Soviet Union was the official enemy of the United States for ages. Many people who spent their lives suffering under the paranoia of a looming nuclear war with a mysterious, highly secret collection of countries are still nervous today.
As a consequence, a lot of misinformation clouds the judgment and perception of people when looking at post-Soviet countries. Some myths are so well-known that they are taken as a fact, and that is a real shame.
Here are five common myths about post-Soviet Union countries that just aren't true.
1. Russia is a dangerous place.
There are quite a few reasons that Russia is still seen as a frightening place filled with widespread dangers. Part of it is that there is still a fair amount of corruption within the police force and political houses. But the same thing could be said about the US... The truth is, no country is immune from this problem. With a region like Russia, which has a collection of sins so recent in its history, and the lack of information from behind the Iron Curtain before the Soviet Union fell, it is easy to think this is still a massive problem.
Add in myths about the true power of the Mafia there, and a worry over the prevalence of crime, and you have a potent paranoia cocktail. These images of Russia have been increasing recently, thanks to the posting of videos from dashboard cams on sites like YouTube and Reddit, which have captured a number of frightening crimes. Such as a video recently making the rounds of a man attempting an assassination that didn't kill the victim, causing the would-be murderer to flee from the car the target had been in. But Russia is a big place, and there are plenty of examples of the decent, caring citizens that just don't sound as exciting as the stories of misdeeds. This video shows many of those happier moments.
2. You can't travel to Russia.
It is true that for a very long time travel into Russia was restricted. The myth is that this is still in place and that it is almost impossible for a westerner to get there. But this is wrong. All you need, besides a passport and the funds, is an invitation into the country. While this sounds intimidating, it isn't. An invitation can be acquired through any official hotel, hostel or resort. You can also use a travel agent, which will provide an invitation along with the rest of the amenities of your trip. You do have to pay for them, but the average cost is $35 USD for an invitation, which is very little. Once you have your invite, take it to a Russian consulate to have them verify its authenticity, and you will be given a Russian visa for about $50 USD. That's it...very little effort about less than $100 are all you need to visit this historic country.
3. Terrorism is rampant.
No, it isn't. Actually, terrorism is not a major problem in almost all of Russia. You are thinking about Chechnya, an incredible dangerous, isolated region of the country. Yes, it is a tragic situation, and you wouldn't want to take a trip there. Yours chances of being targeted for a terrorist attack in somewhere like, say, Moscow is about the same as it would be anywhere else. Remember, the most recent terrorist attack in the US happened in Boston. Would you refuse to go there?
4. Estonia is culturally stunted.
I am surprised by how often I hear this one, especially given it is blatantly false. In fact, you could say the exact opposite is true. During its time as a Soviet state, Estonia managed to keep a rare connection to the West. Television shows, books and music often made their way there, where in other regions it was unheard of to gain access to any of those things.
To this day, Estonia takes many of its cues from outside influences all over the world. Especially when it comes to technology and culture, and globalized education opportunities are taken at every turn. Of course, this is not the case 100% of the time. There is a fraction of Estonian people who prefer to maintain the old ways and mindsets of the Soviet era, usually within the more impoverished towns. This has given the country a rather unfair stereotype of being cold, stuck in their ways and backward, but does not give a fair representation of the country as a whole.
5. Ukraine has no economic viability.
Did you know that Ukraine used to be one of the top economic powerhouses in the world? They had a thriving industry of coal and steel, among many others, and were well known for building military necessities like planes, ships and even rockets and other weaponry. Until their fall to the Soviets, they were a massive economic hotspot with a ton of potential, which did continue through their time as a Soviet state. When they broke away and began to work through their independence, there were a number of hardships that lashed out it the country - including their struggles to form a government that help stabilize the region.
This has created a number of problems, and has made the country very poor. But they still have a huge number of resources, and have slowly been improving their lot by getting projects off the ground. Others are ready to be taken over by savvy investors, and Ukraine is without a doubt a place rich with opportunity for anyone internationally who would choose to fund operations.
All in all, the states formerly belonging to the Soviet Union have changed a great deal. Yes, there are some areas that are still dangerous and some that are still incredibly impoverished but the same could be said about anywhere else in the world, and most of the myths are just that: myths.
About Today's Contributor:
Michelle Fach is the branding manager for Dobovo, the travel business startup based in Ukraine and specializing in finding apartments in Kiev. She got inspired for writing this article after reading this thread about the Soviet Union which is an eye opener!