The catastrophic Russian famine of 1921-22 killed more than 5 million people

 
 
 
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Throughout history, many famines hit the Russian region. Some of them were small, but others were very large resulting in millions of dead people.

One such was the famine of 1601 to 1604. The main reason for this famine were the widespread floods which caused a vast failure of the harvest for three consecutive years. During this time, more than two-thirds of the Russian population, or around two million people, starved to death. Another catastrophic famine was the Russian famine of 1891 to 1892. It was caused by the bad weather which affected the most productive parts of Russia. The harvest in 1891 was poor and wrongly distributed. Due to the malnutrition caused by the famine, around 400,000 people died of disease.

Beside these famines, it seems that the worst that ever happened was the Russian famine of 1921-22. It is considered as one of the worst human disasters of the 20th century. During this famine, more that 5 million people died of starvation and disease.

Many conflicts of World War I and the Civil Wars of 1918-20 were fought inside Russia. Large Russian armies were formed due to the constant fighting in the Soviet Union. Great food supplies were needed for the soldiers. In order to feed the troops, the government took the harvests and other food supplies from the peasants.

The peasants received very little or even nothing in exchange. This is why they started to produce fewer crops and sold part of it on the black market.

Victims of the famine, 1922
Victims of the famine, 1922

When the government became aware of this, they began to seize land and confiscate food from those who produced it. This led to further worsening of the agricultural production. To add to the misery, 1918 and 1920 were years of droughts for Russia. For example, in the Samara Gubernia region,  Junes average rainfall of 46,9 mm was reduced to just 5,1 mm in 1921. This led to crop failure.

Starving Russian girl in Buguruslan, 1921
Starving Russian girl in Buguruslan, 1921

Many people left the countryside and migrated to the city searching for food. The country was desperate for food. People dug up old bones of animals, baked them and ate them. This caused many deaths. Starving people started to dig up recently buried corpses for their flash. There were many other examples of cannibalism and corpse eating. There was even a black market for trading human flesh. People died of starvation.

This situation forced the government to ask help from the international community. The American Relief Administration (A.R.A.) distributed relief to the Russians. The workers of A.R.A. helped nearly ten million Soviets by giving them the necessary medical and food assistance. Others who helped the Russians were the members of The American Friends Service Committee and International Save Children Union.

Starving Russian children during the famine, c. 1922
Starving Russian children during the famine, c. 1922

 

Starving Russian children during the famine, c. 1922
Starving Russian children during the famine, c. 1922

This famine ended in 1923 killed around five million people. Some even think that this number rose to ten million, but the exact numbers are not known.

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After this human disaster, the government began instituting New Economic Policy which ameliorated the situation of the country.