Russia is the largest nation in the world and the ninth most populous, so you’ll feel far from exiled volunteering abroad in this far corner of the world. You can be sure that volunteer programs in Russia have plenty to offer in terms of culture, adventure, geography, and wilderness too; Russia is home to 23 UNESCO World Heritage sites, 40 biosphere reserves, and plenty of national parks. From global cities, like Moscow and St. Petersburg, to otherworldly environments, like the Siberian tundra or the Caspian coast, there are opportunities to volunteer in Russia in almost any location and placement type.
Though the majority of Russia is considered rural, about 75 percent of Russia’s population lives in its two largest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Consequently, volunteer programs in Russia tend to be city based, but that is not to say there aren’t programs in rural areas worth considering too.
Moscow. The capital and largest city, with almost 17 million people in the entire metropolitan area, has plenty of need for volunteers across multiple sectors. For example, volunteers can choose to work with children, the elderly or disabled, help the homeless, or work with at-risk youth. There are plenty of placements for teachers and healthcare professionals too, with a large number of schools in need of English teachers and a broad healthcare network.
St. Petersburg. The second largest city lies in West Russia, just off the coast of the Baltic Sea. Like Moscow, there is high demand for volunteers in healthcare and education. Hospitals, clinics, schools, and community programs all offer the largest number of volunteer opportunities in St. Petersburg. Due to its location, St. Petersburg is more Westernized than the rest of Russia. St. Petersburg is also considered the cultural capital of Russia.
Rural Areas. Most of Russia’s landmass is rural. Once you get outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, you start to see the vast and wild nature of Russia. Rural village environments can be harsh, so volunteers looking to help in these regions should prepare for the challenges that the climate and lifestyle present. English teachers are needed in many of these isolated areas, but there are also opportunities for those looking to get involved in trail building, restoration, and wildlife volunteer projects.
Volunteer Programs in Russia
Volunteer opportunities in Russia can be somewhat limited, but those that are interested in volunteering in education, community service, or healthcare will have no problem finding a placement in most parts of the country.
Education. Teaching is one of the most common ways to volunteer in Russia, as English teachers are needed throughout the country. Volunteers typically choose to work at a specific school, but it is also possible to stay with a host family and teach them English on a regular basis. Volunteer teachers can also often take Russian language lessons in tandem with their teaching placement.
Community Service placements are mostly located in the larger metropolitan areas of the country, where the largest volume of people reside. Volunteers are needed to help create and implement community development programs targeted at a variety of populations, including elderly, disabled, homeless, orphans, and underprivileged children. Those who choose to volunteer in Russia alongside local community members will find they are able to see the difference they are making daily, through their interactions with locals and the relationships they create.
Healthcare. With millions of people to support, the urban healthcare networks in Russia are extensive. Not surprisingly, there are many types of healthcare volunteer placements in Russia. Volunteers can focus on administration, surgical procedures, physical therapy, hands on hospital work, and many more areas of the field. There are also healthcare volunteer programs in Russia more focused on less medical aspects of health, such as rehabilitation and public health outreach.
Costs & Affordability
On a global scale, Russia is relatively affordable place to live, especially in rural areas. Even in larger cities an average meal is priced less than $10 and a monthly transportation pass is only $25, which is surprising for such a highly developed country. Luckily, housing will likely be included in upfront program costs, as rent can be quite pricey in Russia. Additional expenses incurred during your volunteer program in Russia, such as shopping and entertainment, will be quite expensive, especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Be sure to create a budget and stick to it while volunteering Russia to avoid breaking your bank!
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodation options vary between programs. Some volunteers will have the freedom to secure their own housing, but this is not common. Typically, volunteers stay in dormitory-style housing, share an apartment with other volunteers, or stay in a private bedroom of a local host family’s home.
Most individuals will need to acquire a visa to volunteer abroad in Russia. To start the process, your volunteer program provider or local volunteer organization will need to issue you a formal visa invitation. Be sure to check passport regulations for any updates and coordinate with your volunteer program provider to confirm what type of visa you’ll need to apply for. A tourist visa allows individuals to volunteer abroad in Russia for up to 30 days. Depending on your length of stay, you may need to purchase a business visa instead.
Benefits & Challenges
Language Barrier. Although you can get around the major cities in Russia with little to no Russian language skills, it’s better to learn at least some Russian basics, in order to feel less isolated from locals and have a more culturally immersive experience. No doubt, Russian is a difficult language; consider brushing up on the basics before departing for your volunteer program in Russia, and don’t worry if you struggle!
Environment. If you decide to live and volunteer in Russia in a more populated area, you will most likely have to deal with the characteristics of most large metropolitan areas, including pollution, higher crime rates, and a higher cost of living. On the other hand, those who volunteer in rural areas may face harsher weather, less accessible transportation, and a harder time getting by with an English-only vocabulary.
Culture. Russia is a huge country with a rich history full of artists, writers, and thinkers. Like every nation, Russia has seen its fair share of ups and downs. However, this history has led to a host of fascinating cultural complexities. Like Southeast Asia and Africa, the Russian way of life is far from the American way of life, which means volunteering in Russia is an extremely unique experience for international volunteers.