People could move about freely inside Russia at that time, but
obtaining a ticket might have been a problem in some cases. There was
hyper inflation in the Russian economy, and prices made the
procurement of even the necessities a daily struggle. If one were
traveling on a ticket that had been obtained through one of the unions
or soviets, then movement was comparatively easier than for someone
who had no such patronage. The alternative was simply to walk --
sometimes for months covering hundreds or thousands of miles -- to
reach one's destination. Men and women, many alone, did this even in
Tsarist Russia. For instance, here is a brief passage about an
incident in 1915: (N.B.. Some of this has bearing on your other
AN AMBASSADOR'S MEMOIRS By Maurice Paléologue Volume I
"B-----, who is greatly interested in the lowly and has passed a good
deal of his time in the country, quoted to me to-day some expressive
remarks made by a peasant he met some time ago:
"It was at the great Lavra at Kiev," he said, "one of the pilgrims'
days. In front of the Sacred Door I spied an old woman who must have
been at least eighty. She was bent double, a bundle of bones, and
could hardly drag herself along. I gave her a few kopecks to make her
talkative, and asked her: 'You look very tired, my poor friend! Where
have you come from?'"
"I'm from Tabinsjk, away in the Urals."
"What a long way!"
"Yes, a very long way."
"But you came by train, I suppose?
"No, I can't afford a railway fare. I've walked."
"Walked, from the Urals to Kiev! How long has it taken you?"
"Several months. I don't know exactly."
"I suppose you had someone with you?"
No, I came alone."
"Alone!" I looked at her in amazement. She continued:
"Yes, alone . . . with my soul! "
I slipped a twenty-rouble note into her hand: it was a lot of money
for her; but her remark was worth far more...'
Another example is presented by this account of Russian seaman who had
emigrated to North America and then returned to Russia in the early
1920s. (It would be well to read the entire book on-line.)
"It was six o'clock in the evening, and I had reached the equestrian
statue of Alexander the Third opposite the Nikolaievsky (now called
October) railroad station on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Ligovka
street. The inscription ``Imperator Alexander II' had been changed to
``Pugalo'' (scarecrow). I stopped below the monument and was at once
accosted by three young girls as young as twelve years who each asked
me to take her with me and offered to go along for one pound of rye
A train had just arrived at the railroad station and a stream of
passengers was pouring out in to the streets. This scene I had
witnessed many times in former years. But then the passengers were
awaited by a line of cabs or droschies or other horse drawn vehicles,
while now what a sight greeted my eyes! A long string of Irish
pushcarts were lined up in front of the station. Humans had taken the
place of the horses and were offering to take passengers three or more
miles for the price of five pounds of bread. (I remember as a child
our teachers telling us about things in Japan and China. He told us
about the rikshas and their ``human horses.'') We used to laugh at
this and call the people barbarians. Now this barbaric civilization
was come to Russia. Once we had been drawn by horses belonging to
capitalists; now we were drawn by men who belonged to the Communist
"In the evening Peter and his wife, Pavlo, Gorkin and I were all
gathered in our room, everyone wishing me God - speed on my journey
which was to begin the next morning. Here, before everybody, I counted
my ``fortune'' which amounted to 662,000,000 Soviet rubles besides
3,000,000 Georgian rubles that I kept for the railroad fare and a few
necessary expenses. After counting the money I wrapped it up in a
piece of paper and placed it in my inside coat pocket. When time came
to go to bed I hung my coat on a nail just above my head. Gorkin, as
the night before, was lying with me on the floor, and we were talking
together far into the night. At last I became drowsy and fell asleep.
How long I had been sleeping I cannot say but when I awoke Gorkin was
gone. Dawn was just breaking and a light rain was falling. I lay for a
few minutes thinking that Gorkin would return presently, but something
told me that all was not well. I looked toward the nail on which I had
hung my coat. The coat was still there. I got up and passed my hand
into the inside pocket. The money was gone. I found my union book,
labor book, military service card, and other personal documents, but -
I cannot explain just what I felt. My mind went blank and I started to
laugh loudly. I called Paclo, who rubbed his eyes heavy with sleep but
became wide awake when I told him what had happened. By this time
Peter and his wife were up too and advised me to run out and try to
catch Gorkin as he could not have been gone long. But how can one
catch the wind on the prairie? I went out almost sure of failure.
