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How Quakers Saved Russia… – Friends House Moscow
Home > News > How Quakers Saved Russia…

This is the title of a new book by Sergei Nikitin (a former director of Amnesty Russia, and longtime associate of FHM). It tells the story of the famine relief operation in southern Russia in the early 1920s.

The writing of “Как квакеры спасали Россию” (How Quakers Saved Russia) has been part of a long quest. The author explains: ” Twenty years ago, I first heard about Buzuluk, Orenburg Province. Bill Chadkirk told me that British Quakers were at work in this Russian town before and after the Revolution. This excited me so much that I decided to find out more about what really happened.

Year after year, I collected information, copied documents, talked with people. In my search for new documents, I travelled to Buzuluk and to Philadelphia, Sorochinsk and Medford Leas, Samara and London. Side by side with the American historian David McFadden, I went down many roads in the Buzuluk region; we enriched the collection of a local museum with material about how Quakers from Britain and the United States saved hundreds of thousands of Russians from death by starvation. I decided that it was very important for me to return this forgotten history [to my country].”

The book has been published by a prestigious publishing house, Новое литературное обозрение (New Literary Review), in “What is This Thing Called Russia,” their series that reconsiders issues in Russian history. (The title image on this post is taken from their website.) You can buy the book through this link: https://www.nlobooks.ru/books/chto_takoe_rossiya/22481/

Boris Grebenshchikov, known as “the grandfather of Russian rock and roll”, says “Sergei Nikitin has written an amazing book. They teach us that there are only enemies around us, but the book shows that this simply is not so. They teach us that a human being does everything only for his own benefit, but it turns out that there are people who live utterly differently. Books like this change the world.”

Book review by Peter Dyson

Peter Dyson with Sergei's book

How Quakers saved Russia! You can’t help but read a book with that title. It’s clear that you need to be able to read in Russian, at least until we have an English version available. Maybe someone can help with this? (ed: watch this space…)

Sergey Nikitin has a unique qualification for writing this book. For many years, he was everywhere: he looked for materials in local and national archives; read yellow pages of Quaker reports and letters in the archives of Russia, Britain and America, he talked with children and grandchildren, with local historians and officials.

I was lucky enough to participate in some of these exciting events. A special place is occupied by 2005, when in Totskoye we visited 90-year-old Ivan Leontyevich, who enthusiastically told us about Nancy Babb. This American woman built a hospital in his village in 1927.

In this book, you will not find political rhetoric. It says that all of us are children of God, whatever name we call ourselves.

This is a timely book for our broken world. As if God says anything is possible, you should only try.

So, what is the future of us living in the midst of global climate change in a world engulfed in a pandemic. What kind of interaction will people have in a world where all the old political posturing has become irrelevant?

Maybe just a memory of positive examples from a hundred years ago will encourage us to seek and find a common future that will be based on our common needs and expectations.

If Quakers ever saved Russia, I’m not entirely sure we can do it again. What if I’m wrong?

Peter Dyson. Quaker. St. Petersburg