Russian Americans
Русские американцы
Total population
3,163,084 self-reported[1]

1.0% of the U.S. population (2009)
409,000 Russian-born[2]

Regions with significant populations
American English
  • Russian
  • (Russian language in the US)

Eastern Orthodoxy (Russian Orthodox Church, Orthodox Church in America)
Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church

Related ethnic groups

Russian Canadians, Belarusian Americans, Rusyn Americans, Ukrainian Americans, Alaskan Creoles

Russian Americans are Americans who trace their ancestry to Russia, the former Russian Empire, or the former Soviet Union. The definition can be applied to recent Russian immigrants to the United States, as well as to settlers of 19th-century Russian settlements in northwestern America.

After Russian America (now territory part of present-day Alaska) was sold to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, waves of Russian immigrants fleeing religious persecution settled in the United States, including Russian Jews and Spiritual Christians. These groups mainly settled in coastal cities, including Brooklyn (New York City) on the East coast, and Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon, on the West coast.

Emigration was prohibited in Russia during the Soviet era, though after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, immigration to the U.S. increased exponentially.

Some Belarusian Americans, Russian Jewish Americans, Russian German Americans and Rusyn Americans identify as Russian Americans.


US population born in the former USSR
Born in Population
 Russia 340,175 397,236
 Ukraine 275,155 347,759
 Armenia 65,280 90,946
 Uzbekistan 23,030 62,713
 Belarus 38,505 62,514
 Moldova 19,505 42,403
 Lithuania 28,490 33,640
 Kazakhstan 9,155 32,017
 Latvia 27,230 24,691
 USSR (unspec.) 37,335 N/A
 Azerbaijan 14,205 N/A
 Georgia 10,530 N/A
 Estonia 9,785 N/A
 Tajikistan 2,665 N/A
 Kyrgyzstan 2,375 N/A
 Turkmenistan N/A N/A
Total 903,420 1,093,919

According to the Institute of Modern Russia in 2011, the Russian American population is estimated to be 3.13 million.[5]

Many Russian Americans do not speak Russian,[6] having been born in the United States and brought up in English-speaking homes. In 2007, however, Russian was the primary spoken language of 851,174 Americans at home, according to the U.S. Census.[5] According to the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard, 750,000 Russian Americans were ethnic Russians in 1990.[7]

The New York City metropolitan area has historically been the leading metropolitan gateway for Russian immigrants legally admitted into the United States.[8] Brighton Beach, Brooklyn continues to be the most important demographic and cultural center for the Russian American experience. However, as Russian Americans have climbed in socioeconomic status, the diaspora from Russia and other former Soviet-bloc states has moved toward more affluent parts of the New York metropolitan area, notably Bergen County, New Jersey. Within Bergen County, the increasing size of the Russian immigrant presence in its hub of Fair Lawn prompted a 2014 April Fool's satire titled, "Putin Moves Against Fair Lawn".[9]

Sometimes Carpatho-Rusyns and Ukrainians who emigrated from Carpathian Ruthenia in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century identify as Russian Americans. More recent emigres would often refer to this group as the 'starozhili', which translates to mean "old residents". This group became the pillar of the Russian Orthodox Church in America . Today, most of this group has become assimilated into the local society, with ethnic traditions continuing to survive primarily around the church.

Russian-born population[]

Russian-born population in the US since 2010:[10]

Year Number
2010 383,166
2011 increase399,216
2012 decrease399,128
2013 decrease390,934
2014 increase390,977
2015 decrease386,529
2016 increase397,236


Colonial era[]

Russian America (1733–1867)[]

Fort Ross, est. in 1812 in present-day Sonoma County, California.