Footprints on the wet walk showed plainly that Gorkin had left in his
bare feet and passed the dog sleeping in the yard without waking him.
I went to the police station close to the railway and notified them of
the robbery, but they just laughed at me, thinking it the most natural
thing in the world that a man who had nothing should take away what
his friend had.
But every cloud has a silver lining. Gorking had not taken the three
million Georgian rubles that I had tucked under my pillow. By selling
the clothing I had received while with the Relief Mission and some
other things I could do without I realized 250,000,000 Soviet rubles,
and a few days later I was on my way to Baku.
A big crowd of passengers left by the same train. Taking advantage of
this and remembering my past experience I bought a ticket only to the
next stop, Chakva. The train arrived there and the tickets had not yet
been examined, but approaching Samtredy, where a branch line goes to
Poti, the conductor started his round. When my turn came I handed him
my ticket for Chakva.
``Why, Chakva is ninety miles from here,'' he shouted, ``Why didn't
you get off?''
I told him I had been sleeping and intimated it was his duty to see
that passengers got off at the proper stations. At Samtredy I was
arrested and asked to pay double fare from Shakva, to Samtredy. At
first I refused, pleading that I was out of funds. I demanded my
return to Chakva since it was no fault of mine that I had not left the
train there. But the railroad cheka read to me an order from Moscow
that covered my case as if made for the occasion;
``No matter under what circumstances a person rides on a railway train
without a ticket, or if, having a ticket, fails to get off at his
proper destination, he is liable to a fine double the amount of the
railway fare. If he refuses to pay the fine he shall be searched, and
if this search does not disclose any money it shall be lawful to sell
anything of value belonging to him. If nothing of value is found he
shall do fourteen days hard labor on the same road on one pound of
bread a day.'' I was still obstinate, and not until two cheka-men
began searching me did I pay the fine.
After eating lunch in a near by restaurant I climbed into a box car on
an outgoing freight train. This was not so difficult as only three men
were now being employed on one train due to the modern Westinghouse
brakes, while each car had its own brakeman during the Czar's time.
The same Westinghouse brakes had been installed before the revolution
but the brakemen and the technical engineers had "sabotaged" and had
declared them unworkable in order to hold their jobs. (But now they
worked all right, eliminating many jobs and working against the
interest of the men).......
Arrived in Baku I found little change had taken place since my
previous visit. There were idle people everywhere but no work. This
seemed to have become the normal condition throughout Russia at that
time. I spent several days here waiting for my train, sleeping in the
parks or in empty box cars, as no lodgings were to be had in the town.
The night before a train left for Petrovsk, my next stopping place, I
went to the station and filled my kettle with the hot water that is
provided in Russian railway station for the use of passengers. Then I
made some tea. I was drinking my tea in Chinese fashion, that is
without sugar, and eating dry rye bread, when two Red soldiers sat
down beside me. We made a temporary ''Commune,'' drinking my tea and
using their sugar. (Most of the common people never see sugar at this
time, but the army has all it wants. The Communists take good care of
"Will you please be so kind as to give me a cup of hot tea?" I heard a
weak voice asking. I turned to see a woman lying on the stairway steps
close to me. I saw a woman, for that is what her appearance suggested,
but I learned that she was only an eighteen year old girl. That is
what starvation and hardship will do. I gave her some tea and told her
to go to the close by market and buy some bread. She returned shortly
and we had some more tea together, while she told me her story. Up
until the year before (1921) she had lived with her parents and
brother in a village close to Stavropol in the Gubernia of the same
name. To escape the famine they had all gone to Armenia, close to the
Persian boundary line. But this country and an unhealthy climate and
soon her father and brother took typhoid fever and died, Natasha, for
that was her name, set out with her mother [for] Stavropol. On the way
her mother was taken ill and died at Baladjary station, twenty-five
miles from Baku. While Natasha was following her mother's coffin to
the cemetery the train left, and with it all her baggage and
belongings, so she was left alone and penniless in Baku."
