Friends House Moscow works to promote peace and a just, fair and caring society, and help underprivileged groups and individuals, in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. They also tell Russian-speaking people about Quakers. Website: friendshousemoscow.org.
Friends House Moscow (FHM) has had a challenging six months due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Western countries have imposed wide-ranging financial sanctions on Russia, making it very difficult to transfer funds to Russia to support FHM’s work and forcing creativity to find alternative solutions. Fortunately, FHM’s donor organizations moved quickly to transfer sufficient funds to cover the needs for this year so FHM can continue supporting projects in Russia. Two of these—the Integration Center for Migrant Children and Equally Diverse—have taken on a special relevance at this time because they work with refugees and migrants. A little-known fact is that a large number of Ukrainian refugees have fled to Russia. Therefore, these two projects will be playing an important role in helping them to adapt to life in a new country, as well as helping them find shelter and support.
In addition, FHM has committed to supporting a new Alternatives to Violence Project program in Estonia aimed at ameliorating tensions that could potentially arise between newly arrived Ukrainian refugees and Russian residents in that country.
Lastly, FHM has been holding a daily international meeting for worship for peace where everyone affected by, and connected with, this conflict is held in the Light. More information can be found at friendshousemoscow.org/news-about-ukraine.
At the end of 2021, Friends House Moscow (FHM) published a Russian translation of Muriel Payne’s book Plague, Pestilence and Famine. The book is an account of her experiences in Samara, in what was then the Soviet Union, working as a nurse for the Quaker mission providing both health and famine relief services. The publication of this book in Russia was timely as 2021 marked the centenary of her 1921 trip to Samara. It also broke new ground for FHM as the publication of this book was entirely crowdfunded. Both a print version and an eBook have been produced. The book has attracted a lot of interest in Russia. A very generous couple bought 75 copies and donated these to libraries and museums in Samara, while another 16 copies were purchased by a local historian.
This year, Friends House Moscow (FHM) started funding a project in Kaluga that works with local schools to help integrate migrant children into the host community. Kaluga is a mid-sized city about 190 km (120 miles) southwest of Moscow. In the past, no extra time or resources were allocated for the support of migrant children, so this project is essential to ensure their successful integration into Russian society. Specifically, the project trains teachers in how to interact with children who come from a non-Russian culture and do not speak the language. It also provides books and board games in order to help speed up the children’s language acquisition and their knowledge of Russian society and culture.
Twenty schools participate in this project, and the funding from FHM supports the participation of ten of these schools. It is estimated that over 1,000 children have been helped so far. Initial feedback from teachers so far is very positive, and there are plans to roll out a similar program in Novosibirsk in Siberia. This project is a part of FHM’s larger involvement with refugees and migrants in Russia. A detailed report appears in the spring newsletter, available on FHM’s website.
On November 7, 2020, Sergei Nikitin, a former board member of Friends House Moscow, gave a presentation by Zoom on the history of more than 300 years of Quaker work in Russia. Over 40 people attended the presentation, which was recorded and is available on YouTube (search for “Friends and Comrades, by Sergei Nikitin”).
Much of the presentation was devoted to a fascinating (and little-known) episode covered in Nikitin’s recently published book, Как квакеры спасали Россию / When Quakers Were Saving Russia (working English title is Friends and Comrades). This tells the story of how Quakers, mostly from Britain and the United States, came to the Soviet Union in 1920–21 to distribute humanitarian aid, which was badly needed as the country was suffering a terrible famine in the wake of revolution, civil war, and unusually harsh weather conditions. These Quakers ended up in Buzuluk, a town in south-eastern Russia and one of the most badly affected areas. Here, they organized food distribution—at one point feeding over 80 percent of those in need—and also set up an orphanage and a hospital staffed by foreign doctors. There was a permanent Quaker presence in the Soviet Union until 1931, and they made such an impact that, to this day, there are still people alive who remember them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has driven Friends House Moscow, and the Russian projects it supports, to find new ways to cope with an unprecedented situation.
Stay-at-home measures were in force in Russia from March 25 to late June. Moscow Friends were therefore unable to meet in person, and instead began holding virtual meetings via Skype and Zoom. The “Meditation of Friends” group (modeled on Experiments with Light) did the same. For the first time, Friends living outside Moscow and in other countries were able to join for worship.
Projects also moved online. This enabled the Integration Center for Refugee and Migrant Children to start providing lessons to the children on a one-to-one basis. The center has seen an influx of new volunteers to help with the children as many people now have more time. Another project, the English Club (which helps young people from orphanages or with difficulties to practice speaking English), designed new games that can be played online, with the aim of keeping young people engaged and occupied while confined to home.