Background: During the Soviet period, authorities in the USSR invested heavily in collective farming and modernization of living conditions in rural areas. However, many problems remained, including poor access to many basic amenities such as water. Since then, the situation is likely to have changed; economic decline has coincided with migration and widening social inequalities, potentially increasing disparities within and between countries. Aim: To examine access to water and sanitation and its determinants in urban and rural areas of eight former Soviet countries. Methods: A series of nationally representative surveys in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Ukraine was undertaken in 2001, covering 18,428 individuals (aged 18+ years). Results: The percentage of respondents Living in rural areas varied between 27 and 59% among countries. There are wide urban-rural differences in access to amenities. Even in urban areas, only about 90% of respondents had access to cold running water in their home (60% in Kyrgyzstan). In rural areas, less than one-third had cold running water in their homes (44% in Russia, under 10% in Kyrgyzstan and Moldova). Between one-third and one-half of rural respondents in some countries (such as Belarus, Kazakhstan and Moldova) obtained their water from welts and similar sources. Access to hot running water inside the homes was an exception in rural households, reflecting the tack of modern heating methods in villages. Similarly, indoor access to toilets is common in urban areas but rare in rural areas. Access to all amenities was better in Russia compared with elsewhere in the region. Indoor access to cold water was significantly more common among rural residents Living in apartments, and in settlements served by asphalt roads rather than dirt roads. People with more assets or income and living with other people were significantly more likely to have water on tap. In addition, people who had moved in more recently were more likely to have an indoor water supply. Conclusions: This was the largest single study of its kind undertaken in this region, and demonstrates that a significant number of people living in rural parts of the former Soviet Union do not have indoor access to running water and sanitation. There are significant variations among countries, with the worse situation in central Asia and the Caucasus, and the best situation in Russia. Access to water strongly correlates with socio-economic characteristics. These findings suggest a need for sustained investment in rebuilding basic infrastructure in the region, and monitoring the impact of living conditions on health.