"From the Kremlin I returned to the station and bought my ticket. In
two hours I was traveling by way of Yaroslav and Rbinsk toward the
village where I was born and which I had last seen twenty years ago.
It is eighteen miles from station Rodio. It was now October and
everything was covered with a thick blanket of snow, and there was
heavy frost. The Russian winter had come."
"Tea without sugar, 700 rubles.
Tea with sugar, 1,000,000 rubles.
Vegetable soup with meat, 2,500,000 rubles.
Meat cutlet, 3,000,000 rubles.
I looked at this not believing my own eyes. This was no place for me.
I turned onto Zabalkansky Prospect, came to Obuhovsky bridge over the
Fontanka river to the Viazemsky market. Here are some of the prices I
One pound of wheat bread, 2,500,000 rubles.
One pound rye bread, 1,500,000 rubles.
Bologna, from three to five million rubles."
"Having two days of leisure I went to see my cousin's brother whose
address I got while in my village. He lived on Fontanka River drive
and was in the mercantile business. He was very glad to see me and we
had a long talk together. His family lived in Tzarskoe-Selo, in a
villa that had been deserted during the revolution. One son, eighteen,
was living with him at his place of business, as was also his business
partner. They had only one room just large enough for a table and two
beds, for this single room they paid seventy-five million rubles a
month. I will let him tell his own story.
"After finishing my apprenticeship I started my own business, which
soon prospered. So I married. Several children came, and all went well
until the war broke out, and then came the damnable revolution in
1917. I left with my family for our village thinking that we could
stay there for a while until things quieted down a bit, intending then
to return to Petrograd. I wanted my children to have a good education
so they would not be like the uneducated peasants of our family. But,
dear Sasha, I made a bad mistake in going back to our native village
for there my own brother Dmitry pointed me out to the degraded
Comrades as having 250,000 rubles of the Czar's issue and owning forty
desiatina of land. So the Comrades took my land that I had bought for
my children and for my old age. I did not have 250,000 rubles as
Dmitry said, but was forced to give up my bank account of 2,500
rubles. Not satisfied with this the Comrades threw me into jail and
kept me there six months trying to get me to tell them the hiding
place of money I did not have. We have gone through hard times, Sasha,
and to this day I do not know how we have survived. In 1920 we went
back to Petrograd where the mobilizing of the LABOR ARMY was going on.
We were sent into the woods to saw logs pulp, and cordwood, and into
the peat swamps to cut peat, and for this, as you know, we received
one pound of black bread a day. Soon after the uprising in Kronstadt
the LABOR ARMY in Petrograd was demobilized and things became, if
possible, worse. There was no more work of any kind. What were we to
do? We did not like the thought of death by starvation, so I took some
of the clothes left us by the WORKERS' authorities and went sometimes
as far as Omsk in Siberia to exchange them for flour with which to
feed my family. Railroad travel was free, (meant no passes or permits
required) but the 'WLASTI na MESTAH' (local authorities) were always
there with their graft. Sometimes I would leave with five poods of
flour and arrive in Petrograd with only two. Seeing other people
peddling on the quiet I also became a 'traveling speculator.'"
"I passed the Narva Barrier on Zabalkanski Prospect and as I swung on
to the railroad tracks I merrily started to sing the old tune.
``Tramp, tramp, tramp, on the hard rocky road.'' (My road also was
hard and rocky, so much so that I would not have wished it on my worst
enemy. I was buried alive in that hell on earth made by the Communists
for the workers, and I was resurrected in the real paradise on earth,
the United States of America. It may be a paradise of capitalists but
it is, nevertheless and no less, a paradise on earth for me as well as
for other workers, more so than any other country in the world.)....
