Save Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal, once a beauty of nature, met its match with the expanse of industrial growth in Russia and the state’s disregard for environmental degradation. Lake Baikal holds 80% of Russia’s fresh water supply and is 1/5 of the world’s freshwater. It is known for its crystal clear water and is the deepest lake in the world, which would make one consider the lake a high commodity, but unfortunately for Russia’s government it was not. This lake was hit the hardest when the Baikal-Amur Main Line (BAM) railway was to be built right alongside of it.

Lake Baikal

When industrial growth was on its purge throughout Russia, environmental protection was not being considered. There was a lot of oil and mineral exploration, large-scale lumbering, and military and prison populations all contributed to environmental degradation in this Siberian area. The once crystal-clear water was clouded by wastes dumped into the lake from the Baikal Pulp and Paper Plant and from the construction of the BAM. How important this lake was to the environment was left aside while industrial growth loomed on. Lake Baikal is home to 1200 animal species and 1000 species of plants, and industrial growth caused many of these to suffer.

"Ever since they built the chemical factory here, all the fish have been giving black caviar."

“Ever since they built the chemical factory here, all the fish have been giving black caviar.”

Luckily, the people in the area were aware of just how important Lake Baikal was, leading to citizens protesting the government, demanding protection of this precious lake. To address these concerns, the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers created addition measures to protect the environment December 1, 1978. These measures were created in hopes of having the state better observe and supervise the status of the environment, the amount of pollution, and where the pollution is coming from. It called for the USSR State Committee on Hydrometeorology and the Environment to be responsible for watching the environment, regulating air use in cities, creating rules of how much emissions of pollutants can go into the atmosphere, and much more. This committee has the privilege of checking on these issues for any enterprise, construction, or organization, and can advise the state to suspend their operations if they deem it harmful to the environment.

While this resolution seems like it would address the problems in Lake Baikal and create more environmentally friendly industrial growth and actions, that doesn’t seem to be the case. One research biologist, V. Dezhkin, said that the ministries are prolonging the resolutions implementation as long as they can, which lets continued environmental degradation in the area continue. He includes in his letter that over 100 industrial enterprises along Lake Baikal’s shores have no purification systems, and every year millions of tons of waste are still dumped into the water, killing off plant and animal species.

Pollution in Lake Baikal continues to be a problem today.



“CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers, On Additional Measures to Intensify Conservation and Improve the Utilization of Natural Resources.” Pravda and Izvestiia. last modified January 6, 1979.

Ermolaev, V. “The Living Water of Baikal.” Pravda. last modified October 8, 1977.

Filipchenko, L. “Baikal Syndrome. Turbid Waste Water Continues to Pollute the Unique Lake.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press 41, no. 18 (1989): 28-29.

Geldern, James von. “Cleaning up Baikal.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 

Image 1:

Image 2: I. P. Abramskii: Vragi i druz’ia v zerkale Krokodila, 1922-1972. Moscow: Pravda. 1972.

Image 3: “BPPM Waste Still Threatens Lake Baikal.” last modified October 20, 2014.

The Krushchev Slums

With the ever growing urban population in Russia during this time, housing was a big problem. Offered residencies varied depending on which part of Russia you were in, but overall a person’s housing space was small per person and not everyone had the luxury of not having to share space with others. An example of the types of living spaces for the urban population in 1965 was:

  • 31.6% lived in private individual homes
  • 55.6% lived in apartments
  • 6.4% sublet privately
  • 6.4% lived in hostels

But when it came to apartments, it wasn’t apartments like you’d consider us college students to live in. Many people living in apartments during this time were in places called “kommunal’nye kvartiry,” which meant that up to four families shared a kitchen and bathroom. To address the growing number of urban residents, Krushchev was more worried about building as many more residencies as possible versus worrying about the quality of the housing, which is why it is often called the slums.

"Maybe the apartment's not big, but it does have a telephone!"

“Maybe the apartment’s not big, but it does have a telephone!”

