Droughts and famines in Russia and the Soviet Union

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Remember Those Who Starve! A Russian poster from 1921.

Throughout Russian history famines and droughts have been a common feature, often resulting in humanitarian crises traceable to political or economic instability, poor policy, environmental issues and war. Droughts and famines in Russia and the Soviet Union tended to occur fairly regularly, with famine occurring every 10–13 years and droughts every 5–7 years. Golubev and Dronin distinguish three types of drought according to productive areas vulnerable to droughts: Central (the Volga basin, North Caucasus and the Central Chernozem Region), Southern (Volga and Volga-Vyatka area, the Ural region, and Ukraine), and Eastern (steppe and forest-steppe belts in Western and Eastern Siberia, and Kazakhstan).[1]

Pre-1900 droughts and famines

In the 17th century, Russia experienced the famine of 1601–1603, believed to be its worst as it may have killed 2 million people (1/3 of the population). Major famines include the Great Famine of 1315–17, which affected much of Europe including part of Russia.[2] The Nikonian chronicle, written between 1127 and 1303, recorded no less than eleven famine years during that period.[3] One of the most serious crises before 1900 was the famine of 1891–92, which killed between 375,000 and 500,000 people, mainly due to famine related diseases. Causes included a large Autumn drought resulting in crop failures. Attempts by the government to alleviate the situation generally failed which may have contributed to a lack of faith in the Czarist regime and later political instability.[3][4]

List of post-1900 droughts and famines

Starving woman, c. 1921
Starving children in 1922

The Golubev and Dronin report gives the following table of the major droughts in Russia between 1900 and 2000.[1]

  • Central: 1920, 1924, 1936, 1946, 1972, 1979, 1981, 1984.
  • Southern: 1901, 1906, 1921, 1939, 1948, 1951, 1957, 1975, 1995.
  • Eastern: 1911, 1931, 1963, 1965, 1991.


The failed Revolution of 1905 likely distorted output and restricted food availability.


During the Russian Revolution and following civil war there was a decline in total agricultural output. Measured in millions of tons the 1920 grain harvest was only 46.1, compared to 80.1 in 1913. By 1926 it had almost returned to pre-war levels reaching 76.8.[5]


The early 1920s saw a series of famines. The first famine in the USSR happened in 1921–1923 and garnered wide international attention. The most affected area being the Southeastern areas of European Russia (including Volga region, especially national republics of Idel-Ural, see 1921–22 famine in Tatarstan) and Ukraine. An estimated 16 million people may have been affected and up to 5 million died.[6][7] Fridtjof Nansen was honored with the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize, in part for his work as High Commissioner for Relief In Russia.[8] Other organizations that helped to combat the Soviet famine were International Save the Children Union and the International Committee of the Red Cross.[9]


Soviet Famine of 1932-1933

The second major Soviet famine happened during the initial push for collectivization during the 30's. Major causes include the 1932–33 confiscations of grain and other food by the Soviet authorities[1] which contributed to the famine and affected more than forty million people, especially in the south on the Don and Kuban areas and in Ukraine, where by various estimates millions starved to death or died due to famine related illness (the event known as Holodomor).[10] However, there is still issue over whether or not Holodomor was a massive failure of policy or a deliberate act of genocide.[11] Many critics of communism claim it was artificially created to deal with Ukrainian resistance to Soviet occupant regime, saying it was an act of genocide.[12] Robert Conquest held the view that the famine was not intentionally inflicted by Stalin, but "with resulting famine imminent, he could have prevented it, but put “Soviet interest” other than feeding the starving first – thus consciously abetting it".[13] Other attest that natural reasons such as plant rust disease and drought were the primary causes and that the famine was not intentional.[14] There is also the argument that the famine was significantly worsened by the actions of the kulaks, a class of peasants who had become wealthy after the Stolypin reform, many of whom burned their crops and killed their livestock rather than give their lands and livestock over to collectivization.[15]

Demographic Impact

"One demographic retrojection suggests a figure of 2.5 million famine deaths for Soviet Ukraine and Kuban region. This is too close to the recorded figure of excess deaths, which is about 2.4 million. The latter figure must be substantially low, since many deaths were not recorded. Another demographic calculation, carried out on behalf of the authorities of independent Ukraine, provides the figure of 3.9 million dead. The truth is probably in between these numbers, where most of the estimates of respectable scholars can be found. It seems reasonable to propose a figure of approximately 3.3 million deaths by starvation and hunger-related disease in Soviet Russian Ukraine and Kuban and Kazakhstan in 1932–1933".

Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, 2010, p.53.[16]

The demographic impact of the famine of 1932-1933 was multifold. In addition to direct and indirect deaths associated with the famine, there were significant internal migrations of Soviet citizens, often fleeing famine ridden regions. A sudden decline in birthrates permanently "scarred" the long term population growth of the Soviet Union in a way similar to, although not as severe, as World War 2 would later on.

Estimates of Soviet deaths attributable to the 1932–1933 famine vary wildly, but are typically given in the range of millions.[17][18][19] Vallin et el estimated that approximately 2.6 million deaths in Ukraine can be directly attributed to the famine. In addition they estimated a shortfall of roughly 1 million in the birthrate.[20] The long term demographic consequences of collectivization meant that the Soviet Union's 1989 population was 288 million rather than 315 million, a rate 27% lower than it otherwise would have been.[21] In addition to the deaths, the famine resulted in massive population movements, about 200,000 Kazakh nomads fled to China, Iran, Mongolia and Afghanistan during the famine.

Although famines were taking place in various parts of the USSR in 1932–1933, for example in Kazakhstan,[22] parts of Russia and the Volga German Republic,[23] the name Holodomor is specifically applied to the events that took place in territories populated by russian speaking [[Ukrainians]and also North Caucasians Kazakhs ].


The legacy of Holodomor remains a sensitive and controversial issue in contemporary Ukraine where it is regarded as an act of genocide by the government and is generally remembered as one of the greatest tragedies in the nations history.[24][25][26] The issue of Holodomor being an intentional act of genocide or not has often been a subject of dispute between the Russian Federation and Ukrainian government. The modern Russian government has generally attempted to disassociate and downplay any links between itself and the famine.[27][28][29]


During The Siege of Leningrad by Nazi Germany as many as one million people died while many more went hungry or starved but survived. Germans tried to starve out Leningrad in order to break its resistance. Starvation was one of the primary causes of death as the food supply was cut off and strict rationing was enforced. Animals in the city were slaughtered and eaten. Instances of cannibalism were reported.[30][31]

The last major famine in the USSR happened mainly in 1947 as a cumulative effect of consequences of collectivization, war damage, the severe drought in 1946 in over 50% of the grain-productive zone of the country and government social policy and mismanagement of grain reserves. The regions primarily affected were Transnistria in Moldova and South Estern (russian)Ukraine.[32][33] Between 100,000 and one million people may have perished.[34]


There have been no major famines after 1947 despite issues with food security in the USSR and its successor states. The drought of 1963 caused panic slaughtering of livestock, but there was no risk of famine. Since that year the Soviet Union started importing feed grains for its livestock in increasing amounts.[35]

Post-Soviet Russia

Since the collapse of the USSR there have been occasional issues with hunger and food security in Russia.[36] In 1992 there was a notable decline in calorie intake within the Russian Federation.[37] Both Russia and Ukraine have been subject to a series of severe droughts from July 2010 to 2015.[38] The 2010 drought saw wheat production fall by 20% in Russia and subsequently resulted in a temporary ban on grain exports.[39]