The territory that today is the U.S. state of Alaska was settled by Russians and controlled by the Russian Empire. The southernmost such post of the Russian American Company was Fort Ross, established in 1812 by Ivan Kuskov, some 50 miles north of San Francisco, as an agricultural supply base for Russian America. It was part of the Russian-America Company, and consisted of four outposts, including Bodega Bay, the Russian River, and the Farallon Islands. There was never an established agreement made with the government of New Spain which produced great tension between the two countries. Spain claimed the land yet had never established a colony there. But due to the well armed Russian Fort, Spain could not remove the Russians living there. Without the Russians' hospitality the Spanish colony would have been abandoned due to their supplies being lost when Spanish supply ships sank in a large storm off the South American coast. After the Independence of Mexico, tensions were reduced and trade was established with the new government of Mexican California.

Russian America was not a profitable colony, due to high transportation costs and declining animal population. After it was purchased by the United States in 1867, the majority of the Russian settlers went back to Russia, but some resettled in southern Alaska and California. Included in these were the first miners and merchants of the California gold rush.

Immigration to the U.S.[]

First wave (1870–1915)[]

Russian immigrant home, New York City, 1910—1915.

Russian Old Believers church in Gervais, Oregon.

The first massive wave of immigration from all areas of Europe to the United States took place in the late 19th century, following the 1862 enactment of the Homestead Act. Although some immigration took place earlier – the most notable example being Ivan Turchaninov, who immigrated in 1856 and became a United States Army brigadier general during the Civil War– millions traveled to the new world in the last decade of the 19th century, some for political reasons, some for economic reasons, and some for a combination of both. Between 1820 and 1870 only 7,550 Russians immigrated to the United States, but starting with 1881, immigration rate exceeded 10,000 a year: 593,700 in 1891–1900, 1.6 million in 1901–1910, 868,000 in 1911–1914, and 43,000 in 1915–1917.[11]

The most prominent Russian groups that immigrated in this period were the groups seeking freedom from religious persecution: the Russian Jews, escaping the 1881–1882 pogroms by Alexander III, moved to New York City and other coastal cities; the Spiritual Christians, treated as heretics at home, settled largely in the Western United States in the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco,[11][12] and Portland, Oregon;[13] two large groups of Shtundists moved to Virginia and the Dakotas,[11] and mostly between 1874 and 1880 German-speaking Anabaptists, Russian Mennonites and Hutterites, left the Russian Empire and settled mainly in Kansas (Mennonites), the Dakota Territory, and Montana (Hutterites). Finally in 1908–1910, the Old Believers, persecuted as schismatics, arrived and settled in small groups in California, Oregon (particularly the Willamette Valley region),[13] Pennsylvania, and New York.[11] Immigrants of this wave include Irving Berlin, legend of American songwriting and André Tchelistcheff, influential Californian winemaker.

World War I dealt a heavy blow to Russia. Between 1914 and 1918, starvation and poverty increased in all parts of Russian society, and soon many Russians questioned the War's purpose and the government's competency. The war intensified anti-Semitic sentiment. Jews were accused of disloyalty and expelled from areas in and near war zones. Furthermore, much of the fighting between Russia, and Austria and Germany took place in Western Russia in the Jewish Pale. World War I uprooted half a million Russian Jews.[14] Because of the upheavals of World War I, immigration dwindled between 1914 and 1917. But after the war, hundreds of thousands of Jews began leaving Europe and Russia again for the U.S., Israel and other countries where they hoped to start a new life.[15]

Second wave (1916–1922)[]

Russian-speaking bankers in Chicago, 1916.

A large wave of Russians immigrated in the short time period of 1917–1922, in the wake of October Revolution and Russian Civil War. This group is known collectively as the White emigres. United States of America was the second largest destination for those immigrants, after France. This wave is often referred to as the first wave, when discussing Soviet era immigration. The head of the Russian Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky, was one of those immigrants.

Since the immigrants were of the higher classes of the Russian Empire, they contributed significantly to American science and culture. Inventors Vladimir Zworykin, often referred to as "father of television", Alexander M. Poniatoff, the founder of Ampex, and Alexander Lodygin, arrived with this wave. The American army benefited greatly with the arrival of such inventors as Igor Sikorsky (who invented the Helicopter and Aerosan), Vladimir Yourkevitch, and Alexander Procofieff de Seversky. Sergei Rachmaninoff and Igor Stravinsky are by many considered to be among the greatest composers ever to live in the United States of America. The novelist Vladimir Nabokov, the violinist Jasha Heifetz, and the actor Yul Brynner also left Russia in this period.