An interesting aspect of this housing program was that construction was focused on new areas in cities instead of rebuilding in the old part of the city where there are many buildings of little value. The chief architect for Moscow explained this reasoning by saying that the buildings in the old part of the city could still be used for a few more years, so rebuilding those areas would be a waste of resources and time considering that the new areas don’t have buildings that need to be taken down. Later on in the interview the chief architect also described the benefits of constructing housing in new areas of the city as an attempt to decentralize the congested city. By adding housing in other parts of the city, it spreads out the population to reduce its density in the old part of the city. To also tackle the large population density in Moscow, the government stopped any new industrial construction. This would hopefully aid in curbing the large influx of people into the city.

Courtyard of a new apartment

Courtyard of a new apartment

apartment construction

apartment construction


Siegelbaum, Lewis. “1961: The Khrushchev Slums.” Seventeen Moments of Soviet History, accessed November 1, 2014.

“Izvestia Interview: Moscow Redevelopment Plan Under Way.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press 10, no. 32 (1958): 7-8.

Image 1: “Kurits: Maybe the apartments not big…(1969).” I. P. Abramskii: Vragi i druz’ia v zerkale Krokodila, 1922-1972. Moscow: Pravda. 1972

Image 2: “Ogorodnikov: Courtyard of a New Apartment (1966).” I. P. Abramskii: Vragi i druz’ia v zerkale Krokodila, 1922-1972. Moscow: Pravda. 1972.

Image 3: “New Apartment Construction (1962).” Soviet Union, No. 148 (1962), p. 44.

Prisoners Released

Through the process of destalinization, prisoners from the war were to be released from their camps. To start this process, the first people to get to leave were those there for up to five years, those convicted of economic and military crimes, women with children younger than ten, women that were pregnant or older than fifty, kids to age eighteen, men older than fifty-five, and those with incurable diseases. While this was a good start, it still left a multitude of people left in the camps at first.  Some prisoners were pressured for confessions and in return were released from their camp. But the catch was that most were not allowed to go back home, and instead sent to live in exile. Another problem for released prisoners was that they weren’t welcomed back into society for the most part. Not that they always lived hard lives, but they were seen as outsiders in society.

An interesting aspect of the prisoner life is the meaning of their tattoos. Russian prisons are interesting in that every tattoo is a symbol for something, with most of them being backlash against the authorities and the Soviet regime. The prisoners take their tattoos so seriously that if anyone gets one that is wrong or unearned, they would be punished.

The meanings of the tattoos were often nothing like you could possibly guess and very different from the image itself. One example is if someone had the virgin Mary holding Jesus indicates to others that this person has been a thief since a young age. Some tattoos were even used as a means of protection. If a prisoner had a tattoo of Stalin or Lenin, guards wouldn’t hurt “such sacred images,” so prisoner’s used it to their advantage by getting these images tattooed over their heart or other places they didn’t want to be injured. Some other examples are:

  • a spider means the wearer is a drug addict
  • a bull means the wearer is a pimp
  • a snake around the neck means the wearer feels Communism is strangling them


Geldern, James von. “1954: Prisoners Return.” Seventeen Moments of Soviet History, assessed October 25, 2014.

“Russian Prison Tattoos” Hubpages. assessed October 25, 2014.

Image 1: Russkoe Polye. 1999.

Image 2: “Russian Prison Tattoos” Hubpages. assessed October 25, 2014.

Student Curriculum

In 1946, new rules were added to the Russian school system for both the students and the teachers, including strict punishments for little things such as taking a longer lunch break than given. Being perfectly behaved children was now a high expectation of the state. All of the children throughout the state follow the same curriculum from 1st-10th grade, minus military preparation which split up the sexes. The only thing that students could choose for themselves was in foreign languages, but not every school had more than one option. Russian language was a requirement for everyone. The school days are also different there, there are 213 days in a school year and the school week is six days a week. This shows how important and intense education had become to the Soviet state. This document made it a point to add that Soviet children had more advanced studies in math and science, gaining more experience in higher fields than American children. The amount of hours every week spent studying each subject varies in their curriculum, with the Russian language taking up the most amount of hours in a given week. The second highest amount of hours in a subject is math, and then third is tied with history, foreign language, and physical culture.

There are several new rules put in place for the students that include:

1. Sit erect during the lesson period, no leaning on elbows or slouching.

2. Rise as the teacher or direct enter or leaves the classroom.

3. Greet teachers and directors on the street with a polite bow.

4. To be courteous and considerate towards children, the aged, the weak, and the sick, to give them the seat on the trolley or the right of way on the street, to help them in every way.

5. To obey his parents and help care for his/her little brothers and sisters.

If any of these rules were violated, students were subject to punishment and possible expulsion. I find it very interesting that students also had school rules to follow outside of school when they were in town or at home. I wonder how they would be discovered disobeying the rules when they were outside of school, were people always watching or did their parents actually tell on them when they could possibly be expelled for it?


Geldern, James von. “1947: The New Curriculum” Seventeen Moments of Soviet History, assessed October 19, 2014.

George S. Counts, The Challenge of Soviet Education (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1957), pp. 74-75.

George S. Counts, The Challenge of Soviet Education (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1957), pp. 76-77

Tattle Tale Turned Hero

A young boy Named Pavlik Morozov is known as a hero throughout Russia for turning his father in for his wrong doings. He had told the Soviet secret police that his father had been aiding kulaks, who at the time were seen as a people against socialism for not wanting to follow the Collectivization Plan. The result was that his father was sent to a concentration camp to never be seen again, and then months later Pavlik was found murdered in the woods, where he truly became a ‘hero’ in Russia.

Now that you are aware of Pavlik the hero, I can tell you that the story above is just a myth. That is the Pavlik that Stalin and the rest of the higher government wanted the people of Russia to know. The press built him up as the “New Soviet Man,” encouraging other children to follow his brave lead of telling on his father for the good of the state. Posters were spread throughout the country showing how great of a hero Pavlik had been, but what is interesting is that the image of the boy continued to change over time and ended up not even looking like the real boy. Stalin even had a monument of the young boy put up in his village.

A painting of Pavlik Morozov

Monument of Pavlik Morozov

There are multiple questionable actions that were discovered following the research of Yuri Druzhnikov. First off, Pavlik most likely was not telling on his father because he was a socialist and supporter of the Collectivization Plan, he was seen as unaware of politics or collectivization. There was also basically no investigation of the murder of the boys, or any real photographs or personal records on the museums about him. Another interesting act was when randomly in the middle of the night, officials came to Pavlik’s home village and moved the bodies of the boys to a new location and covered the grave with six feet of concrete and put a monument on top. This made exhumation impossible. Why would Soviet officials feel the need to do this unless they were hiding something? Clearly the government had made up almost the entire story behind Pavlik Morozov for their own political advantages in order to attempt to better control their large amount of people. Especially because of how expansive their state is, having one village know the truth won’t affect the rest of the country from believing the government’s story.


Druzhnikov, Yuri. “Informer 001: The Myth of Pavlik Morozov” ICARUS. accessed October 11, 2014.

Image 1: “A.A. Gorpenko: Study of Pavel Morozov” Abart: Gallery ABART. 2001.

Image 2: “Statue in Pavlik Morozov Park” Hugo S. Cunningham: Cyber-USSR. 2001. 


In 1921, it was estimated that 4.5 million children were considered bezprizorniki, meaning homeless. Other sources suggest even higher numbers of homeless children at around 7.5 million. This large influx of homeless children was due to the wars, flight, hunger and disease, all of which either caused families to be unable to support their children any longer or the deaths of their parents leaving them as orphans.

Peasant child begging for food at a railway station.

Peasant child begging for food at a railway station.

Homeless children sleeping.

Homeless children sleeping.

These children not only needed help to survive, but they also needed to be taken off the streets because of the amount of crimes they ended up conducting. They joined gangs, road the railways, engaged in prostitution and gambling, among other crimes. So even though they were in need of help from others, they also instilled fear in others around them through their various criminal actions. The picture below is a warning describing that if something isn’t done to help these homeless children, they will resort to crime.

This is a terrible threat to the country and to the revolution ... Help organize labor for homeless teenagers. This warns warns that homeless children will resort to begging and crime if no one helps them.

This is a terrible threat to the country and to the revolution … Help organize labor for homeless teenagers. This warns warns that homeless children will resort to begging and crime if no one helps them.

The Soviet State comes into play during the civil war by providing things like food, medical help, and education to the homeless. One of the government’s commission’s created three stages for dealing with the high rate of homeless children. The first was in charge of taking kids off the street, next was observing and evaluating, and finally rehabilitation. Some children were put into orphanages, where there was a lack of resources and the shelters were not in good condition. Another placement was in labor communes, where they were provided food and shelter and worked in return. The conditions were usually harsh, but these children had little other choice. Here is a video link that portrays an example of a labor commune, showing the large quantity of kids and a small glimpse at their condition. It is interesting to see how many smoke at such a young age and I wonder why they were all getting their hair cut short.


Siegelbaum, Lewis. “1921: Homeless Children” 17 Moments in Soviet History, accessed September 21, 2014.

image 1 “Dmitrii Baltermants: Peasant Child Begging (1920)” Dmitri Baltermants: Faces of a Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing. 1996.

image 2 “Homeless Children Sleeping (1922)” Russian State Film & Photo Archive at Krasnogorsk. 2000.

image 3 “Rudolf Frents: 6,000,000 Children Not Served By Schools (1923)” Hoover Political Poster Database. 2007.

video source: Russian State Film & Photo Archive at Krasnogorsk. 2000.


Red Army: Have You Volunteered?

Recruiting poster for the Red Army

Recruiting poster for the Red Army

In January 1918, the Worker-Peasant Red Army was created under Lenin and his government, The Council of People’s Commissar. Instead of using a draft, the Red Army started with peasant and worker volunteers, who were people Lenin felt were best to defend his government. This army also included former tsarist officers, because the man that constructed this new Red Army felt that they would be helpful in their success as an army because of their loyalty to Russia. They later created a training program and abandoned the volunteer motto, creating more efficient military units.

Red Army defending the Russian border.

Red Army defending the Russian border.

The Red Army’s numbers went from 700,000 to 3 million, which was partly the result of what was offered to those that served. While the soldiers did receive pay, a bigger incentive was the promise that their families would have rations and help with farming while the soldiers were gone. The Red Army also offered literacy and politics classes, which would have been a big incentive for the peasants who otherwise wouldn’t have had such an opportunity.

The victorious Red Army

The victorious Red Army

With the Red Army under Lenin, those opposed to communism were called the Whites, leading to a civil war in Russia between the two. An advantage of the Red Army was that they were more unified, while the Whites were split between various groups who opposed him and spread farther apart geographically, making it difficult to unite. Another advantage Lenin had was that he was in control of significant cities, both Moscow and Petrograd, which aided in their ending success of the civil war. The significance of this win was that it made the Red Army the “largest, most important institution in the new state” (Freeze, 300). This left the army as not only the state’s military force, but also influenced the government into a military-administrative state (Freeze, 300).


“Dmitrii Moor: Have You Volunteered? (1920)” image source: I. I. Kuptsov: Idushchie vperedi. Moscow: Sovetskii khudozhnik. 1987.

“Dmitrii Moor: Be on Guard! (1920)” image source: Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis, Paul Paret:Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution from the Hoover Institution Archives. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1992.

“A. (Skif) Apsit: Long Live the Three-million Man Red Army! (1919)” image source: Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis, Paul Paret:Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution from the Hoover Institution Archives. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1992.

“Russia 1918-1921.” History Learning, accessed September 13, 2014. Site.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “1917: Red Guard into Army.” 17 Moments in Soviet History, accessed September 13, 2014.

Bloody Sunday

January 9, 1905, now known by most as ‘Bloody Sunday,’ was a significant moment in Russia that amplified the unrest of the people in the empire. On this day in history, a petition for Tsar Nicholas was marched to his Winter Palace by a mass from St. Petersburg (Freeze, 251). The petition was asking for higher wages, shorter hours, a constitution and free elections (Freeze, 251). With the march unarmed and including women and children, the Tsar’s response was to have his military open fire on the masses, killing over a hundred people (Freeze, 251).

A still from the Soviet movie "9th of January" showing armed soldiers facing the march approaching the Winter Palace.

A still from the Soviet movie “9th of January” showing armed soldiers facing the march approaching the Winter Palace.

The Chicago Daily Tribune described this event as making “the deepest impression here upon all the classes.” It included Germany’s foreign office’s opinion that considering the lack of leadership and the difficulty of communication due to the empire’s large geographic area, the chances of this event evolving to a full fledged revolution was unlikely. But to give the opposite opinion, a Russian refugee in a cable to the Tribune warned that this initial bloodshed is just the beginning of what will happen to take this Tsar from the throne. This shows how strongly the revolutionists feel about getting what they want, and that maybe Germany and others are wrong to assume that communication troubles would be enough to stop a revolution. If the masses have enough determination, the revolution could spread throughout the empire.

Just like the refugee had warned, strikes broke out in more places around the empire, with Moscow being one of them. In Moscow, a march was carried out that closed down plants, factories, and mills along their travel, with each stop gaining more workers in joining. More and more workmen were feeling motivated to join the uprising. Bloody Sunday acted as a model for other cities with masses on the verge of uprise, igniting uprisings around the empire, creating the Revolution of 1905.

Works Cited:

“Flame of Revolt Sweeping Empire.” 1905. Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jan 24, 1.

“Revolution, Says Vienna.” 1905. Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jan 24, 2.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Image retrieved from:

Prokudin-Gorskii’s Photographic Record

A Group of Workers Harvesting Tea

I chose this photo because I wanted to look into how these people farming were affected by the growing change to industrialization.  While reading the assigned chapter in Russia A History, I became interested in the famine that started in 1891. Twenty provinces were affected, with hundreds of thousands of deaths (Freeze, 238). While the weather was a clear contributor due to the frost killing the grain crops, the country had enough grain to feed those in need, but was more focused on the transition to industrialization instead of paying more attention to their starving people (Russian Famine of 1891-92). The government was also already hard on the peasants by doing things like raising taxes to make them sell more grain and having peasant sons taken away to join the military (Russian Famine of 1891-92). With their sons gone, there were far less people with the strength to do the hard manual labor involved in agriculture.

Russia A History discusses how the famine sparked resentment against state programmes (Freeze, 238). The state wasn’t taking proper care of all the people, clearly taking little concern with the poorer ones in the country considering they weren’t giving the famine the attention it needed. Peasants were in a rough time, and without aid from the government in their time of need, of course many would end up resenting the current administration.

Once the government realized that more needed to be done, they looked to the zemstvo for assistance (Freeze, 239). The zemstvo was a type of local government that had become inactive during this time period (Freeze, 239). With the government reenlisting the zemstvo’s aid, “society was summoned back to life to take part in a national war on poverty” (Freeze, 238). I think that this was a critical moment for Russia because if society becomes more involved, they’ll want to have more control in what happens in the government, which increases the likelihood of people speaking out against the government.

This image is titled: A Group of Workers Harvesting Tea (1907-1915)

They were created by:  Prokudin-Gorskiĭ, Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich, 1863-1944, photographer

The Permanent record here:

Additional Resources:

Wikipedia contributors, “Russian Famine of 1891-92,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed August 30, 2014).

Freeze, Gregory. Russia A History. New York: Oxford University Press Inc, 2009.