Russian folklore characters

To really understand Russia one should be familiar with Russian folklore. Russian tales feature protagonists who embody the values of qualities of kindness, bravery, and loyalty. At the same time, you’ll also find some controversial characters like the Baba Yaga (a witch character) or Koshchey Bessmertnyi (a skeleton character). In spite of being antagonists in the tales, they possess their own charm. Here is a quick guite to introduce you to the most famous characters in Russian folklore.

The Three Bogatyrs

Ilya Muromets and his companions Alyosha Popovich and Dobrynya Nikitich are known to be the greatest Russian folklore warriors. Ilya Muromets is famed for his mighty strength. Alyosha Popovich is very witty and Dobrynya Nikitich’s courage is known to be second to none. There are some bylins (tales) about the adventures of all the three bogatyrs together and there are some stories that feature only one of them as a protagonist. For example, Ilya Muromets alone defended the city of Chernigov from Tatar invasion in one of the bylines.

Alyosha Popovich, the youngest of the three, defeats the dragon Tugarin Zmeyevich by calling on the heavens to send a black rain cloud to soak the dragon’s paper wings so he can be brought to the ground and defeated.

And in one of the tales Dobrynya Nikitich battled the dragon for three days and just when he was about to give up, a voice from heaven prompted him to last in the battle for yet another three hours, and finally, he conquered the dragon.

You can see the Bogatyrs in the painting “Bogatyry” by Viktor Vasnetsov in the Tretyakovskaya Gallery.  


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Публикация от Лейла (@leyla_danya)

Ivan the Fool (Ivan-Durak)

Ivan-Durak is usually portrayed as a peasant or in the context of being the youngest of three brothers. His older two brothers are quite materialistic and driven by pursuing money, success, and power. Ivan-Durak, in contrast to them, is a naive character with very different values. He is very kind and giving, listens to his heart rather than to his mind, doesn’t take offense, and uses his rapier wit. Having such a sincere and giving nature, he naturally makes friends with less fortunate characters in the story, who at the turning point all come to help him and he eventually overcomes whatever challenge is at stake (usually it’s rescuing the princess). The stories of Ivan-Durak all communicate that you only get what you give. 


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Публикация от ndar_si (@ndar_si)

Ivan Tsarevich

Unlike Ivan the Fool, who succeeds through his kindness and ability to build true relationships, Ivan Tsarevich has to overcome many obstacles using both strength and intellect to achieve his aim. He is a prototype of a Bogatyr and in the stories traditionally fights Kozhey Bessmertny (Immortal Skeletor) to return possession of his kingdom and the kidnapped princess. 

The famous story with Ivan Tsarevich as a protagonist is Ivan Tsarevich and Princess the Frog. In the story, his beloved princess is turned into a frog and Ivan must break the spell and turn her back into a human.

There is even a monument to Ivan Tsarevich and the Frog Princess at the Manezhnaya Ploshchad’ in Moscow.


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Публикация от Маркетолог, копирайтер (@ksenia.rogachenko)

Koshchey Bessmertnyi (Immortal Skeleton)

‘Bessmertnyi’ means Immortal in Russian. He is always the villain in the story and his looks fit the part.  Appearance wise, some say Koshchey’s name may come from the Russian word ‘kost’ meaning bone thus suggesting a skeleton-like appearance. Usually associated with another almost perpetual villain – Baba Yaga (apparently, they are close friends, as far as villains go), Koshchey Bessmertnyi can’t be easily killed. His soul is hidden inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in a chest, which is buried under a green oak tree, which is on the island of Buyan in the ocean. Basically killing him is quite a quest and most tales involving this character are quest stories of protagonists embarking on this complicated journey to get hold of the needle that is the key to his life. You can find Koshchey Bessmertnyi in the painting “Koshchey Bessmertnyi” by Viktor Vasnetsov in the Tretyakovskaya Gallery (Moscow).


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Публикация от Марина 🦁 мама Ника 🐯 (@gorde_eva1)

Baba Yaga (the Witch character)

Baba Yaga is a supernatural being who appears as an ancient and ferocious-looking woman. In the stories, she flies around in a mortar, wields a pestle, and dwells deep in the forest in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs (looks like good foundations might have been a bit of a problem in the folklore days). She is not entirely a negative character. Depending on her mood, Baba Yaga may help or hinder those that encounter or seek her out. She is undoubtedly the most famous and eccentric character of the Russian tales who is the number one character in most of the theatre shows for kids.

