Just Enough Russian To "Get Around"


It’s a little humbling living in a country where you don’t know the language. I remember the first time I sat on Polish airlines and the strangest feeling began to overtake me when I started to realize most the people sitting around me I couldn’t even speak to. Thank God the stewardess said, “Yes”, when I asked if she spoke English! When the plane landed on the ground after crossing the Atlantic everybody began to clap. I realized how much Americans take their pilots for granted and at the same time knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

When walking by Police I try not to talk too loud or too much. If they find out I’m American, they don’t have to have a reason to stop anyone, and might try to get some money out of me before they send me on my way. When I’m at the market with my wife she always reminds me to, “shhhh”, because if the merchants find out I’m from America they might jack their prices up a bit. Another reason if we call a taxi we ask them how much up front, either that or I try to be quiet in the backseat if possible.


It’s always interesting when you go to the movie store, you’re never sure what you’ll find. If you know where to look you can find quality movies for 50 Hryvnas, which is a little over 6 bucks, not bad at all. But, you always have to check the back and see if it has English. Often they translate the movie into Russian or Ukrainian and don’t leave the original English. Then if it says “английский” it has English, supposedly. This was one of the first things I learned to read. You have to ask the clerk to pop it in and check because sometimes it’s a lie. We have a place we return to so we can get good help from the same guy and for the purpose of being intentionally missional. He’s nice and speaks a little English and knows a lot about movies.


As you can see, there is a definite transition stage for someone living in a culture where they are still learning the language. I’m by far not an expert. I’ve learned just enough to get around sufficiently. Following are all the words you need to know to survive in Ukraine:

1.  “На остановке” (na-asta-novkee) “This stop” You have to know how to tell the bus driver when you want off.

2.  “Один” (a-deen) “One” This is to tell the bus driver how many people you’re paying for, or to tell the grocery store clerk how many plastic bags you want, which you have to pay for by the way.

3.  “Два” (dva) “Two” As well, to tell the bus driver how many people you’re paying for.

4.  “Привет” (pree-vyet), which is more informal and like “hi”, or “Здравсвуйте” (zdra-stvooy-tye) “Hello” which is more polite, and it may take a whole day of practice to pronounce it right.  Russians love to mesh all kinds of sounds and consonants together.  It did for me and I was still stuttering.  You can also say “Добрый день” (dobre dien) which means “Good day!”

5.  “Как дела?” (kak dyela) “How are you?” gotta impress the relatives. Although if you don’t pronounce it right they may make fun of you and say you’re from the village.

6.  “Пока” (pa-ka) the easy “Goodbye”, or the one for Russki vets, “До свидания” (da-svee-da-nee-ye).

7.  “Извините” (iz-vie-nee-tye) “Excuse me” This word comes in handy a lot. Especially when you have a big backpack on a crowded bus.

8.  “Сколько?” (skol-ka) “How much?” I just learned this one recently. Gotta know how much they want to charge you. I must have pronounced it wrong yesterday, because the lady immediately turned and wrote down the figure on a calculator instead of just saying it. If you know this word it might help to learn the numbers also.

9.  “Спасибо!” (spa-see-ba) “Thank you!” Used very often.

10.  “Пожалуйста!” (pa-zhal-sta) “You’re welcome” This word has three different uses. By learning one word you learn three. It also means “Here you go”, and “Please”.

11.  “Вы говорите по-английски?” (v-ga-va-ree-tye pa-an-glee-skee) “Do you speak English?”

12.  “Я не говорю по-русски” (ya-nie-gavaroo-pa-rus-kee) “I don’t speak Russian.”  I probably use this one the most.  It’s usually the first thing I say at the grocery store.  

13.  “Да” (da) “Yes”

14.  “Нет” (nyet) “No”

15.  “Я не знаю” (ya-nyez-na-yoo) “I don’t know.”  This one comes in handy after you tell them you don’t speak Russian and they continue speaking to you.


There you have it! Learn these 15 words and how to pronounce them right and no one will ever know you’re from the red white and blue. As a matter of fact when I tell people “Я не говорю по-русски”, that I don’t speak Russian, they usually don’t believe me, and keep talking to me. I think people seem to think I’m Russian at first impression, although they tend to stare at my tattoos quite long. Tattoos are not common here at all, especially in the capacity I have them.

Now, you’re a getting around Odessa pro!  Just don’t venture into the villages of Ukraine, there they speak mostly Ukrainian.  Don’t forget to roll your r’s, your e’s sound more like ye’s and many times your o’s have an a sound.



Here is a helpful site I found for learning Russian. It is free and has pretty good quality audio pronunciations:



Other personal favorites include:

“Круто” (kroo-ta) “Cool!”

“Хорошо” (ha-ra-sho) “Good!”

“Пошли” (pa-shlee) “Let’s go!”

“Слава Богу” (sla-va-bo-goo) “Praise God!”

“Чудо” (choo-da) “Miracle!”

“Бог” (Bog) “God”

“Иисус” (Ee-soos) “Jesus”

“Благодать” (bla-ga-dat) “Grace!”  Which you might name your girl in America but wouldn’t want anyone calling my daughter Blagadat.

“Я тебя люблю” (ya-tye-bya lyoo-blyoo) “I love you!”


What’s your favorite Russian word?


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