In “Friends and Comrades: How Quakers helped Russians survive famine and epidemic“, Sergei Nikitin tells the story of how Quakers provided famine relief in southern Russia, during the turmoil of the Russian revolution. The relief effort is credited with saving the lives of 400,000 people.
Originally published in the Russian language, the book is now also available in English translation and may be purchased in hard copy or online (Kindle format).
The attached document (available for download) is a scan of a book review, by Daphne Sanders, which was published in The Friend magazine in November 2022 (reproduced here with permission). Below is the text of a press release to mark the publication of the English language edition:
New book by former Amnesty International Russia Director reveals the power of citizen diplomacy
As Russia plunges ever deeper into war with Ukraine, the rewriting of history has been intensified by Moscow. Pages of relations between Russia and the West are torn out as soon as they occur. To restore the truth these pages must be pasted back into history. Friends and Comrades: how Quakers helped Russians to survive famine and epidemic, a new book from the retired head of Amnesty International Russia, Sergei Nikitin, performs this task, sharing the unknown story of cooperation between Quakers and the people of the USSR.
One hundred years ago, Russia’s communist rulers feared losing power as famine and the fear of riots riled a country suffering the effects of two revolutions and a world war. Thirty-five million Russians were trapped in the famine-struck area in 1921 and, with no resources to feed the starving, the Kremlin appealed to the West.
Two dozen foreign charities signed agreements with Moscow and millions of tons of food poured into Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. British and American Quakers were some of the first to feed people. The Quakers, who call themselves Friends, had been here before. The first Quaker unit arrived in the Volga basin area in 1916 to help refugees from the First World War: Poles, Lithuanians, Belarusians and Ukrainians.
After the famine was conquered in 1923, Quakers remained in Soviet Russia to help restore educational and health institutions, focusing on Buzuluk, where they had been working since 1916. The Religious Society of Friends hung on in the Communist country for 15 years: their Moscow office was only closed in 1931. Hundreds of thousands of lives were saved, but the Bolsheviks apparently were afraid of Quaker influence over Russian souls.
Friends and Comrades tells the story of a humanitarian mission which was more than just a feeding programme. It is a story of ‘citizen diplomacy’ between foreigners and Russians, despite language barriers; of how Quaker values resonated in the souls of citizens of a country increasingly oppressing religion. In the 1990s author Sergei Nikitin met people in Buzuluk who still held the Quakers in the highest regard. Nikitin finds that the fear of citizen diplomacy and human-to-human interaction prevented Moscow from calling for help during the Ukrainian Holodomor (famine) in the 1930s.
Originally published in Moscow in 2020, the book was warmly welcomed by readers and historians. Robert Service, British historian called the book ‘an exemplary account, vivid and well researched’. Friends and Comrades, published by Quacks Books, is available in paperback from the Quaker Bookshop (link here ) and other good bookshops, and online (Kindle), priced at about £13.