The Men Who Preferred To Starve To Death Than Eat Through A Seed Bank

Grace Higgins | November 30th, 2019

During the siege of Leningrad during World War II, there was a group of Russian botanists who were holed up a secret vault. Here they ran out of food, and instead of consuming the greatest collection of seeds that were meant for a post-apocalyptic world they chose to starve to death.

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And perhaps what is even worse, the man behind the whole operation Nikolay Vavilov, who collected all the seeds went on to die of starvation in one of Stalin’s gulags. When German forces began their siege of Leningrad in 1941, choking off the food supply of the city’s two million residents. There was a group of Russians who had access to plenty of food, but they chose to starve instead of eating it.

Scientists and workers at the Institute of Plant Industry barricaded themselves inside the vaults, when Germans poured into the city which is now known as St Petersburg. They were not trying to save their lives, they were trying to save the future of humanity. They had the mission of protecting the greatest seed collection ever, one that would be able to protect the whole world from starving hungry Soviet citizens and a rampaging German Army.

After more than 900 days, these heroic men started to die of hunger but still, they decided to not eat through the seed banks that they had vowed to protect with their lives. You see their leader Vavilov had traveled around five continents and studied the whole global food ecosystem. He called it his mission for all of humanity and even when Russia was going through multiple revolutions, he was still conducting genetic research for breeding seeds to increase farm productivity.

This was because Russia has a long history of anarchy and famines, he felt this was the best way to solve this problem. Vavilov dreamed of a future of an amazing utopian future where no human went hungry, he saw a future of agricultural practices and science would work for hand in hand to create super plants.

Perhaps ironically he ended up in a Soviet prison in Saratov, where he eventually died of starvation. One of the many terrible tragedies that happened under Stalin’s rule of the Soviet Union.

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