Prayer Profile
The Kalmyk of Russia

[IMAGE] The Kalmyk of Russia are of Mongolian origin. They are the only Buddhist people group in Europe and are 2,500 miles away from their spiritual motherland, Tibet. In the early 1600's, most of their ancestors (the Oirat) left their homeland, Dzhungaria, which is now part of the Xinjiang region of China, in hopes of settling in the rich pastures of the northern Caucasus Mountains.

In 1771, the majority of the Oirat decided to move back to Dzhungaria in order to escape the Russian dictatorship, but only a few survived the long journey. Those who stayed in Russia became known as the Kalmyk, which means "to remain."

In 1943, Stalin had the Kalmyk descendants deported to Siberia for allegedly uniting with occupying Nazi troops; thousands died in the Siberian cold. In 1957, after Stalin's death, they were allowed to return home. Today, however, fierce animosity remains between the Russians and the Kalmyk.

What Are Their Lives Like?
After their return from Siberia, many Kalmyk were forced to conform to a dreary Soviet lifestyle. Today, many of them still live in the traditional gray, five-story apartment complexes of the 1950's.

A number of Kalmyk in rural areas are herdsmen who raise cattle, sheep, goats, and a few camels. They are generally known for their love of fine horses and horse racing. Some Kalmyk are fishermen, especially those who live along the Volga River; others are farmers. Their principal crops include grains, corn, fodder grasses, mustard seed, sunflowers, and melons.

Many Kalmyk have continued to live as nomads, and their lifestyle is one of seasonal migrations. Their dwellings are portable tents called gers or yurts, made of felt on lattice frames.

Marriage was formerly a symbol of adulthood among the Kalmyk. Marriages were ordinarily arranged by the parents, and a zurkhachi (astrologer) was consulted about the compatibility of a bride and groom. Couples were sometimes engaged as early as six years of age, and married between the ages of 16 and 18. Today, couples usually marry while they are in their early to mid-twenties.

The Kalmyk traditionally lived in extended family units. Today, there is a growing tendency toward nuclear families. Sadly, divorce is becoming more common, and legal abortion is the principal means of birth control.

The typical Kalmyk dress includes velvet hats, loose fitted coats, and heavily padded long pants. They often shave their heads, except for one small area in the back that is reserved for a pony-tail.

Oral historic poetry is an important part of Kalmyk culture. It is traditionally recited by a poet, accompanied by a two-stringed lute called a dombr. Favorite pastimes include storytelling and singing. At social gatherings, the Kalmyk enjoy drinking kumiss (fermented mare's milk).

What Are Their Beliefs?
In the late 1500's, the Kalmyk adopted Tibetan Buddhism. Many were later forced to convert to Russian Orthodoxy. Today, most of the Kalmyk are atheists, although they still celebrate traditional holidays.

Kalmyk Buddhism is a mixture of ethnic beliefs and shamanism (belief in unseen gods, demons, and spirits). The people depend on shamans (medicine men) to cure the sick by magic and communicate with the gods. Despite laws forbidding shamanistic practices, the shamans have remained influential. The obo, a heap of stones thought to be inhabited by local spirits, often serves as a site for performing various rituals.

What Are Their Needs?
Medical facilities among the Kalmyk are inadequate. Limited water supply, poor hygiene, deficient diet, and alcoholism are all common problems. The Kalmyk have a high infant mortality rate, low life expectancy, and a persistence of diseases like tuberculosis. In 1989, 58 babies and dozens of adults who received blood transfusions were contaminated by AIDS. This was one of the worst cases of mass HIV contamination ever reported.

Prayer Points
  • Pray that God will grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are currently targeting the Kalmyk.
  • Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Russia and share Christ with the Kalmyk.
  • Pray that God will send Christian medical teams to work among these precious people.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the love of Jesus.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Kalmyk through dreams and visions.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Kalmyk bound.
  • Pray that God will raise up teams of intercessors who will faithfully stand in the gap for the Kalmyk.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Kalmyk by the year 2000.

See also the following related group:
The Kalmyk-Oirat of China.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Kalmyk
  • Country: Russia
  • Their language: Kalmyk
  • Population: (1990) 166,800
    (1995) 165,800
    (2000) 164,200
  • Largest religion: Buddhist 70%
    Nonreligious 29.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 33
  • Scriptures in their own language: New Testament
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 6
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 36,500 (22%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 5,000 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 31,500 (19%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 129,300 (78%)
  • Country: Russia
  • Population: (1990) 147,913,000
    (1995) 146,999,800
    (2000) 145,551,500
  • Major peoples in size order: Russian 79.4%
    Tatar 3.7%
    Ukranian 2.9%
    Chuvash 1.2%
    Bashkir 0.9%
  • Major religions: Christian 58.1%
    Nonreligious 18%
    Atheist 12.6%
  • Number of denominations: 50

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

This profile may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
as long as it is not altered, bound, published
or used for profit purposes.

[Home] [Calendar] [Country List]