Russia is an enigma, up until World War II it was an isolated country that had so many internal issues to deal with, it rarely got involved in world scrabbles. Post World War II is a very different story. Russia decided to play a bigger role I the world by aggressively exporting communism. The impact this initiative had on the world from 1950-1980 is significant. Today, Russia remains an outlyer on the world stage, creating problems in an attempt to strengthen itself. Visiting Russia gives a child a unique perspective on the people and culture enabling them to at least understand that Russians make decisions from a very different set of historical facts.

Children take their freedom for granted. Growing up in the United States, we benefit from freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, as well as many other freedoms, some as simple as ability to move anywhere we want. Russia is the birthplace of Communism and while the government today has not stayed true to Karl Marx’s socialist vision, the foundation that Lenin and Trotsky set in place in 1917 still heavily influences the country. The current President, Vladimir Putin, controls the press, most significant industry, and  most of the country’s natural resources as if he were Tsar, but the social programs are still similar to those established by the communists. One must walk the streets of St, Petersburg and/or Moscow to fully appreciate how different life can be under a different form of government.

In order to understand Russia, one must consider geography. The Country has the world’s largest land mass, yet its population is only 143 million (the US has 320 million people, China 1.4 billion). Located near the top of our planet, Russia has long winters and short summers. Moscow’s average temperature is 17 degrees cooler than Washington D.C. Landlocked on its western border, Russia has played the bully with its neighbors in the Baltic Sea and Black Sea areas to ensure they have access to international waters. Blessed with massive natural resources, Russia is the largest producer of oil, supplies Europe with a significant amount of natural gas, and has tremendous timber and mineral mines. Its history is rich with stories of its people overcoming hardship and suffering resulting in a proud country that demands a place on the world’s stage. Your child’s life will be impacted by decision made in Moscow, give them the opportunity to go there and experience a very different world than the one they are living in.

Before you go, read up on its tumultuous history. A country torn apart and conquered in the 1200’s by the Mongols invading from the east. The Mongols would rule Russia for 200 years. 300 years later Peter the Great dragged Russia out of the medieval times by centralizing the government, modernizing the army, launching a navy, and leading a cultural revolution in the arts and science. Peter was an inquisitive hands on monarch. He was the first Russian leader to take a grand tour of Europe. Travelling incognito, which at 6’8’’ was somewhat difficult, he wanted to investigate and learn about technology, science, the latest methods in ship building and navigation. He learned artillery in Prussia, ship building in Holland (actually hired on to work in the dockyard) and navigation in London. Having grown up in an autocratic Russian monarchy, he took great offense to the lively debate in the British Houses of Parliament, not believing that common folk would publicly criticize the Kings policies. In order to have a navy, Peter needed a city on the water so he moved the government from Moscow and built St. Petersburg (which he had taken forcibly from Sweden). His palace today is the incredible Hermitage museum. This city is a testament to Russia’s innate ability to beat all odds, creating a magnificent city where none should exist.

The government moved back to Moscow and you can tour the Kremlin. Compare it to our Capital or Britain’s Palace of Westminster. Take in Red Square which is Moscow’s central square where their impressive military parades take place.

The Eastern Orthodox Church from Constantinople played a significant role in Russia’s history up until the communist revolution in 1917 tried to eradicate all forms of religion. The Cathedrals built from the 1500’s have all been restored and are magnificent to walk through. Russians also take pride in their arts. Their world famous ballet companies and orchestras are worth experiencing in person.

Russia is where the dreams of world conquerors died. Napoleon and Hitler both hugely miscalculated the difficulty in beating the Russians resulting in almost total destruction of their armies. Review with your child where these European leaders failed in their planning and execution.

Modern Russia history is just as tragic. More Russians died, over 23 million, in WWII than any other country. Unfortunately the dying did not stop with the end of the war. Stalin would kill another 20 million Russians consolidating his power.

Somehow all the pain and suffering turns out talented artists in every discipline. Russia’s scientists and mathematicians are recruited around the world.

Take your child to Russia, a visit will open their eyes to how different a world power can be, hopefully encouraging them to appreciate the blessing they have of living in a country that protects the freedom and rights of individuals.