The Russian Red Cross in the Civil War

Keywords: Civil War, Red Cross, humanitarian disaster, typhus, sanitary trains


Based on Russian and non-Russian materials, this article examines the history of the Russian Red Cross Society during the Civil War. The ascension of the Bolsheviks to power led to the breakup of the Russian Red Cross Society (RRCS) into a multitude of national and political associations, each claiming its material and symbolic heritage. When the Civil War began, these fragments of the RRCS no longer existed as effective sanitary organisations. But in autumn 1918, as epidemics threatened troops and civil populations alike, RC institutions had to be set up again urgently. In view of their experience and infrastructure, the Moscow, Omsk, and Kiev RC organisations quickly became decisive players in the Civil War with the Red Army and the White armies of Kolchak, Denikin, and Wrangel. In many fields, these RC organisations acted as a substitute for the state. They were responsible for nursing, nutrition, and evacuation. On the external front, the material assets of the former RRC had to be recovered, Russian soldiers arrested abroad assisted, and the exclusivity of the RC emblem defended. In conclusion, this article argues that the Russian Civil War was a dramatic theatre of modern humanitarian action for the entire international RC movement (the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies) in terms of the practices and laws that had to be invented. Given its fragmentary nature, the mix of identity, social, and ideological conflicts, the civilian populations in the foreground, and the intermingling of national and international players, the Russian Civil War was a forerunner of the “new wars” of the late twentieth century.

Author Biography

Jean-François Fayet

PhD, Professor, University of Fribourg.

20, Avenue de l’Europe, 1700, Fribourg, Switzerland.

ORCID 0000-0001-6554-8702


ACICR. CR 00/50a-b-c. B Mis 0. B MIS 54.

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How to Cite
Fayet, J.-F. (2021). The Russian Red Cross in the Civil War. Quaestio Rossica, 9(1), 188–202.
Problema voluminis