Russian language in Portland

with 8 Comments

I always keep an eye out for the Russian language in Portland. After all, there are about 100,000* people who speak the language in Oregon. Although most Russian speakers live in a certain part of the city, the language is represented citywide. Here are several things I’ve seen recently, presented in order from that makes sense to wtf. 😉

At the airport.
On the streets of downtown Portland.


At a library in the suburbs. (Not sure why it’s plural? The English version was “library” and the Spanish was “biblioteca”.)


On a guy’s jacket.


What do you think about фвеч? Are you cracking up too?

Although, there is a фвч


Is there also a Russian-speaking community where you live?

How do you meet native speakers?

Leave me a comment below! 🙂



*From the 2016 article Oregon’s Soviet Diaspora: 25 Years Later, The Refugee Community Wants To Be Known: “…members of the Portland-area community from the former Soviet Union estimated their number at around 100,000; however, according to a 2014 report from the Coalition for Communities of Color and Portland State University, members of this community often don’t respond to surveys or don’t trust the surveyors.”

If you’re interested in Russian in Portland, here’s another post I wrote with more pictures and info on how to get involved with the community.

8 Responses

  1. Steve
    | Reply

    If you include the greater Portland and Vancouver area there are almost 300,000 Russian speaking people. I know I lived in Vancouver, Washington for over 10 years and several years in the Portland area. I have been greatly enjoying your blog. Great posts.

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      Yes, good point! We went on a hike in Vancouver a few months ago and the trail signs were all in English – Spanish – Russian.

      I didn’t know you had lived in the Pacific NW, Steve- how cool 🙂 Thank you for your comment!

  2. Al Koch
    | Reply

    Is this a Russian or Ukrainian area or a mix?

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      It’s a mix- people from Ukraine, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, etc. I want to say the majority are Ukrainians, but maybe I just know that community better because of D’s family. I asked the last Ukrainian guy I met about which language he prefers (he was from western Ukraine) and his answer was “whichever, it’s all the same for me.” But most of the public signs, mailings, etc are always in Russian since it’s more or less a “common” language among all these different groups.

      Al, what does it feel like in Kyiv nowadays in terms of language? Is it 50% Ukrainian – 50% Russian… or is it shifting?

  3. Lyttenburgh
    | Reply

    “What do you think about фвеч? “

    I think it’s their faily attempt to spell “obey”. They often substitute “o” with Russian “ф”, and “y” with “ч” when trying to prsent soming in Яussiфн.

    “Oregon’s Soviet Diaspora: 25 Years Later, The Refugee Community Wants To Be Known”

    Pardon me – “refugee”? What makes them “refugees”? In 1989 the USSR relaxed emigration laws for the Jews, which resulted in the upsurge of the “sausage/kielbasa emigrants” to the West an Israel. They were not “refugees”.

    “Sundvall saw a program on TV about American prisons, and she realized that American prisoners lived better than Russian citizens.

    “They had TV in their rooms, VHS players,” Sundvall said. “They had hot water and running water.” “

    And 300 different types of sausage! [nod-nod] That’s a true reason to become a “refugees” from the Western hailed Perestroika – lack of TV.

    “Rutova has Jewish ancestry, so she came to the U.S. to escape discrimination. “

    Which rules out the claim that “Russophonic” in Portland or elsewhere means “Russian” or even “Slavic”. Discrimination, she speaks about, was in not allowing the Jews to leave the country en masse to the West and Israel (no one was allowed either, but Jews, you know, are always special) and there were quotas on allowing Jews to certain Universities and Institutes, because:

    a) No one wanted to give (for free!) a higher education to the people, who by the ways arcane and political, could always emigrate to the countries hostile to the USSR

    b) There was an “affirmative action” of sorts. It was more important to reserve a number of places for the students from ALL Soviet Republics. It was more important for having, e.g. a number of students from Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and from Yakutia, than allowing, no matter how brilliant and talented, for the Jews to be the only ones on this or that faculty.

    And despite that – the Jews were both overall very much “represented” in the Soviet higher education, and a larger % relative to their total number had higher education.

