The Invisible Children

The economic and political pitfalls between the years of 1917-1921 caused a lot of heartache and troubles for families of the working-lower classes and the peasants. The continuous shortage of bread and basic sustenance put more and more pressure on families to feed their kids, much less themselves. The rise and spread of disease and the death of parents from the war also pushed for the abandonment of neglected kids. The besprizornye or “unattended” were mostly the children from peasant and working class families; the ones that were the hit hardest by the economic devastation of 1917 and war consequences.

Group of homeless children huddled together for warmth in an alleyway (1917). 

The besprizoryne were composed of 4.5 million children throughout Soviet Russia in 1921; however, the number increasingly rose peaking at 7.5 million at the end of the famine in 1922. The homeless children lived on the streets where most looked helpless and most never received help until the creation of children’s homes. Before the creation of these homes, these children formed gangs and “engaged in pilferage, prostitution, and gambling” (Seventeen Moments of History). These children were considered both “victims and victimizers”.

The Soviet state noticed these invisible children and put the responsibilities of handling onto the Commissariat of Health, Commissariat of Social Security and the Commissariat of Enlightenment. These government agencies created the children homes that functioned as shelter and vocational schools along with providing food and medical assistance.  The Commissariat of Enlightenment created three different stages of institutions that were responsible for removing the children from the streets, an observation and evaluation home that decided if they were going to receive an education or vocational school, and then the homes that were dedicated to their rehabilitation. The number of homeless children was reduced significantly; “the number of children housed in the Russian republic was 125,000 in 1919, 400,000 in 1920, and 540,000 in 1921 and 1922”.

This period of homing and rehabilitation did not last long though, in 1931 because of collectivization and dekulakization more issues came and more children were abandoned. This time the government did not bring attention to the children and the treatment of these children were much more extreme and harsh even resulting in incarceration.




9 thoughts on “The Invisible Children

  1. Wow this was a sobering post. This seems really similar to the orphans of Britain and Oliver Twist. It’s amazing how many kids could be homeless and parentless at once and that picture really tells the entire tale. Thanks for sharing this little known part of 1920s Russia.


  2. i had no idea of the huge amount of children that were left to fend for themselves during this period of Russian history! 7.5 million homeless children living on the streets is an insane number. it seems like the government tried to help but somewhat ineffectively if they only housed 540,000 out of 7.5 million!


  3. I really liked reading your post. The government didn’t really handle this situation well. Your post revealed just how inept the government really was during this time. The photos you used were good supplements to the point you were trying to make in your post.


  4. Very interesting! This is one of those issues that isn’t usually brought up during this point in history. You would think that the Soviet state would make the survival and education of young children a priority, as they would be the future of Russia.


  5. I really enjoyed reading this post. It was a very depressing time in Russia’s history which the government did not handle very well. This coupled with the famine severely weakened Russia and left it open for another revolution. The lower class was upset with how the government handled the situation and I would be too.


  6. Very informative post! I feel like we don’t always get to see much about children throughout history so I enjoyed reading this. Good use of statistics and photos. Like mentioned by Courtney I also liked your use and explanation of “victims and victimizers.” Good post!


  7. Great post! I really like your point about the besprizoryne being considered both “victims and victimizers”. I am reading a book right now called The Nastashas and it is about how the fall of the Soviet Union and other factors (like the rise of organized crime and the chaotic organization of the orphanage systems) have led to a rise in the sex trafficking of Eastern European young women. Some who are victimized by the system go on to help trick other women into it in the hopes of gaining their freedom (and themselves become victimizers). How do you think your post ties into one of the four main questions this week?


    1. My post ties in the economic and societal aspect of the revolution. Since, there were such hard times, the major instability of the economy caused families to break apart because they couldn’t afford to take care of their children. This caused a lot of societal problems because it left so many children out on the streets where they became criminals and caused chaos in the streets. The government was tasked into taking care of these children and getting them off the street which still wasn’t the best and put more strain on the economy and an unstable government.


      1. I agree. The bezprizornye serve as a heartbreaking reminder of the consequences of sustained social upheaval and the devastation of the world war and civil war. As one of your sources pointed out, these children really were victims and victimizers. That photograph is really something!


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