I followed the railway tracks and highways to the Esthonian boundary,
intending if possible to cross into the new republic and ship out on a
steamer from the port of Reval. In this I failed. My next best bet was
Riga in Latvia. With that city in view I kept walking south like a
migrating bird passing through Novgorod and Pskov, and in the month of
December I reached Vitebsk. Here I mixed with the crowd ever present
at the railroad stations and in the markets of any Russian city, with
a view to picking up any bit of information that would aid me in my
venture. But all I heard was more or less contradictory, some saying
those who succeeded in crossing the line were allowed to stay in
Latvia, others that they were sent back and then sent by the
Communists to the Smolenski concentration camp, where they were kept
on half a pound of rye bread and water and hard labor.
But the talk did not discourage me. I was determined to make the
attempt. The distance from Vitebsk to Indra on the Latvian border is
one hundred miles, but I would gladly have walked a thousand miles if
that would have enabled me to escape from the grip of the Communists
and their PARADISE. In order to prevent any suspicion that might arise
from being so close to the boundary I bought a small wicker basket,
some buttons, five packages of needles, several spools of thread, some
smoking tobacco and some matches. I made myself a peddler but without
a patent, and was on my way. At night I would beg my lodgings from
peasants or go to the village elder who is in Ispolkom ( village
police station) after hiding my basket in order to avoid arrest for
peddling without a permit. I would show my passport to the village
elder and tell him I was traveling to my native village. The elder
would then take me to the house of some peasant who turn it was to
lodge travelers. (an old Russian custom)"
"I was told that the boundary line was one and a half miles away and
warned not to turn west from the highway (I had not told them my
intention to cross into Latvia) as the Communists would surely catch
me and trow [sic] me into jail, no very enjoyable experience as jails
were underground in the basements of all the buildings in town to make
surer the safe keeping of the prisoners."
"Now my chance had come. I ran west concealing myself behind some
bushes close to the road. I watches for a while to see if any soldiers
had appeared in the tower. But everything remained as before. I
sneaked ahead like a rabbit from bush to bush. The snow was deep but
hard enough to walk on without sinking through. Over my shoes I had
slipped a pair of ``lapti'' (hemp slippers) to keep my feet warm and
had attached some straw to drag behind in the snow and efface my
footprints. I went through three barbed wire fences, walked across a
creek where I went through to my knees. I went over swamps and through
half burned woods to avoid the villages. It was intensely cold but in
spite of this I was sweating, whether from fear or exertion I do now
know. Ice was forming on my feet and the lower part of my legs but I
did not feel it. I walked thus all day and toward dusk I could hardly
drag myself along any more. I dared not make a fire as the smoke was
sure to attract attention and cause my arrest. I did not know for sure
whether I was in Russia or Latvia."
"But the Kubani Oblast is a thousand miles from Baku, so I had some
journey to make. But I was not daunted. I walked to the railway
station and got the schedule of departures of freight trains for
Petrovsk. The first train was not due to leave before late at night so
I decided to walk to the station Baladjary and catch the freight
there. Once more I was walking along the railroad track. I often met
other wanderers hurrying to or from Baku, where it may be their
families were waiting for them to bring back food which they may not
have seen for days. Most of these wayfarers walked in small parties of
two or three men. Only I walked alone with my dark, miserable
thoughts. There was not use of my hurrying. I stepped slowly from on
tie to another, moving ahead to a place where I thought I would be
"(Perhaps some of my readers who have tramped some time during their
life will be surprised that we should be dirty and have vermin,
especially in the summer time. But at that time in Russia there were
no rubbish dumps where you could get a tin can or any old bucket to
boil your shirt in. Some time later when I was working in a woodyard
and getting a monthly wage of fourteen rubles ``Chervonets'' (on a par
with the old Czar money) I bought a bucket made from an old coal tin
in order to be able to keep clean and free from lice. Suck [sic] a
bucket could have been bought in the United States for thirty-five
cents at the most, but it cost me two rubles and fifty kopek
Chervonets, or about $1.25 in American money)....."
The usual and easiest way out of Russia then was across the Finnish
frontier. One could take the train from Petrograd to Kronstadt and
walk from there across the border at night into Finland.
From the above:
"They all went back to the United Stats," [sic] was the answer.
"What? to the States?" I pretended surprised in order to find how they
had managed their escape. "How were they able to do that?"
"That we don't know, but they escaped through Finland."
