Unrest in Russia: A Quick Refresher

Chris Mather | January 14, 2015
Bolshevik forces march in Red Square, 1917.

In this week’s episode of Downton Abbey, we meet a group of displaced Russian aristocrats who have fled their home country after ten years of political unrest that saw a World War, a civil war, two political revolutions and the overthrow of an empire.

Just in case you haven’t attended a World History class lately (it’s been quite a while since we have), here’s a brief refresher of the drastic changes that Russia had experienced by the time Prince Kuragin and his crew arrive at our favorite Yorkshire estate.

1914 to 1918

Russia is involved in the first world war, where they lose over three million lives in combat. The country finds itself suffering from food shortages and a devastated economy in the wake of war.

February 1917

Riots and strikes break out in the country’s capital, Petrograd (modern-day St. Petersburg), gaining momentum and leading to the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II in an event now known as the February Revolution. A provisional government is installed.

February to October 1917

World War I continues, strikes and uprisings multiply, and the country is in real threat of bankruptcy. A political party called the Bolsheviks are ascendant within the provisional government, led in part by Vladimir Lenin who returned to the country from exile in April.

October 1917

The Bolsheviks vote on a resolution that declares that an armed uprising is imminent.

November 1917

The armed uprising takes place in a largely bloodless revolution that installs to power the Bolshevik party. Among other measures, the Bolsheviks officially abolish all classes of the nobility. This becomes known as the October Revolution, and the Bolshevik forces become known as the Red Army.

1917 to 1921

Forces in opposition to the Bolsheviks consolidate into a confederation known as the White Army and the country falls into civil war. Various uprisings and battles will continue until 1921, when the White Army is all but defeated. Many citizens — sympathetic to the White Army or otherwise opposed to the revolution — flee the country.


The Soviet Union (aka the USSR) is created. Lenin dies.


Joseph Stalin becomes leader of the Soviet Union. Downton’s Soviet émigré guests arrive.

Masterpiece: Downton Abbey airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN.