Ceelbas CDT


Working in Former Soviet Archives

Photo by Andy Willimott

A brief introduction

Each archive is somewhat, and more often drastically, different from all others. This is why we provide separate detailed information on individual archives in this guide, but there are still many characteristics which they have in common. First and foremost, you should be aware that most Russian archives are closed for the whole of August, and many will close before the end of July and will not necessarily open right at the beginning of September. Calling ahead and checking the relevant archive website is a must to avoid wasting your research time. In Ukraine, archives are more likely to be open in August, but again, it’s always best to check in advance.

Rather ironically, the first thing most archives have in common is a complete ignorance of each other and their respective rules. So, even though numerous Russian archives operate under the ultimate authority of Rosarkhiv, they often have very different rules concerning the use of, for example, laptops in the reading rooms. The archivists are usually completely unaware that there is any other set of rules outside of their own archive. This tends to mean that you will have to learn by error, while the archivists of a given archive will enjoy being amazed (and vocal) in response to your apparent ignorance of how things are done. This is part of the adventure and it’s best to enjoy it all with a wry smile.

Life in the Archives
Ordering Material
Working with the Archivists

Photo by Jonathan Waterlow

Quick links to other sections of the Guide

Welcome page
List of archives
Soviet archive structure
Useful vocabulary
Russian visas