"Through Finland?" I repeated."
A slightly earlier account of a passage back into Russia through
Finland is given here:
RUSSIA IN 1919
by ARTHUR RANSOME
Running the course from Stockholm to Petrograd, Ransome was in a party
that included the expelled Bolshevik Ambassador to Sweden, and thus he
had advantages that were not available to ordinary travelers. From
Stockholm one would take ship to cross the mouth of the Gulf of
Bothnia to Helsinki (then called Helsingfors), and from there would
proceed by train to the Russian border near Viborg (Vyborg, Wyburg).
Ransome's train trip took several days, due to the ongoing fighting
near Petrograd and Kronstadt. It was necessary to cross the small
river that divides Russia and Finland on foot. Ransome's party used
the little bridge at Bieloostrov, but many people crossed
surreptitiously by wading the stream or crossing on the ice. The Finns
were reluctant to allow Russians to enter, and even those who were
permitted to cross were subjected to stringent controls (confiscation
of baggage, for instance). Thus, many people took the unofficial route
by leaving the train and crossing the frontier at night. There were,
of course, smugglers who could assist for a price, and political
dissidents along the border who would provide refuge and guidance to
Conditions on the trains were primitive.
"When at last the train came to take us into Petrograd, and we found
that the carriages were unheated, somebody got out a mandoline and we
kept ourselves warm by dancing. At the same time I was sorry for the
five children who were with us, knowing that a country simultaneously
suffering war, blockade and revolution is not a good place for
childhood. But they had caught the mood of their parents,
revolutionaries going home to their revolution, and trotted excitedly
up and down the carriage or anchored themselves momentarily, first on
one person's knee and then on another's.
It was dusk when we reached Petrograd. The Finland Station, of course,
was nearly deserted, but here there were four porters, who charged two
hundred and fifty roubles for shifting the luggage of the party from
one end of the platform to the other. We ourselves loaded it into the
motor lorry sent to meet us, as at Bieloostrov we had loaded it into
"PETROGRAD TO MOSCOW
There was, of course, a dreadful scrimmage about getting away. Several
people were not ready at the last minute. Only one motor was
obtainable for nine persons with their light luggage, and a motor
lorry for the heavy things. I chose to travel on the lorry with the
luggage and had a fine bumpity drive to the station, reminding me of
similar though livelier experiences in the earlier days of the
revolution when lorries were used for the transport of machine guns,
red guards, orators, enthusiasts of all kinds, and any stray persons
who happened to clamber on.
At the Nikolai Station we found perfect order until we got into our
wagon, an old third-class wagon, in which a certain number of places
which one of the party had reserved had been occupied by people who
had no right to be there. Even this difficulty was smoothed out in a
manner that would have been impossible a year or even six months ago.
The wagon was divided by a door in the middle. There were open coupes
and side seats which became plank beds when necessary. We slept in
three tiers on the bare boards. I had a very decent place on the
second tier, and, by a bit of good luck, the topmost bench over my
head was occupied only by luggage, which gave me room to climb up
there and sit more or less upright under the roof with my legs
dangling above the general tumult of mothers, babies, and Bolsheviks
below. At each station at which the train stopped there was a general
procession backwards and forwards through the wagon. Everybody who had
a kettle or a coffee-pot or a tin can, or even an empty meat tin,
crowded through the carriage and out to get boiling water. I had
nothing but a couple of thermos flasks, but with these I joined the
others. From every carriage on the train people poured out and hurried
to the taps. No one controlled the taps but, with the instinct for
co-operation for which Russians are remarkable, people formed
themselves automatically into queues, and by the time the train
started again everybody was back in his place and ready for a general
tea-drinking. This performance was repeated again and again throughout
the night. People dozed off to sleep, woke up, drank more tea, and
joined in the various conversations that went on in different parts of
the carriage. Up aloft, I listened first to one and then to another."