As with first and second wave, if the White Emigre left Russia to any country, they were still considered first or second wave, even if they ended up moving to another country, including the US at a later time. There was no 'strict' year boundaries, but a guideline to have a better understanding of the time period. Thus 1917-1922 is a guideline. There are Russians who are considered second wave even if they arrived after 1922 up to 1948.

Soviet era (1922–1991)[]

During the Soviet era, emigration was prohibited, and limited to very few defectors and dissidents who immigrated to the United States of America and other Western Bloc countries for political reasons. Some fled the Communist regime, such as Vladimir Horowitz in 1925 or Ayn Rand in 1926, or were deported by it, such as Joseph Brodsky in 1972, or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1974, some were communists themselves, and left in fear of prosecution, such as NKVD operative Alexander Orlov who escaped the purge in 1938[16] or Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Joseph Stalin, who left in 1967. Some were diplomats and military personnel who defected to sell their knowledge, such as the pilots Viktor Belenko in 1976 and Aleksandr Zuyev in 1989.

Following the international condemnation of the Soviet reaction to Dymshits–Kuznetsov hijacking affair in 1970, the Soviet Union temporarily loosened emigration restrictions for Jewish emigrants, which allowed nearly 250,000 people leave the country,[17] escaping covert antisemitism. Some went to Israel, especially at the beginning, but most chose the US as their destination, where they received the status of political refugees. This lasted for about a decade, until very early 1980s. Emigrants included the family of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, which moved to the US in 1979, citing the impossibility of an advanced scientific career for a person of Jewish descent.

The slow Brezhnev stagnation of the 1970s and Mikhail Gorbachevs following economic political reforms since the mid-1980s prompted an increase of economic immigration to the United States, where artists and athletes defected or legally emigrated to the US to further their careers: ballet stars Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1974 and Alexander Godunov in 1979, composer Maxim Shostakovich in 1981, hockey star Alexander Mogilny in 1989 and the entire Russian Five later, gymnast Vladimir Artemov in 1990, glam metal band Gorky Park in 1987, and many others.

Post-Soviet era (1991–present)[]

Russian speakers in the US

With perestroika, a mass Jewish emigration restarted in 1987. The numbers grew very sharply leading to the United States, forbidding entry to those emigrating from the USSR on Israeli visa, starting October 1, 1989. Israel withheld sending visa invitations from the beginning of 1989 claiming technical difficulties. After that the bulk of Jewish emigration went to Israel, nearing a million people in the following decade. Those who could claim family reunion could apply for the direct US visa, and were still receiving the political refugee status in the early 1990s. 50,716 citizens of ex-USSR were granted political refugee status by the United States in 1990, 38,661 in 1991, 61,298 in 1992, 48,627 in 1993, 43,470 in 1994, 35,716 in 1995[22] with the trend steadily dropping to as low as 1,394 refugees accepted in 2003.[23] For the first time in history, Russians became a notable part of illegal immigration to the United States.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent transition to free market economy came hyperinflation and a series of political and economic crises of the 1990s, culminating in the financial crash of 1998. By mid-1993 between 39% and 49% of Russians were living in poverty, a sharp increase compared to 1.5% of the late Soviet era.[24] This instability and bleak outcome prompted a large new wave of both political and economic emigration from Russia, and one of the major targets became the United States, which was experiencing an unprecedented stock market boom in 1995–2001.

