a prize that he was not allowed to go and collect so his wife had to go in his place).

Did you know that the Sakharov Prize was created in 1988 by the European Union for organisations that promote human rights?

Marina Popovich

Marina Lavrentievna Popovich was a Soviet Air Force colonel, engineer, and decorated Soviet test pilot. In 1964, she became the first Soviet woman, and the third woman, to break the sound barrier. Nicknamed "Madame MiG", for her work in the Soviet jet fighter MiG 21, she set more than one hundred aviation world records on over 40 types of aircraft over her career.

What's more, a star in the Cancer constellation is named after her.

Coco the Clown

Nicolai Poliakoff OBE was the creator of Coco the Clown, debatably the most famous clown in the United Kingdom in the mid-20th century. Nicolai Poliakoff was born in 1900 to a Jewish family in Dvinsk (today Daugavpils), Latvia, which was then part of the Russian Empire.

Technically, Coco is an Auguste, the foolish character who is always on the receiving end of buckets of water and custard pies. The Auguste often works alongside the more clever white-faced clown, who consistently gets the better of him.

In 1963, he was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for this work by Queen Elizabeth II.

 

For one reason or another, you should know of these famous Russians.

Did you know them all? Who are the most famous?

Learn more about Russian radio.

If you're interested in learning more about Russian culture, you should learn more about the Russian language. Since Russian isn't the most commonly taught language in British schools, you should consider learning it through private tutorials.

With private tutorials, you can get bespoke tuition and learn about all the aspects of the Russian language, culture, and history. There are three main types of private tutorials offered on Superprof: one on one private tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials.

Private tutorials are usually the most expensive option but they also offer a bespoke service. Online tutorials are cheaper because the tutor has fewer overheads in terms of travel and can schedule more tutorials throughout the day. Finally, group tutorials are cheaper because the cost is divided between the students. However, this final option won't give you a completely tailored service.

If you speak Russian and would like to tutor, it's very easy to create your profile on Superprof. Many tutors on the platform also offer the first hour of tutoring for free to entice students.

>

The platform that connects tutors and students

First Lesson Free

Enjoyed this article? Leave a rating!

5.00 (1 rating(s))
Loading...

Daniel

A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.