10 awkward questions about Siberia, Siberian men and cold weather

Kirill Kukhmar/TASS
Should one be afraid of Siberians, and why are they called that? Is Siberia a colony or a separate country? Here are the answers to the questions you were afraid to ask.

1. Is Siberia a separate country? Or is it a Russian colony?

No, it is neither a separate country nor a colony. Siberia is a geographical region of Russia and currently most of its inhabitants are ethnic Russians.

In the Middle Ages, these lands were inhabited by nomadic tribes of the ancient states of East Asia. For a long time, the territory of Siberia was in vassal-like dependence to the Golden Horde, and after the latter's collapse, at the end of the 15th century, the Khanate of Sibir was formed in its place.

In the Middle Ages, these lands were inhabited by nomadic tribes of the ancient states of East Asia.

The exploration of Siberia by Russians is considered to have begun in 1581 and lasted until the 19th century. War chiefs from the Tsardom of Muscovy went on expansion expeditions, subjugated lands and collected tribute from them. However, some historians do not believe that expansion into Siberia can be considered as colonization since the subjugation of peoples was accompanied, as a rule, by the merging of local and Russian elites.

As early as the 16th and 17th centuries Russian settlers were establishing their own towns on the former territory of the Khanate of Sibir.

2. Where is Siberia? Does Siberia have borders?

Geographically, Siberia is in Asia. But it is so big and boundless that not even every Russian knows where it starts or ends.

Its borders are notional, but it is usually assumed that Siberia begins from the Ural Mountains (which also divide the continent into Europe and Asia) and ends with the Arctic Ocean, its coastal seas and the Russian Far East. In the south, this Russian region borders China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

This is how it looks on a map:

Siberia occupies 9.8 million square miles. It's enough to contain 18 countries the size of France.

3. How many countries would fit in the territory of Siberia?

Siberia occupies 9.8 million square miles, equivalent to 57.01 percent of Russia's whole territory. Is it really that much? Well, enough to contain 18 countries the size of France. Or 27 times the size of Germany. Or 32 times the size of Italy. Or 26 times the size of Japan. Or the whole of Europe. Well, you know what we mean.

4. Do people live in Siberia?

Much of Siberia is covered by mountains and taiga - impassable forests that are untouched by man. You settle there to pursue only one goal - to hide from civilization, as one family of Old Believers (Russian Orthodox Christians who broke away from the Russian Church more than 350 years ago) did in 1936. They fled to Siberia to escape religious persecution and lived in the taiga for decades. Now only one member of the family - Agafia Lykova - is still alive… and still living there.

Agafia Lykova

But not all of Siberia is like that. A total of 36m people, or around 25 percent of Russia's population, live in inhabitable locations there. There are 19 cities in Siberia with a population of over 100,000 and three with over a million residents.

5. Why did people decide to live in Siberia?

The reasons vary. Over several centuries Siberia went through more than one wave of migration. In the first half of the 19th century a real Siberian gold rush began. After the abolition of serfdom, peasants were moved to Siberia in an attempt to resolve the acute problem of land shortage, as well as to develop new lands. They were allowed as much land as they wanted (admittedly, that land had no guarantee of quality). As a rule, people settled next to each other, as a commune.

In the 20th century when industrialization came to Siberia.

In the 20th century when industrialization came to Siberia, this also affected the number of people living there. Finally, people would go to Siberia on instructions from Komsomol communist organizations: It was the party that decided what city could provide work for people. Sometimes the city was a long way from the place where people originally lived - for example, somewhere in Siberia.

Also, you must have heard that millions of people were exiled to Siberia. It is true that "exile to Siberia" was arguably the worst fate a person could be condemned to (apart from being shot). Prisoners and dissidents were sent to Siberia to build new infrastructure, like railways or to work in mines in the harshest of conditions. When he was young, Joseph Stalin was exiled to Siberia six times. He escaped five times.

Still, not all the inhabitants of Siberia are descendants of exiles.

6. Why is Siberia so cold? Does Siberia have a summer?

In the popular imagination Siberia has long been a symbol of an extremely cold winter, piercing winds and remote lands. But in actual fact, the climate of Siberia is similar to the climate of western Russia, with slightly colder winters (-20°С/-4°F) and hotter summers (+25°C/77°F).

Сlimate of Siberia is similar to the climate of western Russia, with slightly colder winters (-20°С/-4°F) and hotter summers (+25°C/77°F).

What they often call Siberia (for example, Yakutia) and where winter temperatures go down to -80°С (-112°F) is in fact situated much further to the east of Moscow and is regarded more like the Far East (and everything is harsher there, just look at this poor girl). This is because Siberia's geographical borders are indeed entirely notional. Sometimes Russians generalize by describing everything to the east of the Ural Mountains as Siberia.

7. Can you see the Northern Lights from Siberia?

Arctic Circle passes through a huge part of the country.

The Arctic Circle passes through a huge part of the country, so this amazing natural phenomenon can be observed from Karelia to Chukotka, including in some cities of Siberia like Norilsk (1,790 miles northeast of Moscow) or the Taymyr Peninsula (1,680 miles from Moscow, in the same direction). You can read about the best places in Russia to see the Northern Lights in our guide.

8. Does Siberia have a capital?

Most Siberians believe that the capital of Russia should be moved to Siberia.

Novosibirsk (2,090 miles east of Moscow) is the recognized administrative center of the Siberian Federal District. For this reason the city is, to a large extent, regarded as the capital of Siberia. But the inhabitants of other Siberian cities - Tomsk, Irkutsk or, for example, Omsk - may think differently. Arguing about the capital is typical of Siberians. What is more, most Siberians believe that the capital of Russia should be moved to Siberia. "Why not? After all, geographically it is the center of Russia," they believe. Also, Siberia has the biggest deposits of gas and oil.

9. Why are people from Siberia called "Siberians" rather than "Russians"?

They get straight to the point in both their words and deeds.

For the same reason that Londoners are not called Britons or Berliners, Germans, although they are natives of those countries.

Siberians have often lived and worked in hard conditions, so gradually they developed a slightly different mentality from the inhabitants of the European part of Russia. The Siberian character and "Siberian health" imply resilience, the ability to resist stress and toughness. It is believed that Siberians do not waste their energy on trifles. They get straight to the point in both their words and deeds. They themselves may describe themselves in the following terms: "We are a big family, and we are all different. But one of my brothers is a typical Siberian... He won't discuss any whys and wherefores. Rather, he would be inclined to hit you in the face."

10. Does it mean all Siberians are tough guys?

Times change, and today a Siberian may differ little from a resident of St. Petersburg.

Yes and no. Times change, and today a Siberian may differ little from a resident of St. Petersburg.

Here is what, for example, this social media commentator thinks: "Nowadays people living in Siberian cities are as unhealthy as in other regions of Russia! Health comes from healthy food and work in the fresh, clean air outside! But nowadays they slouch all day in their offices sat on their behinds, then they binge on tinned food, and breathe exhaust fumes all their life."

By the way, we do have a description of a typical Siberian, so you can see for yourself what they and their everyday lives are like.

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