Droughts and famines in Russia and the Soviet Union

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Remember Those Who Starve! A Russian poster from 1921.

Droughts and famines in Russia and the Soviet Union tended to occur on a fairly regular basis, 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[edit]

In the 17th century, Russia experienced the famine of 1601–1603, believed to be its worst. Major famines include the Great Famine of 1315–17, which affected much of Europe including part of Russia.[2] Another was the famine of 1891–92, which killed between 375,000 and 500,000 people.[3]

Post-1900 droughts and famines[edit]

Starving woman, c. 1921
Starving children in 1922

The Golubev and Dronin report gives the following table of the major droughts in Russia.[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 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. Fridtjof Nansen was honored with the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize, in part for his work as High Commissioner for Relief In Russia. Other organizations that helped to combat the Soviet famine were International Save the Children Union and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The second Soviet famine happened during the collectivization in the Soviet Union, and critics of communism claim was artificially created to deal with Ukrainian resistance to Soviet occupant regime, saying it was an act of genocide. In 1932–33 confiscations of grain and other food by the Soviet authorities[1] contributed to the famine which affected more than forty million people, especially in the south on the Don and Kuban areas and in Ukraine, where by various estimates from 5 to 10 million may have starved to death (the event known as Holodomor).[4] Estimates of deaths due to the 1932–1933 famine vary wildly, but are typically given in the range of millions. 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,[5] parts of Russia and the Volga German Republic,[6] the name Holodomor is specifically applied to the events that took place in territories populated by ethnic Ukrainians.

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.[7]

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.

Russia has been gripped in a severe drought from July 2010, which may see grain production fall by 20–25%.

See also[edit]

Notable victims[edit]




  • Zima, V. F. The Famine of 1946-1947 in the USSR: Its Origins and Consequences. Ceredigion, UK: Mellen Press, 1999. (ISBN 0-7734-3184-5)
  • Nikolai M. Dronin, Edward G. Bellinger, "Climate Dependence and Food Problems in Russia, 1900-1990: The Interaction of Climate and Agricultural Policy and Their Effect on Food Problems" (2005) Central European University Press ISBN 963-7326-10-3
  • Nicholas Ganson, The Soviet Famine of 1946-47 in Global and Historical Perspective [2]. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. (ISBN 0-230-61333-0)

External links[edit]