Identification. The Russian peasants are part of the eastern branch of the Slavic ethnic unit. This population is generally called simply "Russian," both by itself and by others "Great Russian" is a more specific term that distinguishes the Eastern Slavs from other Slavic groups inhabiting the historical territory of the Russian Empire—Belarussians ("White Russians") and Ukrainians ("Little Russians"). There are also many local ethnonyms.
Location. The population discussed in this article inhabits the territory extending from the White Sea in the north to the northern shore of the Black Sea and the northern slope of the Great Caucasus Mountains in the south. The territory is bounded on the east by the Ural Mountains and on the west by territories inhabited by the Baltic peoples, Poles, Ukrainians, and Belarussians. Russian territory consists of a very large plain dissected by ranges of hills and ravines, by many rivers, and (particularly in the north) by a large number of lakes. The plain was originally heavily wooded and is still wooded and marshy in many places. The climate is continental—marked by hot summers and cold winters, particularly in the north.
Demography. In 1989, 34 percent of the population of the USSR was rural, although the proportion of rural residents varied from region to region. Much of the increase in the urban population is accounted for by out-migration from rural areas. In many places, there is a shortage of young women. The out-migration of women occurs, in many cases, because of the lack of potential marriage partners in the countryside but also because of limited opportunities for high-status employment and perceived poorer living conditions. Public-health facilities in rural areas are significantly worse than in the cities, and consequently infant mortality is higher. The rural population—including the work force—is aging. Much of the work in agriculture is now done by people on pensions and with relatively low levels of education and skills. Recent economic and social reforms have yet to make a dent in this problem.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Russians speak one of the three major languages of the East Slavic Division of the Slavic Branch of the Indo-European Linguistic Family.