Wheelchair access in Russia

Deanne Newton
Late last year I went to Russia with my partner. It was difficult to travel around the cities in my wheelchair. Some of the buildings and train stations were not accessible. In Moscow there were no pedestrian road crossings at street level. However we were pleased the buses had wheelchair ramps, which helped us move around. Although it was hard sometimes, we are happy we visited Russia. There were many wonderful things to see and do. It was a colourful and interesting place.
Posted by: 
Deanne Newton on 18/02/2016
Deanne on a bridge with Kremlin in the background.
Deanne on a bridge with Kremlin in the background.

My persistence was worth it.

In September last year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel with my partner to Russia, as well as to England and France. This had been a dream for many years. As Russia was under communist rule until 1991, we suspected it would be less accessible than many Western nations. However, we were confident that with determination and planning we would be able to overcome any challenges.

Accessibility in Moscow

We deliberately avoided extensive travelling on public transport by staying close to the well-known Red Square in Moscow. On our first walk in the city, we realised it would be challenging to push my manual wheelchair along. Older pavements were narrow and cracked and there were no flat kerbs.

Arriving at a major road, we could not find a pedestrian crossing anywhere. We then realised there was an underpass to get to the other side. On this occasion, I had to get out of my wheelchair and struggle through the stairwell while my partner lifted the chair.

We also soon found out that there were no pedestrian crossings in Moscow, although we did locate two underpasses not far from Red Square with modern ramps. When we did run into trouble, many people spoke a little English and were quite willing to help.

Arbat Street

The first place we visited was the tourist area Arbat Street that is packed with numerous souvenir shops, restaurants, caf├ęs and street performers. Here, we found that the tourist buses had easily accessible ramps. We jumped on the bus and were excited to see the Kremlin and St Basil's Cathedral tour.

We later found out the public buses had ramps and sometimes we used them just to get across the ten-lane roads. An amusing incident occurred when a bus driver failed to put down the ramp for me and a Russian lady began yelling at him for his neglectfulness.

The Kremlin and Gorky Park

The Kremlin is a huge, imposing structure. The wall encompasses an area of 275,000 square metres (68 acres). Inside the walls lie the Grand Kremlin Palace, stunning cathedrals and beautiful gardens.

The Kremlin Armoury holds precious Russian, Eastern and Western European artefacts that date from the 5th to 20th centuries. The Kremlin was partially accessible with the exception of the Armoury. The cathedrals were difficult to get into, but offered a good view from the outside.

The Russian Senate building still exists within the Kremlin wall, and this is where government meetings are held. In fact, while there we saw Putin's helicopter fly into the complex.

In Moscow I would also recommend wheelchair-friendly Gorky Park, with its 300 acres of gardens, woodlands and lakes.

The Hermitage Museum

When arriving in the city of Saint Petersburg we were happy to find that there were accessible public and tourist buses, and regular pedestrian crossings. However, many buildings had steps and no ramps. The highlight of visiting Saint Petersburg was the Hermitage Museum. It has ornate rooms in the baroque and the neoclassical architectural style, alongside countless renowned paintings by artists such as Michelangelo and Rembrandt. The Hermitage was fully accessible. I was invited to jump the long queues and both my partner and I got in for free.

The Russian metro

We dared to use the Saint Petersburg metro at the encouragement of a Russian friend who was with us. Unfortunately, like the other metro stations, there were no elevators. I soon found myself being helped onto an escalator, in the chair, by a station attendant who assisted me to the train platform. I quickly realised the escalator was unusually long and steep. And at 125 metres, the escalator at Admiralteyskaya station is the second longest in the world!

Due to their poor accessibility for people who use wheelchairs and scooters, I would recommend avoiding the Russian metro. We found the best course of action was to familiarise ourselves with the city bus routes. However if you chose to use the metro, staff are very willing to help and are unfazed by the difficulties of transporting a wheelchair down stairs and escalators.

Worth the challenge

The colourful buildings and rich history Russia had to offer was unique. It was unlike anything I have seen in Australia or other European cities. Despite the challenges, the country was definitely worth my persistence.

For more accessibility travel stories, read Maureen Corrigan's Experiencing Israel and Scooter stir in Russia.



Readers comments (9)

That was amazing Deanne wonderful information very interesting article . If I was touring Russia I would have found all you shared very helpful.

I thought your article was very good.

I held my breath when u mentioned that u braved the esculators.....they were so extremely fast when I was there in 96 n again in 98. IWhen I dared to step on the first one, I was immediately afraid of a pile up at the bottom because pople couldnt get out of the way in time! I also was amazed at the hight n depth they traveled! I was there 6 weeks on the 2nd trip and never became accustomed. Scarry was the word! I was staying in a guarded compound of Basic Life Principles Mission Org, consisting of American run Orphanage and Christian primary school College (high school). For the Russian students who lived on the campus with American home school families, as well as off campus students attending as a private school. Almost all teachers were Russian. I met there many of these families and teachers, even the head of Moscows Educational System. Many of the American kids there with their families, taught English in the Russian Public School. You needed no degree to teach. They didn't put them in beginning classes, but more advanced classes for Conversation English. All the schools were begging for more English teachers! None had enough. Ahhh, but to do this, u must have ur own living expenses. They will provide u with a flat, but no pay. This interested me, but it never happened. I visited Inna n Eugene in Siberia and they made me the same offer. Inna would even help me with lesson plans. I could not drop my business at that point. 2 yrs later they came to live with me in America for 2 yrs. an Katya was born there. My first granddaughter.

Hi Brenda, interested to hear you also had an experience with the escalators. I was already on it however before I realised how bad it was. Most people don't seem to understand how huge and steep it actually was when I try to tell the story!

By the way, very interesting and well written from u.

Wow Deanne what a great article you gave written. Thank you. It really does give me a clear idea of what kind of accessibility to expect and how to plan a visit to Russia. And that long steep escalator sounded amazing. But you made it and that adds to thrill of it all doesn't it? It also great to hear how other people around are so often willing to help. Great story. I just wonder though - did you feel safe there? Thanks Maureen.

Hi Maureen, in terms of safety do you mean crime-wise? Yes, I felt safe because there were more police and guards around and they generally seemed to have more public respect. However, if anyone stepped out of line even slightly at the attractions the guards were on to them. So they were intimidating in that way. I've heard people were once suspicious of tourists in Russia but that no longer seems to the case at least in the cities.

Thanks Deanne, good information again.

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