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Safety and Emergencies for Expats in Russia

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: January 2014

Safety – Natural Hazards

Russia is a safe country as far as natural phenomena are concerned. It was ranked 130th out of 173 countries in the 2012 UN World Risk Report on natural disasters. Earthquakes are most frequent in the North Caucasus and Far East regions, with the remote Kamchatka peninsula being highly susceptible to both earthquakes and volcanoes.

Most parts of Russia experience a markedly continental climate, which means there is a very sharp contrast in temperature between summer and winter. Summers can be very hot, and there is a risk of heat stroke. Surprisingly, this is the case even as far north as Moscow, where there were fatalities due to heat stroke in 2010. During a heat wave, it is important to make sure you drink enough water, wear loose, lightweight clothing, and stay out of the sun as much as possible.

Russia is of course more famous for the bitterly cold winters that afflict most of the country. For example, in Yekaterinburg near the Ural Mountains, the January average is -16°C, and temperatures can drop to -40°C or lower. At these temperatures, the risk of hypothermia and frostbite is severe, so it is essential that you pay attention to weather forecasts and wear adequate layers of clothing whenever you go outside.

Safety – Man-made Hazards

Russia is a relatively safe country in this category, though caution is advised. Terrorist attacks, mostly carried out by separatists from the North Caucasian republics, are a very real danger; it is highly inadvisable to travel anywhere in the North Caucasus Federal District. As demonstrated by the bombing on 30 December 2013 in Volgograd, terrorist attacks have also occurred elsewhere in the neighbouring Volga Federal District and in Moscow. In these areas especially, be vigilant at all times and report any suspicious activity.

The chances of experiencing unrest in Russia are highest in Moscow, St Petersburg and other large cities. You should take care to avoid any demonstrations as they are unpredictable.

Russia’s crime rate is higher than average, and is especially problematic in some areas of Moscow and St Petersburg. Violent crime rates can also be above average, though in most parts of the country you are unlikely to experience any trouble. Walking the streets is mostly safe during the day.

Petty crime can be problematic, especially in the busier cities. Common types of petty theft include bag snatching, theft from cars and especially pick-pocketing. You are most likely to be pick-pocketed or robbed in crowded areas and on public transport.On the streets, you should be wary of groups of beggars. These often consist of women and children, with the delightful urchins turning out to be accomplished thieves. Theft prevention is about being aware of what is going on around you and keeping your belongings safe at all times. You can help reduce the chances of theft by keeping items such as passports, mobile phones and laptops out of sight as much as possible.

Extortion can also occur, and it may be carried out by fake policeman. Always ask the police for their ID.

If drinking in a public place, make sure you know where your friends are. There have been cases of drink-spiking of foreigners, after which the victim would be robbed or assaulted, then left outside and exposed to the elements. Make sure at all times that your drinks are supervised. Do not accept unattended drinks from strangers.

Ethnic tensions are running high in Russia. Xenophobia and racism are present, in some Russian cities, particularly Moscow and St Petersburg. Attacks have occurred, and you may be harassed or even assaulted if you are non-white or otherwise look ‘foreign’, and will need to take extra care. Note that this is also the case if you are openly LGBT.

Russia is generally safe for women, as the incidence of sexual assaults is quite low.


Russia is currently in the process of unifying its emergency numbers. The new number you should dial for the police, a medical emergency and the fire brigade,  is 112. This number works from a landline, payphone or mobile phone – even one without a SIM card. This service is currently operational in 67 regions and will be available countrywide in 2017. In other regions, you should dial 02 for the police, 01 for the fire brigade and 03 for an ambulance. The emergency operator will answer in Russian, so you will need to either be able to speak Russian or find someone who can.

In addition, there is an English-speaking international crisis line which you can dial as an expat: +8 926 1133373.

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Everywhere in Russia



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