A notable part of the 1991—2001 immigration wave consisted of scientists and engineers who, faced with extremely poor job market at home[25] coupled with the government unwilling to index fixed salaries according to inflation or even to make salary payments on time, left to pursue their careers abroad. This coincided with the surge of hi-tech industry in the United States, creating a strong brain drain effect. According to the National Science Foundation, there were 20,000 Russian scientists working in the United States in 2003,[26] and the Russian software engineers were responsible for 30% of Microsoft products in 2002.[25] Skilled professionals often command a significantly higher wage in the US than in Russia [27]. The number of Russian migrants with university educations is higher than that of US natives and other foreign born groups. [28]

51% of lawful Russian migrants obtain permanent residence from immediate family member of US citizens, 20% obtain it from the Diversity Lottery, 18% obtain it through employment, 6% are family sponsored, and 5% are refugee and asylum seekers.[29]

The Soviet Union was a sports empire, and many prominent Russian sportspeople found great acclaim and rewards for their skills in the United States. Examples are Alexander Ovechkin, Alexandre Volchkov, and Andrei Kirilenko. Nastia Liukin was born in Moscow, but came to America with her parents as a young child, and developed as a champion gymnast in the U.S. Maria Sharapova moved to the United States at the age of seven.

As of today, Russians make up the second highest migrant group from Europe, only behind the United Kingdom.[30]

Notable communities[]

Distribution of Russian Americans according to the 2000 census, red indicates higher concentrations

Communities with high percentages of people of Russian ancestry
The top U.S. communities with the highest percentage of people claiming Russian ancestry are:[31]

  1. Fox River, Alaska 80.9% [32]
  2. Aleneva, Alaska 72.5% [33]
  3. Nikolaevsk, Alaska 67.5% [34]
  4. Pikesville, Maryland 19.30%
  5. Roslyn Estates, New York 18.60%
  6. Hewlett Harbor, New York 18.40%
  7. East Hills, New York 18.00%
  8. Wishek, North Dakota 17.40%
  9. Eureka, South Dakota 17.30%
  10. Beachwood, Ohio 16.80%
  11. Penn Wynne, Pennsylvania 16.70%
  12. Kensington, New York and Mayfield, Pennsylvania 16.20%
  13. Napoleon, North Dakota 15.80%

Russian Old Believers Church in Nikolaevsk, Alaska

U.S. communities with the most residents born in Russia
Top U.S. communities with the most residents born in Russia are:[35]

  1. Millville, Delaware 8.5%
  2. South Windham, Maine 7.8%
  3. South Gull Lake, Michigan 7.6%
  4. Loveland Park, Ohio 6.8%
  5. Terramuggus, Connecticut 4.7%
  6. Harwich Port, Massachusetts 4.6%
  7. Brush Prairie, Washington 4.5%
  8. Feasterville, Pennsylvania 4.4%
  9. Colville, Washington 4.4%
  10. Mayfield, Ohio 4.0%
  11. Serenada, Texas 4.0%
  12. Orchards, Washington 3.6%
  13. Leavenworth, Washington 3.4%

Apart from such settlements as Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, concentrations of Russian Americans occur in Bergen County, New Jersey; Queens; Staten Island; Anchorage, Alaska; Baltimore; Boston; The Bronx; other parts of Brooklyn; Chicago; Cleveland; Detroit; Los Angeles; Beverly Hills; Miami; Palm Beach; Houston; Dallas; Orlando; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon;[36] Sacramento; San Francisco; Raleigh and Research Triangle Region North Carolina, and Seattle. In 2002, the AmBAR was founded, to help the Russophone community of Palo Alto, California.

Notable people[]

See also[]

  • History of the Russians in Baltimore
  • Slavic Voice of America
  • Florida Russian Lifestyle Magazine
  • AmBAR – American Business Association of Russian Professionals
  • American Chamber of Commerce in Russia
  • Category:Russian communities in the United States
  • Russian colonization of the Americas
    • Russian explorers
    • Russian America
    • Russian American Company
      • Fort Ross
  • Russian American Medical Association
  • Brighton Ballet Theater
  • Russian Canadian
    • Doukhobor
  • Anti-Russian sentiment


