After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the ensuing Civil War produced acute food shortages in southwestern Russia. Wartime devastation was compounded by two successive seasons of drought, and by 1920 it was clear that a full-scale famine was under way in the Volga River Valley, Crimea, Ukraine, and Armenia. Conditions were so desperate that in early 1920 the Soviet government sent out a worldwide appeal for food aid to avert the starvation of millions of people.
Several volunteer groups in the United States and Europe had by then organized relief programs, but it became clear that help was needed on a larger scale because an estimated 10 to 20 million lives were at stake. Although it had not officially recognized the Soviet regime, the United States government was pressed from many sides to intervene, and in August 1920 an informal agreement was negotiated to begin a famine relief program. In 1921 President Warren Harding appointed Herbert Hoover, then secretary of commerce, to organize the relief effort.
Congress authorized $20 million, and Hoover proceeded to organize the American Relief Administration (ARA) to do the job. Under Hoover's terms, the ARA was to be a completely American-run relief program for the transport, storage, and delivery of relief supplies (mainly food and seed grain) to those in the famine region. After Soviet officials agreed, hundreds of American volunteers were dispatched to oversee the program. The ARA gradually earned the trust of the local Communist authorities and was given a virtually free hand to distribute thousands of tons of grain, as well as clothing and medical supplies. This remarkable humanitarian effort was credited with saving many millions of lives.
ARA aid continued into 1923, by which time local farms were again producing and the famine's grip was broken. Hoover and his ARA were later honored by the Soviet government for the care and generosity that the United States had shown in this desperate crisis.
Document on food shipments to Russia
Translation of document
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