    As for “anti-semitism” – nobody likes “teacher’s pet”. If the US makes the Jews out of all ethnicities of the USSR “a special case” due to political reasons (and Israel), well – here you go. Nothing personal – just Cold War. Plus, given the fact that, no, there were no pogroms since the rise of the USSR, they can’t really claim to be “refugees”.

    “When immigrant families came to America, their level of education was low: The majority had only middle school or less.”

    Could not possibly be true. The overall level of the higher education in both the USSR and modern Russia is higher than in many parts of the world. Or, possibly, all “brainiacs” decided to stay on the East Coast and in California, while all the rest came to Oregon.

    “So “the dream,” according to retired family liaison Yelena Benikov, was for boys to grow up and be truck drivers or construction workers, and for girls to be married at 15, 16 or 17.”

    No idea about whom they are talking about. Such “dream” was not the case in both the USSR or Russia nowadays. Especially for underage girls getting married. We are not some Middle Easterners, you know.

    If true, though, this just shows the level of human degradation and a true price for their “dream” of Freedom.

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      Ooooh, obey- I like it. That idea makes sense. It was on the jacket of a Chinese international student and it reminded me of the stories of people getting tattoos of Chinese characters that turn out to be just gibberish, haha.

      The thing is, many members of the Slavic community in Oregon did immigrate for religious reasons. How valid the claims of persecution actually were, I don’t know, but it allowed people to arrive under the specific label of “religious refugee” and invite more family to come under the same label. The Slavic Pentacostal community here, for example, is massive and mostly arrived under religious refugee status. (Side note: I worked in refugee resettlement in Alaska and around 2011-ish [can’t remember exactly when] there was a big panic in the local communities there because the window for Ukrainians being able to claim religious refugee status was closing… people were afraid their families wouldn’t make it over. Most of those communities were Evangelical, but I do remember one Muslim family who came from Russia claiming religious persecution.) I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone here from the Russian-speaking Jewish community here, so I don’t really know anything about their immigration background.

      Here’s more info about the main Slavic communities in Oregon: Old Believers, Evangelicals, Orthodox, Jewish.

      About the education level, I both agree and disagree with you 😉 In terms of overall educational level for people in the USSR, yes, it was amazing. Like the US sometimes puts fluoride in the water, the Soviet government put “education” in the water. It was ubiquitous. Yet, I know a number of middle-aged Russian speakers here who only went to school until they were young teens. They came from villages, not cities, and they dropped out to go to work at around age 14. Not everyone, of course- there are plenty of people in the same communities with higher education, but there’s enough of the first group to be notable. And there is practically an army of Russian-speaking truck drivers in the Portland area. If you go on Craigslist and search for truck driving jobs, many of them will be advertised in English and Russian. I know a guy who is doing this now, driving long-haul across the US. Interestingly, his boss only wants him to stop for repairs at places owned by other Russian speakers (when out of state). It’s probably far-fetched to think there’s an underground brotherhood of Slavic truckers throughout the US, but there’s definitely such a thing in Oregon. Making good money, too! 😉

      By the way- если не секрет, в какой стране вы живёте, Lyttenburgh?

      • Lyttenburgh

        “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone here from the Russian-speaking Jewish community here, so I don’t really know anything about their immigration background.”

        That’s it – because “Jackson-Vanik amendment” specifically targeted Jews as ethnicity, not as a creed. And most of the former USSR Jews tend to be secular anyway.

        Soviet Union’s official ideology made it anti-religious – but it targeted all religions. It looks mighty strange and hypocritical, why Pentecostals and Old Believers were granted the refugee status in the USA, but not the Soviet Muslims or Orthodox Christians.

        Or – let us be totally honest here. The stated reasons for such “segregation” were complete BS, with the real goal was the fragmentation of the USA’s adversary along the “minority” lines. Which is still practiced btw.

        “Yet, I know a number of middle-aged Russian speakers here who only went to school until they were young teens.”

        If by “middle-aged” you mean “they grew up during late Perestroika – early 90s” then I can totally believe you. That time was a disaster to anyone, people were just trying to survive.

        “By the way- если не секрет, в какой стране вы живёте, Lyttenburgh?”

        In Russia. Moscow and oblast, but I was born in Ural.

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