Mr. Smith to Mr. Blaine.

No. 142.]

Sir: Previous dispatches from this legation have from time to time reported upon the extent of the famine which affects a large part of Russia, and upon the measures taken for the relief of the sufferers. Inquiries are coming from the United States for exact information, and, in view of the sympathetic interest and proffers of aid on the part of our countrymen it may serve a useful purpose to give a brief résumé of the situation, even at the risk of repeating some things heretofore said.

There are thirteen provinces of European Russia where the drought was well-nigh unbroken and where the famine may be said to be general, viz: Kazan, Nijni-Novgorod, Orenburg, Oufa, Penza, Riazan, Samara, Saratoff, Simbirsk, Tamboff, Toula, Viatka, and Voronege. There are five others where it prevails in part, viz: Kursk, Olonets, Orel, Perm, and Tauride, one or two others like Kherson, were within the influence of the drought and have suffered to some extent, but I include only those embraced in official publications. Some conception of the magnitude of the calamity may be gathered from a few comparisons. The thirteen provinces where the destitution is general are a third larger than all Germany. They cover an area equal to that of the States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky, all put together. They have about the same population, that is, about 27,000,000.

If we add the five provinces which are partly afflicted, the sweep of the famine-stricken region is equal to the combined area of Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and half of Ohio, and its total population is nearly double that of those eleven States.

The distress through most of this vast agricultural section, embracing much of the richest and ordinarily most fruitful soil of Russia, can hardly be overstated. The destitution, it is true, is not universal. There are those whose accumulations save them from want. There are spots blessed with irrigation where, surrounded by the fatal blight, the harvests were good, but at the best the proportion of sufferers is enormous. An official estimate made some time ago placed the number of persons who were without food or means of support and who require assistance through the winter at nearly 14,000,000. In reality, appalling as this figure is, it is probably below the truth. It must be borne in mind that it is not the failure of the harvest for a single year alone which has produced this disaster. For three successive years the crops have fallen short of the average. There was thus little reserve of grain [Page 367] in the desolated provinces, and the great deficiency of the past season finds the storehouses already well-nigh empty.

A few facts given in bare outline, without taking space for detail or description, will best answer inquiries as to the degree of distress. The statements following are chiefly derived from original sources and from eye-witnesses whose trustworthiness I could personally measure. Several letters from competent residents, or observers on the spot, are in my possession. The pastor of the British American Church of St. Petersburg, Rev. Alexander Francis, who made a tour in the famine-stricken section in September, is just back from a second visit of three weeks, much of the time on sledge, going from one village to another, and favors me with the results of his close observations. A few days ago I also had the opportunity of a full conference with the intelligent representative of the English Society of Friends, who came from London to make a personal investigation and who was then fresh from an extended journey of inspection, through three of the afflicted provinces. All of these witnesses concur in telling the same story of great present destitution and suffering which, unless adequate relief can be supplied, will grow worse as the season goes on.

It is important, first of all, to understand that the great proportion of the peasants make no savings and are wholly dependent on the yearly crop. If widespread and long-continued drought makes the earth unfruitful, their only hope is outside relief. But the general scarcity of provisions is far from being the only misery. The loss of the harvest inevitably draws a long train of various evils. The crops are the foundation of the whole economic structure. When they fail the Government misses revenue and the peasants lack the necessaries of life, clothing, firewood, taxes, farming requirements, sustenance of horses and cattle, all depend on this one resource. At present in some sections it is almost as difficult to get fuel as food. The suffering is nearly as great from cold as from hunger. Neighborhoods huddle together in the most available house to keep warm. In some quarters, away from the forests the barns have found their way, board by board, to the fire place. In extreme cases the thatched roofs of the peasants’ homes are torn up that the straw may feed the dying embers, ruder the stress of overmastering necessity, clothing is almost given away for bread. Horses and cattle are sacrificed at a tithe of their value. Fodder is as scarce as human food, and the support of the farm animals becomes a burden. In some cases the people are reduced to horse flesh for their sustenance.

During the winter days there is little or no work to be had, and the only recourse is to wait for relief. Not infrequently fathers of families have left their wives and children to fight the battle of want alone and have gone away because they could do nothing, and their absence would leave fewer mouths to feed at home.

In many instance the peasants are driven, in finding materials for subsistence, to almost incredible necessities. A letter in excellent English lies before me from the head manager of one of the great estates in Nijni-Novgorod, and the writer, speaking of his personal visitations among the peasants of the surrounding country, says:

I can only say that it is impossible to conceive a state more distressing, more calamitous, more woefully pathetic than theirs. The bread which they are eating is not worthy of the name. I had slices cut from their loaves in my presence, which I took away as specimen of the stuff with which they are compelled to support their lives. I found in many cases that this so-called bread contained no rye flour whatever, but was composed of wild arroch, potatoes, chaff, and leaves.

[Page 368]

These terrible conditions inevitably produce disease. The same letter says: “Within two versts (a mile and a third) of my house there are more than one hundred and twenty cases of typhus. Hunger and cold in their severest forms are daily gaining ground, and pestilence even now is decimating the people.” Unhappily this direful recital serves as a sketch of many localities.

Through January, February, and perhaps March, the roads will be good, and all energies can be directed to pouring provisions into the needy provinces. Unfortunately the rivers, which are the chief channels of communication, are frozen. Two or three main railroad arteries run into the famine-stricken region, but there are no lateral stems and the greater part of the bread and breadstuffs must be carried for long distances on sledges. The problem is to convey enough during the next two or three months, not only for immediate use but to tide over most of the period until the next harvest, which should be realized in July. By the middle of March or the first of April the spring breakup will come. The roads will be heavy and difficult and the horses now available for transport will be largely needed in the spring farming. Time is therefore a most important factor in the work of relief, and every week now is vital. This may be brought clearly to the understanding by a single statement. A letter tome from Tamboff states that at least 180,000,000 pounds of food are necessary to carry that province through. To meet this requirement fifty carloads ought to arrive per diem, and the letter, which was written on Christmas day, says that the average arrival that week was eleven carloads. It is unfortunate that the full gravity of the impending emergency was not earlier realized, but for some time past the specter of the famine has overshadowed everything here and every energy has been strained to mitigate the calamity.

It is but just to say that the Imperial Government is addressing itself to this duty with devotion and vigor. Up to the present time it has appropriated 85,000,000 rubles from the public treasury, for the work of relief, most of which has already been spent. This is equivalent to about $42,500,000, and as the work must still go on for some months, the expenditure must mount to a much higher sum. This is apart from private contributions. The amount which the Emperor has given from his personal resources is not publicly mentioned and probably is not definitely known, but the figure named in private circles is something enormous. All classes are freely giving of their means to the same object, and it must be remembered that the direct contributions are but a small part of the cost. The loss to the Government in revenue will be at least 200,000,000 rubles, and probably much more, while a conservative estimate places the direct loss to Russia from the short crops, the increased cost of food, and other consequences at not less than 1,000,000,000 rubles, or $500,000,000. Up to the present moment there have been very few contributions from abroad.

Both the Government and people of Russia are deeply sensible of the spontaneous offerings in various parts of the United States, and the Emperor’s ministers, as well as others, have spoken of them to me with expressions of the deepest appreciation and gratitude.

I have, etc.,

Chas. Emory Smith.