INTRODUCTION. Accumulating evidence, primarily from English-speaking children, indicates that acquisition of multi-digit numbers begins prior to formal math instruction. The present study replicated this phenomenon in a novel cultural/linguistic context and extended the current knowledge of early symbolic numeric development. METHOD. The study involved a sample of Russian preschoolers who took part in two testing sessions. In one session, children completed symbolic numeric tasks: writing and reading of multi-digit numbers. In another session, they completed a non-verbal intelligence task. Children’s performance on the two numeric tasks was compared, controlling for their general intelligence level. RESULTS. Russian preschoolers found the reading task more challenging than the corresponding writing task. In particular, when reading numbers that included two or three digits, children were more likely to make conceptual errors that revealed the difficulty of understanding the hierarchical structure of multi-digit numbers. In contrast, the frequency of errors in which the structure of the multi-digit number was preserved (for example, substituting one of the digits) was similar across the writing and reading tasks. DISCUSSION. Consistent with prior work, preschoolers in the present study revealed a partial knowledge of multi-digit numbers that emerges prior to formal instruction and is likely based on informal learning. The relative difficulty of the reading task-compared to the writing task-suggests that at the early stages of learning symbolic numbers children may require additional cues about numeric structure, which may be provided by spoken number names. The written numerals do not provide linguistic cues about numeric structure, making the reading task more challenging. Implications of these findings for early educational practice are discussed.