On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand was killed in Sarajevo. The ultimatum exhibited by Austria-Hungary, among other things, implied police intervention in Serbia’s domestic policy. A month after the assassination of the Archduke, Belgrade was bombed. Russia, that had historically been supporting Serbia, could not stay aloof. On the last day of July, Nicholas II issued a decree on general mobilization. On the first day of August, Germany allied with Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia.

World War I was initially considered a matter of a couple of months not only by the Russian Empire, but also by all participating countries. The Russian society meets the military conflict unanimously and positively, counting on an early victory. Poets and cultural figures, including Gumilev, Gorodetsky, Bryusov, Yesenin and Alexey Tolstoy himself, go to the front and work as war correspondents. Anti-German attitude is spreading around the country: the shops of German firms are burning, and St. Petersburg is renamed into Petrograd. Even sister of the wife of Nicholas II, Princess Elizaveta Fedorovna, a born German, was injured: her carriage was thrown with stones.

However, after the first victories, as early as in 1915, the Great Retreat” of the Russian troops begins, which leads to the loss of the conquered territories of Galicia, one and a half million casualties, the demoralization of the army and society. To strengthen morale in the army, discipline with the rod is restored. The Russian industry works at full capacity, irregular working hours lead to strikes much more often than in the pre-war period. In May, on Red Square, the people demand the abdication of the Emperor and execution of Rasputin. Despite the year 1916 with its Brusilov’s breakthrough that was successful for the Russian troops, the echo of the popular unrest will catch up and grow into the noise of the revolution as early as in 1917.

Visualization in the Road to Calvary

Telegin is mobilized to the army and goes to the front, where he ends up in German captivity and tries to flee several times. Poet Bessonov goes to the front, too, but he has no chance to take part in the military operations. During the shelling, he escapes to the forest, where he meets a distraught desperate from hunger and dies from his hands. Liza meets her future husband Zhadov at the front. Dasha and Katya work in an infirmary. Goods and products are in short supply.

There was little inquiry in the villages as to who the enemy was, or what the war was about. What difference did it make? Eyes had so long been dimmed by a bloody film of rage and hate! The hour for deeds of terror had struck at last. Peasants boys and men abandoning their sweethearts and wives, crowded, lively and eager, into freight trucks and were borne swiftly past the towns, whistling and singing ribald songs. The old life had come to an end — it seemed as if Russia was being stirred and muddied with a gigantic ladle, and now everything was in motion, pressing onward — all were drunk with the intoxicating fumes of war”.

The Road to Calvary by A. N. Tolstoy