Russia’s iconic ‘Matreshka dolls’
Published on: Sunday, August 04, 2019
By: Lorena Binisol

Some of the houses use logs instead of bricks.
THE Russian dolls – “Matreshka dolls” – seem to be a popular souvenir when one visits Russia for the first time. It can be found in small townships, big cities and even airports. The wooden dolls are stacked on each other, decreasing in size.

According to Kristina Zhigulskaya from Siberia, the Russians take pride in the dolls as it symbolises the strength and uniqueness of the Russian women in the past.

“Each family’s struggle was faced calmly by the woman of the house in the olden days. Poverty and scarcity were nothing to these women.  

“Therefore, in today’s society, Russian women are respected due to their struggles.  The dolls symbolise women’s power, stronghold and might,” Kristina said.

She said it was a cultural boom, invented in the 1900s and was under the influence of “Daruma”, a Japanese doll.

“History says the Matreshka dolls have been the symbol of beautiful Russian woman. Matreshka means a woman with many children.” 


The Russian dolls in different sizes.

As for Vladislava Lozano @ Lada, another Siberian, she said Matreshka means “mother” – a mother’s role in the family could “hold” the family together and remain calm despite the struggles, she said.

“That’s how important the Russian dolls to us. It shows our strength within especially the women,” said Lada.

According to Igor Rozhdestvenskiy, from St Petersburg, there are many good quality wood in the wild in Siberia.  Most of the decorative items are made of wood including the dolls.

However, there are a lot of Taiga forest where it grows trees that can sustain the cold weather.


Creative way of using life-sized Russian dolls to attract shoppers.

Siberia got its name from Siberia Tatar, meaning Sleeping Land, most probably nothing seemed to grow well in that extreme climate. However, today, its jungle is wildly grown with woods that today become one of the important resources of the country.

“We have good quality of wood that we could make furniture, build houses, make decorative items such as the dolls,” said Igor.

In Tomsk city, many houses are made of logs and become instant attraction to visitors. Some restaurants, cafes and shops too use woods instead of brick for their buildings.

Some 30 foreign delegates from Asia including from Malaysia were brought to visit the Museum of Slavic Mythology in Tomsk city.  The visitors were enjoying looking around for the unique yet beautiful handmade and hand painted dolls and other decorative items in the shop.

According to the shop attendants, all the dolls displayed are made by various communities in the region.

Some woven materials were also available which was made by another group of women in different communities in Siberia.  Many of the small-time entrepreneurs still do their business as cottage industry.


Giant Russian doll at the museum.

Bamboo is one raw material used to make their baskets and it caught the attention of a Sabahan visitor, Mary Jim. It is similar to the one available in Sabah, she said, who was one of the delegates.  However, the design and patterns are different.

Igor said, despite the cold and long winter in Siberia, the country produces a number of raw products such as petroleum, stone pine trees, berries and many others.

Gold was once discovered in Tomsk in the early century, however today, the city becomes one of the important educational hubs in Russia.  There are nine major universities mostly centred in Tomsk region.


Giant Russian doll at the museum.

That makes more than half of the population young generations who are foreign students, said Igor.

Some of the temperate trees used to make the dolls are such as Cedar, Stone pine trees, Birch, Larch to name a few.

Lada said there are many other items symbolising Russia apart from the dolls. They are Balalayka (musical instrument), Valenki (shoes), Shapka Ushanka (hat), Garmoshka (musical instrument) and many more.

She said main resources for the country are coming from petroleum, gas and wood. Lada said China is the biggest importer for Russian wood.

When winter comes, the temperature could drop to as low as -45 to -70 degrees in certain areas.  

Igor said as soon as winter arrives, water tap in the household would be turned on in small drips for the whole winter – to prevent it from freezing. The car engine would be started and never turned off until winter is over, he said.

 “Our car engine is always ‘on’ to avoid from freezing,” Igor added.

It is legal to consume exotic meat in Siberia, probably because there are still many wild animals in the wilderness.


Exotic meat served to the foreign delegates at the dinner. 

During the welcoming dinner hosting the foreign delegates who were attending a conference in Siberia, in one of the restaurants called The Stroganina Bar, they were served exotic meat including deer, bear, elk, cow and native salmons.

“It feels funny and weird tough. I did not have the heart to even have one bite of the bear meat as I just saw its replica at the airport,” said Mary Jim, one of the diners.

Igor disclosed that if the animal (bear) is triggered by noise, it would react and could kill people. It is best not to go near or purposely hunt the animal due to its size.

Diners really enjoyed the Russian food served to them with some background of Russian music played during the meal time.

At the Oktyabrskaya hotel where the foreign delegates were staying, there are some unique decorations made of woods around the lobby area which makes the hotel unique.  One conspicuous thing that caught the attention of the visitors was the huge wooden clock near the reception area.

Lada said Oktyabrskaya means month of October. The hotel was named as October in remembrance of the revolution that happened in the month of October in 1917.

She said Tomsk city has many historical sites including hotels as they used names to remember their past history.

“In 1917, in the month of October during the leadership of Lenin the revolution began and this is a historical moment we ought to remember,” said Lada. 

According to Yulia Kostevich, a native from Siberia liberated that Siberia holds many historic and significant things to be remembered.  Buildings are one of the most visible.

She admired how the process of producing Russian dolls as it signifies how hardworking and detail-oriented they are.


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