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How a Ukrainian with Jewish roots saved the world from the plague and cholera: the story of Vladimir Khavkin

The words "plague" and "cholera" are still used as a curse, shuddering most people. Fortunately, there was a superhero who was able to overcome this scourge of humanity. A modest Odessa citizen Vladimir Khavkin invented two unique vaccines that saved millions of people, says "KP Ukraine".

Photo: Shutterstock

In India, the scientist was given the title of “mahatma”, which means “father of the nation,” for this, the Bombay Bacteriological Institute, the largest center for the study of plague and cholera in Southeast Asia, was named after him, Queen Victoria herself presented Mordechai Wolf Huffkin with the Order of the Knight of the Indian Empire , a grove of memory of a microbiologist was planted in Israel, and in the city of his childhood, Berdyansk, there is only a small museum at the sanitary and epidemiological station.

No wonder the writer Anton Chekhov said about Dr. Khavkin: “This is the most unknown person, the great philanthropist, who is applauded by the whole of Europe, but at home he is unknown to anyone”.

Vladimir Aronovich was born in sunny Odessa and at birth received the name Markus-Wolf. Father - a teacher at the State Jewish School Aron Khavkin. Mother - Rosalia Landsber - daughter of the Hebrew language teacher at the same school. Since childhood, Vladimir has been an inquisitive and hardworking child. He studied brilliantly, first at the cheder, a Jewish school for boys, and in 1879 he graduated from the Russian men's gymnasium in Berdyansk and entered the natural department of the physics and mathematics faculty at the Imperial Novorossiysk University in Odessa, says "Land of Knowledge".

The father had no money for the education of his son. As a result, after long negotiations, Vladimir's older brother agreed to help - he allocated him ten rubles a month for the duration of the classes. Odessa University, where the guy entered, gave a poor student 20 kopecks a day ... for lunch. A separate bonus is the eminent teacher, Ilya Mechnikov himself, who played a significant role in Khavkin's life.

There have always been plenty of dreamers in Russia. After the Decembrists, after the emancipation of the peasants, breathing in the winds of civil freedom, the sixties idealists came. They were replaced by the seventies, for the sake of national happiness, ready to fight and sacrifice, armed not only with revolutionary theory, but also with bombs and revolvers.

With one of such ascetics, Vera Figner, nicknamed Vera the revolver, members of the student circle of Narodnaya Volya meet at a secret Odessa appearance. Among them is Vladimir Khavkin. And after some time, Odessa police police general Strelnikov will be killed by Narodnaya Volya fighters. Individual terror will occupy a prominent place in the practice of Russian revolutionaries. The political investigation will show increased interest in the “fighter for national happiness” Vladimir Khavkin. Three of his arrests, which followed one after another, did not end with trial and hard labor only by a lucky coincidence: the secret police had insufficient evidence proving the involvement of the troubled student in terror.

But Khavkin was “on a note” with the police. They followed him, he was under vowel supervision. Organized student speeches against the university authorities, in which Khavkin was involved, eventually led to his expulsion from Novorossiysk University, writes "Lechaim".

Nevertheless, Khavkin was allowed to defend his dissertation as an external student in 1884, but he could not continue his scientific work or teach in Odessa - he was unreliable. The organization of the People’s Volunteers was completely defeated in Odessa, Khavkin lost close friends, he did not have the opportunity to earn even a little money.

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Broth Meat Serum

As a Jew, Khavkin was not able to conduct scientific research in Russia. The university leadership, trying to open the way for a talented student to a scientific career, suggested Khavkin to accept Orthodoxy. However, Khavkin rejected this offer. In 1881, Mechnikov moved to Switzerland. In 1888, Khavkin followed Mechnikov and took the post of privat-docent of Lausanne University. In 1889, on the recommendation of Mechnikov, he became an employee of the Pasteur Institute in Paris.

Paris! Palaces and libraries, the Sorbonne, writers and artists in Montmartre, coffee shops on the boulevards, boats on the river, lilac roofs of the Latin Quarter, stunning girls and red burgundy wine. And - freedom without borders!

There is reason to be dizzy with the head of the Russian provincial, there is reason to go into all seriousness ...

But not for the sake of Parisian temptations, Vladimir Khavkin left his hateful homeland. Science will save the world - this was remembered by a man who renounced the murderous beauty of political rebellion.

The main focus of Khavkin's work was to protect the human body from infectious diseases with the help of serums and vaccines. By 1892, Vladimir Khavkin created the first effective vaccine against cholera, proving on itself its safety for humans, writes "Wikipedia".

