A guide to the New East

Flag quiz! Can you tell freaky from fake in our round-up of Russian flags?

  • Flag quiz! Can you tell freaky from fake in our round-up of Russian flags?

Any Russian mayor worth his salt knows that the best way to attract investment (and perhaps divert a few million roubles into a Swiss bank account) is to commission a jazzy new logo for his city. The success of this policy is evident in the global fame of cities like Yaroslavl and Ulyanovsk.

But these brand-conscious bureaucrats are missing a trick by overlooking the riches under their noses — and on their flagpoles. For, already fluttering above Russia’s provincial towns are a parade of bizarre banners and strange symbols that put the focus-group faffing of modern-day logo-mongers to shame.

To celebrate Russia's off-beat heraldic heritage, we've put together a little quiz: can you tell which of these 14 flags is genuine, and which we've cobbled together on Photoshop?

Let’s have fun with flags!

Question 1 of 14


In western Russia’s version of the Sistine Chapel, God’s hand extends from its ruffled cloud-sleeve in order to pat a prancing leopard on the stomach.

Question 2 of 14


The avant-garde legacy of Malevich’s Black Square meets the industrial might of Stalin’s Soviet Union in this exquisitely severe flag, which represents the mountain of pure iron ore that first lured metalheads to this distant outpost. The austere icon also communicates a clear message: if you’re looking for fun, don’t come to Magnitogorsk.

Question 3 of 14


Train tracks (not ladders!) mean everything to the Far Eastern town of Shimanovsk, which was founded when the Amur railway rolled by in 1910. So they put them on their flag.

Question 4 of 14

Chelyabinsk Region

Nature’s least cuddly and most thick-skinned beast is a surprisingly fitting symbol for the unlovely Chelyabinsk Region, capturing as it does the unique charms of this heavily polluted corner of the Urals.

Question 5 of 14


In Russia’s toxic political climate it is heartening to see a flag that celebrates the tender, non-traditional love of a smiley bear and a fish. Well done, Anadyr, an oasis of tolerance in distant Chukotka.

Question 6 of 14

Penza Region

The wide availability of Photoshop has transformed the world of flag-making, for instance empowering the pious people of Penza to marry an ancient icon and an 8-bit lemon’n’lime palette to create a spooky floating Jesus-head.

Question 7 of 14


The Siberian town of Mirny is famed, above all, for the enormous hole that lurks outside the city. The big pit does have a purpose though: it is, or was, full of sparkly diamonds. But, having seen the flag, you already knew that.

Question 8 of 14


Why is that angry hula-hooping bear trying to peel that enormous hard-boiled egg? Because he’s the symbol of Zheleznogorsk, a closed Siberian city founded in 1950 to develop weapons-grade plutonium and, it seems, to train super-strong bears to physically rip atoms apart.

Question 9 of 14


The marvellously named Mumra is famed for its high-quality ball-bearings. Not really: these gorgeous globules are actually caviar, served heraldry style, in honour of the Caspian town's major export. And that's their doting mother sturgeon in the corner.

Question 10 of 14


This is what Mondrian’s nightmares looked like. Nice geometrical shapes, strong primary colours, and a terrifying black tiger devouring a bright red sable. Although, frankly, the beady-eyed predator looks more frightened than anyone.

Question 11 of 14


Another strong geometrical entry. That comely cuboid, glistening like an individually wrapped butter portion, actually symbolises a bar of soap. Obviously. Back in the 18th century the tiny town of Shuya grew filthy rich on filthy Russians and wasn’t shy about advertising the fact.

Question 12 of 14


Komsomolsk-on-Amur was built by the volunteer labour of young communists. If this jaunty chap is anything to go by, they had a whale of a time.

Question 13 of 14

Kimosky District

A pleasing fusion of the Iraqi flag and a tie-dye-wearing teenager’s poster collection. Yes, that’s right, those are three cannabis plants. Back in the 18th century, this area near Tula was Russia's golden triangle of dope production.

Question 14 of 14


Even more powerful than the flaming space-rock itself was the wave of comet-fever that hit Chelyabinsk this year. The delirious citizens even went so far as to put it front and centre on the city flag.

You scored ! Take the quiz again.


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