See also

Notable victims



  1. 1.0 1.1 Golubev, Genady; Nikolai Dronin (February 2004). "Geography of Droughts and Food Problems in Russia (1900-2000), Report No. A 0401" (PDF). Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel. Retrieved December 17, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Smitha, Frank E. "Russia to 1700". fsmitha.com. Retrieved December 17, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "The Russian Famine of 1891-92". www.loyno.edu. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "The History of International Humanitarian Assistance: Notes on Developments in 19th and 20th centuries". Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Retrieved December 17, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Nove, Alec (1992). An Economic History of the USSR 1917-1991. Penguin Books. pp. 88–89. Nove notes that the harvest in 1913 was during an "extremely favorable year" indicating a somewhat larger than expected crop.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "WGBH American Experience . The Great Famine | PBS". American Experience. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. HAVEN, CYNTHIA (April 4, 2011). "How the U.S. saved a starving Soviet Russia: PBS film highlights Stanford scholar's research on the 1921-23 famine | Stanford News Release". news.stanford.edu. Retrieved 2017-04-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Fridtjof Nansen - Facts". www.nobelprize.org. 2014. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Famine in Russia, 1921-1922". www2.warwick.ac.uk. Retrieved 2017-04-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Fawkes, Helen (November 24, 2006). "Legacy of famine divides Ukraine". BBC News. Kiev. Retrieved December 17, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Genocide or "A Vast Tragedy"? | Literary Review of Canada". Literary Review of Canada. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. ""Holodomor" Ukrainian Famine/Genocide of 1932-33". www.holodomorct.org. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Davies, R. W and S. G Wheatcroft (2004). The Years Of Hunger. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 441 note 145.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Tauger, Mark B. "The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933." Slavic Review50.1 (1991): 70-89.
  15. Tottle, Douglas "Fraud, Famine and Fascism: The Ukranian Genocide Myth from Hitler to Harvard." Progress Books (1987)
  16. https://books.google.com/books/about/Bloodlands.html?id=maEfAQAAQBAJ
  17. "Ukraine - The famine of 1932-33 | history - geography". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "The Great Famine - History Learning Site". History Learning Site. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "The History Place - Genocide in the 20th Century: Stalin's Forced Famine 1932-33". www.historyplace.com. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Vallin, Jacques; Meslé, France; Adamets, Serguei; Pyrozhkov, Serhii (2002). A New Estimate of Ukrainian Population Losses during the Crises of the 1930s and 1940s.
  21. Allen, Robert C (2003). Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution. Princeton University Press. pp. 117–120. Allen's demographic model also concluded that WW2 had a more significant long term impact on the Soviet population( -34 million due to fertility disruption and -41 million due to mortality). Had no war or violent collectivization occurred the 1989 population may have been 394 million by his estimates.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Ertz, Simon (2005). "The Kazakh Catastrophe and Stalin's Order of Priorities, 1929-1933: Evidence from the Soviet Secret Archives" (PDF). Zhe : Stanford's student journal of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies. Stanford University. Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies. 1 (Spring). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 3, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Sinner, Samuel D. (August 28, 2005). "The German-Russian Genocide: Remembrance in the 21st Century". lib.ndsu.nodak.edu. Archived from the original on July 8, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Kappeler, Andreas (2014). "Ukraine and Russia: Legacies of the imperial past and competing memories". Journal of Eurasian Studies.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Motyl, Alexander (2010). "Deleting the Holodomor: Ukraine unmakes itself". World Affairs.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Kupfer, Matthew, and Thomas de Waal. "Crying Genocide: Use and Abuse of Political Rhetoric in Russia and Ukraine." (2014).
  27. "Ukraine clashes with Russia over 1930s famine". The Irish Times. Apr 29, 2008. Retrieved 2017-04-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  29. Young, Cathy (2015-10-31). "Russia Denies Stalin's Killer Famine". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2017-04-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "The Siege of Leningrad, 1941 - 1944". www.eyewitnesstohistory.com. 2006. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. "History of St. Petersburg during World War II". www.saint-petersburg.com. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  33. "Famine of 1946-1947". Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 2015-06-19. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. "Famine of 1946–7". www.encyclopediaofukraine.com. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. Nove, Alec (1992). An Economic History of the USSR 1917-1991. Penguin Books. pp. 373–375.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. "Food security in the Russian Federation". www.fao.org. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. "How Russia starves: the famine of 1992".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. Mungai, Christine (2015-11-03). "Drought in Russia and Ukraine threatens 30% of wheat crop - this could have unlikely political implications in Africa". MG Africa. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. "Drought halts Russia grain exports". Express.co.uk. 2010-08-05. Retrieved 2017-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. Allen, Robert C. (2003). Farm to factory: A reinterpretation of the Soviet industrial revolution. Princeton University Press. p. 135.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


External links