"At last I tried to sleep, but the atmosphere in the carriage, of
smoke, babies, stale clothes, and the peculiar smell of the Russian
peasantry which no one who has known it can forget, made sleep
A more sympathetic picture from a few years later (1922) is given
Protection of Women and Children in Soviet Russia
The First Time in History
I.How Russia is "Different"
"In the autumn I went on a trip to the Arctic Circle, visiting mines
and sawmills. The trains in this far north were slow and crowded and
dirty, but they ran on definite schedule and arrived on time. On the
main line, from Petrograd to Moscow, one could not ask for better
service. I made the trip four times in six weeks, once in a diplomatic
car and three times in ordinary "cars with soft seats" reserved for
sleeping. In the diplomatic car I had the luxury of private coupe and
lavatory, with tea served morning and evening by a most comradely car
conveyer, who refused tips but accepted friendly gifts of cigarettes.
Even the ordinary cars now furnished clean sheets and good blankets.
There were eight or ten such cars on the train, running every night
between the two cities."
"I went from Moscow to Petrograd. I looked out of my car window on the
way and saw a train of cars, newly painted, shining cars in olive
green. On the side of those cars, in addition to the usual number, was
a design and a motto, with words about the First of May.
Those cars were made by the car-builders, not in their ordinary
working-time, but on Sundays and evenings and holidays. They were made
as a free gift by Russian workers for the needs of Russian Railroads.
They were presented to the government at a May-Day festival. As long
as they last they will go up and down the land, carrying passengers,
and shouting aloud to everyone who sees them that the railroad workers
cared enough about transport to make these cars for nothing, as a
present in a celebration."
For another account of a journey out of Russia by a visiting American
Six Red Months in Russia
ADVENTURES AS A BOLSHEVIK COURIER
"I CAME back from Petrograd as far as Stockholm as a Bolshevik
courier. It came about in this way: I was very worried about my
papers. Once before when I travelled through Finland most of my
baggage was confiscated. I didn't want it to happen again, so I went
to Assistant Foreign Minister Zalkind and asked how I could avoid a
similar experience. He thought for a moment, smiled and said, "Why, I
will make you a courier for the Soviet Government.""
"One has barely time to arrange one's luggage comfortably in the
compartment before the train stops at Bjeloostrov, just at the border
of Finland. It is only an hour's ride out of Petrograd. Bolshevik
troops were everywhere. They examined my passports, counted me a
friend and scarcely glanced at my possessions bravely flaunting the
enormous red seals of the Workmen's and Peasants' Government.
The trip was uneventful until we reached Tamerfors. Here a company of
sailors, who had come to help the Red Guard, were arrested by the
White Guard, and somberly marched away. I regretted that this was my
last glimpse of the adventuresome Cronstadt sailors, for they, more
than any other group, held our imaginations during the proletarian
"At Tornea the American officer had gone away to be married, and a
lithe young Cossack had charge. I wasn't sure he was a Bolshevik and
hesitated to present my credentials. He began at once to ask me
questions in very good English. "Are you just coming from Petrograd?
Are you a Socialist?" And before I could answer he went on proudly: "I
myself am a Socialist, and I am much interested in the Bolshevik
movement. There is great chance for advancement. Look at me! I am
under thirty and I am a General. What man in your country is a General
From Tornea to Haparanda everything was frozen, so we rode from one
town to the other in a sleigh."
From Stockholm or Helsinki, one could take a steamer to Copenhagen,
and thence to Paris or Berlin by train.
Yet another account of the crossing of the Russo-Finnish frontier can
be found in Captain Reilly's book,
Sidney Reilly, Mrs. Reilly, Sidney Reilly Britain's Master Spy His Own
Story, Dorset Press, 1985
"Now you must know that the frontier between Russia and Finland is
marked by a narrow stream. On each side at intervals are the block
houses of the patrols, the Finnish on this side and the Russian on
that. The greatest hostility exists between them, and the only
communications between the one bank and the other are carried out
surreptitiously and under cover of darkness. The country on each side
is very sparsely populated, and you may go for miles without meeting a
soul. It is necessary for our people to be ferried across this stream
when the Red patrols are not looking, and then slink under cover of
darkness across the open country to the railway station. They get
shelter from out sympathisers among the villagers on the other side of
The Central Museum of Railway Transport of Russia