A Tradition Sadly Fading

Russian Life, May 1997 | Go to article overview

A Tradition Sadly Fading


This month we celebrate the 130th anniversary of the Russian Red Cross Society (RRCS). The RRCS was officially born on May 3, 1867, when the Imperial Doctor Karol put forward a proposal to establish the Russian Society to take care of sick and wounded servicemen. The First Statute of the Society was submitted to the State Council and approved by Tsar Alexander II.

But Russian traditions of mercy and clemency go further back in history than 1867. In 1812, during the Russo-French War, philanthropist Fyodor Rtishchev financed transportation of the wounded from the battlefield and provided them with medical care. During the Crimean War of 1853-1856, the famous Dasha Sevastopolskaya and her female assistants helped to nurse the wounded of Sevastopol.

Three years after its foundation, the RRCS sent 30 Russian surgeons to help victims of the French-Prussian War (1870-1871). In 1877-1878, during the Russo-Turkish War, 32 special RRCS trains carried more than 100,000 wounded and sick back from the front. The total sum spent by the RRCS helping victims of that war was some 17 million rubles, which had much greater value at that time than today's battered Russian currency. In 1897, the RRCS built the first Russian hospital in Addis-Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. And RRCS financial aid to victims of the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 amounted to 50 million rubles, a huge sum.

At the beginning of WWI, the RRCS had a solid organizational and financial structure. It had 80 hospitals (with 2559 beds), nine maternity homes, ten pharmacies, four asylums for retired servicemen and a home for soldier's widows.

The October Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Civil War split the RRCS along with the rest of society. The RRCS's Chief Directorate sided with the White Guards and refused to give help to wounded Red Army soldiers. This prompted the formation of the Proletarian Red Cross. In January 1918, the Council of People's Commissars nationalized RRCS assets and proceeded to reorganize the Red Cross. In November 1918, the organization was renamed The Soviet Red Cross. One of its first, visible actions was to help the victims of famine in the Volga and Northern Caucasus regions in 1921 (the Red Cross sent some 100 mn food kits).

In 1924, the Soviet Red Cross set up a network of health resorts for children (pioneer camps), namely the famous camp in Artek, Crimea. In 1938, Stalin's government undertook a major 'confiscation' of Red Cross assets.

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