  1. ^ "Selected Social Characteristics in the United States: 2007". U.S. Census American Community Survey. 2007. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 
  2. ^ "2007 ACS Study". Integrated Public Use Microdata Series. 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-23. 
  3. ^ Census 2000
  5. ^ a b "Rediscovering Russian America". Institute of Modern Russia. 2011. Retrieved October 8, 2017. 
  6. ^ "Growing Up Russian". Aleksandr Strezev, Principia. Retrieved 4 Apr 2015. 
  7. ^ "Immigration: Russia. Curriculum for Grade 6–12 Teachers". Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. Retrieved May 9, 2008. 
  8. ^ "Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status by Leading Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) of Residence and Region and Country of Birth: Fiscal Year 2013". U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved March 27, 2016. 
  9. ^ Matt Rooney (April 1, 2014). "Putin Moves Against Fair Lawn". Save Jersey. Retrieved March 19, 2016. "In a move certain to carry dire geopolitical consequences for the world, the Russian Federation has moved troops into the 32,000-person borough of Fair Lawn, New Jersey, only days after annexing Crimea and strengthening its troop positions along the Ukrainian border." 
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c d Nitoburg, E. (1999). "{{{title}}}" (in Russian). Новая И Новейшая История (3): 34–51. Retrieved on May 8, 2008. 
  12. ^ Chapter 1 – The Migration in Dukh-i-zhizniki In America by Andrei Conovaloff, 2018 (in-progress)
  13. ^ a b "Russians and East Europeans in America". Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved October 8, 2017. 
  14. ^ Gitelman, Zvi. A Century of Ambivalence, The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union, 1881 to the Present. 2nd Ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988. Print.
  15. ^ Barnarvi, Eli ed. A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People. New York: Schocken Books, 1992. Print.
  16. ^ Trahair, R. C. S. (2004). Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 249–250. ISBN 978-0-313-31955-6. Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  17. ^ History of Dissident Movement in the USSR by Lyudmila Alexeyeva. Vilnius, 1992 (in Russian)
  18. ^ "Appendix Table 2. Languages Spoken at Home: 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2007.". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 6, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Detailed Language Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for Persons 5 Years and Over --50 Languages with Greatest Number of Speakers: United States 1990". United States Census Bureau. 1990. Retrieved July 22, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Language Spoken at Home: 2000". United States Bureau of the Census. Retrieved August 8, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Language Use in the United States: 2011". United States Bureau of the Census. Retrieved November 4, 2015. 
  22. ^ "Fiscal Year 1999 Statistical Yearbook". Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 
  23. ^ "Refugees and Asylees: 2005". Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 
  24. ^ Branko Milanovic, Income, Inequality, and Poverty During the Transformation from Planned to Market Economy (Washington DC: The World Bank, 1998), pp.186–90.
  25. ^ a b "Russian brain drain tops half a million". BBC. June 20, 2012. Retrieved October 8, 2017. 
  26. ^ (2003) "{{{title}}}" (in ru). Экология И Жизнь. Retrieved on 2008-05-09. 
  27. ^ "Russian brain drain tops half a million" (in en-GB). 2002-06-20. 
  28. ^ Bureau, US Census. "Census 2000 Foreign-Born Profiles" (in en-US). 
  29. ^ "Table 10. Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status By Broad Class Of Admission And Region And Country Of Birth: Fiscal Year 2016" (in en). Department of Homeland Security. 2017-05-16. 
  30. ^ "Page Not Found" (in en). 
  31. ^ "Ancestry Map of Russian Communities". Retrieved 2008-08-07. 
  32. ^ American fact finder, Fox River, Alaska, Census 2000-Selected Social Characteristics (Household and Family Type, Disability, Citizenship, Ancestry, Language, ...)
  33. ^ American fact finder, Aleneva, Alaska, Census 2000-Selected Social Characteristics (Household and Family Type, Disability, Citizenship, Ancestry, Language, ...)
  34. ^ American fact finder, Nikolaevsk, Alaska, Census 2000-Selected Social Characteristics (Household and Family Type, Disability, Citizenship, Ancestry, Language, ...)
  35. ^ "Top 101 cities with the most residents born in Russia (population 500+)". City-Data. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  36. ^ Greenstone, Scott (June 16, 2016). "Oregon's Soviet Diaspora: 25 Years Later, The Refugee Community Wants To Be Known". Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 

External links[]