250 years ago, Russia’s tsarina Catherine the Great signed a manifesto inviting foreigners to settle in her country. A German national herself, Catherine's decree marked the beginning of the history of Russian-Germans.Freedom of religion was the decisive factor for most resettlers who wanted to leave Europe and its religious wars behind.
Originally recruited and welcomed into Russia in the 18th century, when they were promised the practice of their own language and religions, and exemption from military service. The Germans lived in ethnic communities, where they maintained German-language schools and German churches. They spoke German dialects, despite their having lived in Russia for multiple generations.
With changes in Russian politics, the government took back some of the privileges granted and the German people found increasing hardship. Economic conditions grew poor, and there were a series of famines. These conditions led to German mass migrations from Russia, peaking in the late 19th century. The upper Great Plains in the United States and southern Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan have large areas populated primarily by descendants of Germans from Russia. Argentina, Brazil and other countries have smaller numbers of Germans from Russia.
See these two sites for more complete histories: