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.


7 thoughts on “Bezprizorniki

  1. Have you considered whether the homeless children social phenomenon would have hurt or helped the Bolsheviks and the early Soviet state during the Civil War? Perhaps the Bolsheviks used it to their advantage, claiming that they had a campaign to help these children and end their criminal activity (although the problem continued beyond the war and into the 20s).

  2. Good post! I think this is a really unique topic to discuss, especially since many of the posts this week involve religion or some topic more along those lines. Nice pictures and video too! I thought it was interesting how you included information about how the homeless children were victims of circumstances they could not help but how “they also instilled fear in others around them through their various criminal actions.” However, it’s good that the Bolsheviks tried to help them by providing medical care, food, and education, even in rough conditions. Perhaps they had their hair cut short to avoid bugs, or simply because it was easier to deal with and they wouldn’t have to get it cut so often. Interesting observation, though!

  3. Soviet intervention seemed to do the bare minimum. While it seems that their help was better than inaction, the orphans were still subject to shelters in bad condition with poor resources and harsh conditions. Did the Soviet’s program with the homeless youth develop further in the following decades?

  4. Smoking children is something that was not unique to Russia, at least not right now. I, too, was surprised by how many kids in Iraq smoke cigarettes. And yes, they cut the Russian kids’ hair short to help deal with lice.

  5. After reading posts about the Soviets overthrowing the church and Stalin’s brutal personality, this post was nice to read. It showed that the soviet government did to some degree care for the people and tried to alleviate some of society’s problems.

  6. I find it interesting that even Russia, who today has the stereotype of being a community of tough, hard-working people, resorted to child labor just like the United States did. I’m curious to know what the public thought of using children in factories (and even them smoking), knowing how the public here in the U.S. reacted.

  7. Lovely post with nice insights. It’s very sad to see that number. 4.5 million children homeless. Breaks my heart. ..And kids being involved in crime…because of the situation.

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