The prepositions, “в” and “на,” are some of the most common and useful words in Russian. “В” and “на” are used to convey the meaning of location (with the prepositional case) and direction (with the accusative case. “В” and “на” have slightly different meanings, which we’ll discuss below. On top of that, there are many irregular uses of these prepositions that we’ll also cover.
People find it easiest to remember the difference between “в” and “на” as being equivalent to the English “in” (в) and “on” (на). For example:
Generally, this rule of thumb holds up. More broadly, “в” has the meaning at/in/to and you use it to talk about being in something, in an organization, or in the direction of something. Meanwhile, “на” has the meaning on/at/to and you use it to talk about being on a surface, somewhere (not inside building), at an event, or in the direction of something.
Using the prepositional case with “в” and “на” gives the meaning of location, answering the question “where?” / “где?”
Here, “в” is used to mean “in.” You use “в” for defined locations, enclosed structures, cities, countries, and distinct places in nature.
Here, “на” is used to mean “on.” You use “на” for things on a surface, in an open space, in outside places, at an event, island and peninsulas, and points of the compass.
Please note, some public places were historically outside spaces, so use “на:”
Using the prepositional case with “в” and “на” gives the meaning of direction, answering the question “where to?” / “куда?” As such, you’ll typically see this along with a verb of motion.
Here, “в” is used to mean “to.” The same rules apply for what situations you should use “в” with as before.
Here, “на” is used to mean “to.” The same rules apply for what situations you should use “в” with as before.
When you are talking about being inside a certain vehicle, you use the preposition, "в." When you are talking about travelling by a certain mode of transport, you use the preposition, "на."
If you're actually in a body of water, use "в." If you're by the water, but not in it, use "на."
When you want to describe something inside your house, use the preposition, "в" and say в доме.
To say "at home" in Russian, simply say дома.
Perhaps you have already heard of this charged grammatical issue. During the days of the Soviet Union and Russian Empire, to say "in Ukraine," people would use "на Украине." This partly stems from how it was described in the Ukrainian language and partly reflects the fact that Украина literally means "border" in Russian (so you would use "на" to describe such a region).
Now that Ukraine is an independent country, the grammatically correct way to describe it with location and direction is to use the preposition, "в." Despite this, you will still hear "на Украине" being used frequently today. It's really up to you whether you want to use "на" or "в," but just know that saying "на Украине" will make it harder to have friendly relations with Ukrainians, even if they appreciate you taking the time to learn Russian.