Russian Doll House

History of Russian Things

Russian Tumbler Toys Nevalyashka and Vanka Vstanka

Written by Vadim on November 22, 2008 – 12:00 pm -

In Russia and many former Soviet countries, almost every child played with one of these toys when they were little – an upright doll with a round heavy base that stands on the floor. When you try and push the doll over, it springs back upright.

In Russian, they go by two names – ‘Nevalyashka’, meaning ‘One who never lies down’ and ‘Vanka Vstanka’ – a rhyming, alliterative phrase meaning ‘Ivan get up’. Vanka Vstanka is also the name of a contemporary Russian energy drink, similar to Red Bull.

In English, they are referred to as ‘Tilting Dolls’, ‘Bell Dolls’, ‘Tumbler Toys’ and ‘Roly Poly Toys’. 

Nevalyashkas come in two popular varieties – one with an internal bell that rings when the doll shakes [as shown above] and other variety which is made of timber that can be painted [shown below].


It has been suggested by Elena Marus of the site WOW Russia, that the Nevalyashka/Vanka Vstanka is a dual-purpose toy that is intended to develop an infant’s hearing and sense of touch. She also states that it is purported to “develop creativity, imagination, hearing and movement co-ordination in children, but nobody knows exactly how it works”.

Here is a video showing the Nevalyashka doll in action:

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The Story of Cheburashka

Written by Vadim on November 17, 2008 – 8:50 pm -

Cheburashka is a famous character in Russian children’s literature. He was first introduced in 1965, in a story named “Gena the Crocodile and His Friends”, created by the Russian writer Eduard Uspensky.

According to the story, Cheburashka is a funny little animal, unknown to science, with an appearance that can be characterized as being somewhere between that of a monkey and a bear. He lives in the tropical forest. Cheburashka’s name means “one, who tumbles down”. He is described as “feeling lonely” and “searching for identity”.

Cheburashka has appeared in several books and animated series:

  • 1969 – Gena the Crocodile and His Friends
  • 1971 – Cheburashka
  • 1974 – Old Lady Shapoklyak
  • 1983 – Cheburashka Goes to School

He was used as the mascot of the Russian Olympic team in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece and a white-coloured Cheburashka was used in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.

Cheburashka may have inspired the development of the Japanese ‘Pokemon’  [Pocket Monsters] phenomenon decades later in the 1990s. Indeed, Cheburashka has developed a loyal following in Japan following the screening of an animated film series between 2001 and 2002.

Collectibles are widely sold in Russia, former Soviet Republics and Japan.

Here is video from the Soviet animated TV series, subtitled in English:

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Russian Toys in My Childhood

Written by Vadim on September 24, 2008 – 6:01 pm -

I was raised in Australia, but my parents came from the Soviet Union in the early 70’s. When I was 3 years old, my grandmother moved to Australia to join our family after her husband died.

She wanted her grandchildren to have exposure to Russian Culture. She used to read to me from Russian Childrens books. I could not read the Cyrillic script, but I enjoyed looking at all the pictures, which were hand-drawn in such great detail and with a distinctive style, unlike the comics I had and the Saturday Morning cartoons I used to watch on TV.

My favourite was a red wooden doll. Only recently, did I discover that the proper name is a Matryoshka doll. I always felt intrigured when I pulled the torso off to find another identical figure, just a bit smaller. There were six in total, and it was slightly disappointing to me that the smallest could not be opened up to reveal anything more. I may have spent hours compulsively opening the dolls and putting them back together – lining up my ‘army’ of six, then turning them back into one. I guess in many ways they are comparable to Transformers – “They’re more than meets the eye”.

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