How I memorized the 85 federal subjects of Russia


In February of this year, I set out to memorize the 85 federal subjects of Russia. I did not know where to start out, but I decided to have a go at it. I looked up a game to help, and I discovered this site: (in Russian. If you want it in English, click the En button in the upper right.)

I decided to just try the game out and see how many subjects I already knew. I surprised myself by getting about 85-90% correct consistently, although a few were lucky guesses or some were the last one left.

I consistently got most of Siberia and the Far East immediately correct, missing only a few each time. I had to memorize a few new ones, like Khabarovsk Krai and how to tell Irkutsk Oblast, Buryatia, and Zabaykalsky Krai apart from each other. After learning how to tell the two subjects called Altai apart from each other (Altai Krai and Republic go alphabetically from west to east), I was pretty much done with Eastern Russia.

Western Russia has something like three times the federal subjects, so the same approach wouldn’t work.

I started with a few I always consistently got wrong. Sverdlovsk was in a surprising position (I guessed it was in a different region of Russia), so seeing it highlighted in the correct position proved to be enough of a shock to memorize it.

There were several I knew, but didn’t know. I knew where Volgograd was, but kept confusing it with Rostov and Kalmykia. I had to figure out where Volgograd wasn’t before knowing where it was and clicking it. I also confused it with the similar-sounding Vologda to the north.

For Vologda, I confused it with its neighbor, Novogorod. Vologda is longer and flatter, and Novgorod is closer to St. Petersburg.

I confused Ivanovo with a few of its neighbors, and had to count to figure out which one it was, and to be careful not to click on Kostroma (both are in a similar direction to Moscow, which I used as a reference point).

Yaroslav is to the north. Vladimir is to the south - opposite sides of Ivanovo (which by this point I could accurately locate). Dagestan is the southernmost on the west side of Russia. Astrakhan, although it looks similar, is further north.

There were a few federal subjects with a distinctive shape which stood out. This helped me memorize them. Kirov is pretty hard to miss once you know its distinctive sharp shape. Udmurt also has an interesting shape for its southern border, like it’s grabbing Tatarstan to the south. Bashkortostan and Chelyabinsk fit together like a strange jigsaw puzzle.

Orenburg juts out a bit towards the southeast, which helped me remember where it was.

The most frustrating subjects to memorize were those with similar names. A few were easy. Krasnodar and Krasnoyarsk are nowhere next to each other and are pretty much polar opposites. More frustrating were those with similar names that were next to each other. Samara and Satarov got me for quite some time, although I eventually used their shapes to tell them apart. And Nenets and Yamalo-Nenets are not the same thing.

There’s a group of three that sticks in my mind. Kaluga, Kursk, and Kurgan. I had to learn that Kaluga wasn’t like the other two, and learned that it was the only other one that Moscow city touched (Moscow Oblast surrounds Moscow - the two are separate federal subjects). Kursk is short, so it is close to Moscow (a few borders away from Kaluga). Kurgan is longer, and so it is far from Moscow.

Bryansk is on the western border of Russia. Ryazan is almost on the opposite side of Moscow. (Their names sound more similar in Russian - Bryanskaya, Ryazanskaya. So I confused the two.)

There were two that caused me immense grief - Karachay-Cherkess and Kabardino-Balkar. These two with very long names are right next to each other. I used the second part - C and B, and remembered that they are not in alphabetical order, and so Cherkess is to the west and Balkar is to the east.

Ingushetia is the smallest in the region. North Ossetia has a distinct shape to it. Chechen was the only one left in the region, and so was now easy to place.

The last two that confused me were Mari El and Mordovia. Mari El rises - MAAAAH-ri El, like saying “ah” after something relaxing, and Mordovia sinks - Mor-DOOOH-via, like putting force on something. I later learned that it was actually pronounced “mah-REE el”, but the mnemonic worked.

From here, it was mostly figuring out the very few ones I had left. Kemerovo is to the west, Khakassia is to the east. Alphabetical order. Tula borders Moscow. Oryol does not (actually Oryol was the last one I learned).

I had been studying the map of Russia for about 2 weeks now. I took the test again and got 100%. Took it again later - 100%. And 100% again. And again.

I had now memorized the map of Russia.