There is even a ‘Baba Yaga Museum” in Moscow where you can get to know this lady better if you are intrigued: 73 Izmailovskoe shosse, the 2nd floor.

And in Saint Petersburg you can visit The House of Baba Yaga: it’s located in the Ulyanova village. To get there catch bus number 610 from the metro station Zvezdnaya.


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Публикация от Татьяна Гаврилова (@gavrilovatanya)


Kikimora is a female house spirit, frequently believed to be wedded to Domovoi, a male house spirit. Apparently, marriage did very little to curtail her less than pleasant attributes, or appearance for that matter, or perhaps it was the cause. In any case, she is usually blamed for sleep paralysis, nightmares, and food going bad. In ancient times she was an embodiment of those who committed suicide. To avoid this unwelcome bride, folklore recommends you bury something silver in front of your house (good luck doing that if you live in an apartment) and sprinkle some salt at the entrance, for extra measure.   


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Публикация от Дмитрий Смирнов (@photographer_smirnov)


Unlike his lovely bride Kikimora, this is a benevolent house spirit, keeper of the dwelling and all its belongings. Said to bear a close resemblance to the leprechaun, Domovoi lives his life in reverse (Benjamin Button style): he is born old and progresses through life becoming younger, reaching his demise as a newborn. Domovoi usually stays out of sight and looks after the occupants of the dwelling defending them against evil spirits and mischief (apparently wifey is not on that list).


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Публикация от ДОМОВЫЕ🍀СКАЗОЧНЫЕ ПЕРСОНАЖИ (@svetlanamitrofanova.doll)


Access to lakes and rivers is ultimately controlled by Vodyanoi, the ruler of the aquatic domain. Usually depicted as an amphibian, or half man half fish, he is believed to live near the windmills. He can be known by the grass and weeds on his head and back, dirty hair, leeches on his body and by the fishy body odor. Another run of the mill villain, with a questionable appearance, he is usually held responsible for all drownings. So if you see or smell anything fishy and there’s a mill and some body of water nearby, you’d better run!


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Публикация от Anastasia Bobrik (@anastasia.betsonis)

Zhar Ptica

The name of Zhar Ptica is translated from Russian as ‘A Fire Bird’.  An analogue to the Zhar Ptica in European folklore is the Phoenix, although, in the case of the former, it does not rise from the ashes. Don’t give up hope just yet, it simply dies every year in autumn and comes back to life in spring. Its name is inspired by the looks. The bird has beautiful gold and silver feathers and flames at the end of its wings. It is believed to be a magical creature that once you own brings good fortune, luck and can even perform magic. That is why in most fairy tales involving Zhar Ptica the antagonist is trying to get hold of it to bring to life his evil plans. The quest to catch and bring back a Zhar Ptica is usually a difficult one that only the wittiest and bravest can achieve, hence the antagonist manipulates either Ivan-Durak or Ivan Tsarevich to get involved. The Sculptures of Zhar Ptica can be found in many Russian cities.

In Moscow:

Otradnoe metro station, 12 Dekabristov ulitsa

In Ekaterinburg:

17 Anona Valeka ulitsa

In Saint Petersburg:

16 Afinskaya ulitsa


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Публикация от студия “Жар-Птица” ДПТ (@studiya_zhar_ptitsa)

Zmey Gorynych

It is a fire-spitting  dragon usually with 3 heads. It lives in the mountains near the Fire river and guards the Kalinov bridge – a gate to the world of the dead. Usually, it kidnaps young women, most often they are princesses. After that a protagonist fights Zmey Gorynych, usually Ivan Tsarevich and Dobrynya Nikitich are among them.


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Публикация от @lenok_shch

A sculpture of Zmey Gorynych in Lipetskaya Oblast’. Kudykina Gora

The Kudykina Gora is a park which is a must to be visited for those who want feel the spirit of Russian folklore. Many sculptures depicting heroes and villains from Russian folk tales can be found here. .

The main attraction of the place is the Zmey Gorynych sculpture.

It is a huge 15 meters figure with wings and a tale, but the main asset is his literal ability to exhale the fire! And at nights this figure breathes fireworks instead of the fire.

Camping, festivals and other entertainment are available after emailing them: KUDIKINA.GORA@GMAIL.COM

If you are pressed for time, and are in Moscow, visit the fountains in the Alexandrovsky Sad. Many of them are also sculptures depicting characters from Russian fairy tales.


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Публикация от Дмитрий (@kapustin.dmitriy)

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