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The Forgotten Story of How America Saved Soviet Russia from Ruin: The Great Famine of 1921-1923
Online Lecture by Douglas Smith and Panel Discussion with Sophia Kishkovsky, Nicholas Sluchevsky, and Nadieszda Kizenko


After decades of Cold War and facing renewed tensions in the wake of Russian meddling in the 2016 and possibly 2020 elections, cooperation between the United States and Russia seems hard to imagine – and yet, as Douglas Smith reveals in The Russian Job, one of The Financial Times Best Books of the Year, it has a forgotten but astonishing historical precedent.

In 1921, facing one of the worst famines in history, the Soviet government invited the American Relief Administration to save communist Russia from ruin. For two years, a small, daring band of Americans fed more than ten million men, women, and children across a million square miles of territory. It was the largest humanitarian operation in history―preventing the loss of countless lives, social unrest on a massive scale, and, quite possibly, the collapse of the communist state.

This story highlights the initial, probative engagement that helped define a difficult relationship ranging from a conflicted flirtation during the 1920-1930’s, to a strategic alliance during WW2 slipping into the Cold War that did not end well for the USSR.

Now, almost a hundred years later, few in either America or Russia have heard of the ARA. The Soviet government quickly began to erase the memory of American charity. In America, fanatical anti-communism would eclipse this historic cooperation with the Soviet Union. Smith resurrects the American relief mission from obscurity, taking the reader on an unforgettable journey from the heights of human altruism to the depths of human depravity.

Examining how the Soviet government responded to or used the Great Famine for political control, and how they manipulated the American relief effort is particularly timely as our political system attempts to deal with, control or use our own natural disaster, and may well end up being reshaped by it.

About the Speaker:

An award-winning historian and translator, Douglas Smith is the author of six books on Russia. His works have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Over the past thirty years Douglas has made many trips to Russia. In the 1980s, he was a Russian-speaking guide on the U.S. State Department’s exhibition “Information USA” that traveled throughout the USSR. He has worked as a Soviet affairs analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Munich and once served as an interpreter for late President Reagan.

Douglas has taught and lectured widely in the United States, Britain, and Europe and has appeared in documentaries for National Geographic, the BBC, and Netflix. He is the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions, including a Guggenheim fellowship and a residency at Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Study Center.

His book Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy was a bestseller in the UK. It won the inaugural Pushkin House Russian Book Prize in 2013 and was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. His 2016 biography Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs was a finalist for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.  The Russian Nobility Association has been fortunate to present two lectures by Douglas Smith in the past, speaking about his books, The Pearl and Former People.  We are thrilled he agreed to inaugurate our virtual lecture series.

About the Panelists:

Sophia Kishkovsky has been a reporter based in Moscow since 1991, writing with a focus on culture for publications including The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Art Newspaper.

Nicholas Sluchevsky is President of the Stolypin Center, a Moscow, Russia based non-profit working in rural development and cultural projects, and is the publisher of a series of emigre memoirs under the name “TransRossica”.

Nadieszda Kizenko is Professor of History and Director of Religious Studies at SUNY Albany, and author of A Prodigal Saint:  Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People.

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