The scientist chose the shortest path that others did not choose: to make a vaccine a poison produced by plague microbes. This was faster than passing the bacillus generation after generation through the organisms of thirty rabbits. And there were no rabbits. The bacilli multiplied in meat broth. In order for them to have something to cling to on the surface, Khavkin dropped a drop of fat into the broth. Microbes grabbed onto the greasy spot and grew down like a stalactite. Such "Khavkin's stalactites" testified that the bacteria do well. From time to time, the flasks with them were shaken, the bacilli drowned, fat again dripped onto the surface, new microbes clung to it, and so on until the broth was saturated with toxin. Before injecting this poison into rats, so that they could become immune to the plague, the flasks were heated to 60 degrees - this pasteurization killed bacteria, preserving their toxin.

Persuaded by vaccination by example

The microbiologist tested the discovery on himself - first he injected the vaccine itself, then injected himself with a drug of cholera pathogens, which were neutralized within a day.

In the homeland of the scientist, even when the cholera epidemic broke out, they refused to use the new vaccine. In most European countries too. But the British authorities realized how colossal the discovery of Khavkin is on a global scale. They allowed the doctor to test the vaccine in their colony - India, a country that at the end of the nineteenth century was almost completely affected by cholera.

Exactly 125 years ago, Vladimir Aronovich went there as a state bacteriologist. The young scientist immediately got down to work - he organized a tent camp and in the shortest possible time set up the mass production of his vaccine.

Then, together with his assistants, four Indian doctors, he went to the village of Kattal-Bagan near Calcutta, where the disease broke out. The peasants in this village did not want to hear about any vaccinations and were very belligerent towards strangers. From the crowd of villagers who were about to gaze at the doctors, at first there were threats, and then stones flew. Indian doctors wanted to take Khavkin out of fear of reprisal, but he suddenly took off his jacket, picked up his shirt and introduced himself a vaccine in his right side. This shocked the peasants. As a result, more than half of the inhabitants of the village agreed to vaccination, and not one of them subsequently suffered from cholera. After two years of hard labor, mortality in the epidemic-affected areas fell by three quarters.

It would seem that you can exhale, but a new misfortune came: in 1896, a plague epidemic struck Bombay, the second largest city in India. Khavkin suggested using the serum he invented, but the patron of the immunologist, Ilya Mechnikov, and Louis Pasteur himself doubted it. But the result was incredible - 93% guaranteed protection.

In 1897, Queen Victoria awarded Khavkin one of the highest orders of the British Empire. In honor of him, a reception was given in London, which was attended by the largest English physicians. Welcoming speech was made by the famous surgeon Lister. Thanking Khavkin for all the good that he had done for India and thereby for the UK, Lister noted that of all the vile things in the world, the most disgusting is anti-Semitism.

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Rats for experiments were caught by sailors

Believing that Khavkin was a wizard, the British called him again - they accepted him as a full-time biologist for the civil service, promised British citizenship and a laboratory.

The laboratory at the Bombay Medical College was allocated with unprecedented generosity - an entire room. The staff includes one laboratory assistant and three couriers. Experimental animals - rats, which were caught by sailors for a pittance on ships coming from Europe. Simultaneously with Khavkin, several scientific centers were developing an anti-plague vaccine in much more luxurious conditions. And yet the passportless emigrant beat everyone up.

A test batch was prepared in just three months. The laboratory assistant fell ill with a nervous breakdown, the couriers fled, and Khavkin worked 14 hours a day. At the same time, he lectured local medical students about the future vaccine.

Apart from them, no one would have dared to be vaccinated, but on January 10, 1897, a Ukrainian microbiologist injected a quadruple dose of plague poison under his skin - 10 milliliters of solution. The serum was found to be safe. Such "persuasion" to the local population seemed convincing, and the number of people wishing to be vaccinated was growing.

In 1915, the ascetic bacteriologist worked in the English Ministry of War, where he directed the vaccinations of English soldiers who were sent to the fronts of the First World War.

Dr. Havkin retired and returned from India to Europe in 1915. In the same year, he was invited by the British War Office for consultations: should the British soldiers sent to the colonies be vaccinated? The military showed a deep interest in the research and practical activities of the scientist. It is unlikely that the topics of discussions with the leaders of the Ministry of Defense should be limited to vaccination issues. But most of the issues discussed in this department are hidden for a long time under the heading “Top Secret”.

By that time, the Germans had already used poisonous substances under Ypres — their monopoly superweapon, a poisonous gas called “mustard gas”. In the countries of the anti-German coalition - and especially in England - they struggled to create their own weapons of mass destruction, in no way inferior to German gas, and even better - superior to it.

It was clear to the amateur: the one who copes with plague and cholera can ignite this terrible disease in the right place and at the right time. The idea of ​​bacteriological weapons was in the air over warring Europe.

It is not known what Khavkin did after returning from India: where he lived, with whom he spent his free time. But, in the end, to disappear is the inalienable right of every free person, especially of such a special, lonely person as Vladimir Khavkin, the retired winner of cholera and the plague. Maybe he was sick of a society of colleagues, sometimes envious and uninteresting. Maybe the physical condition of this strong and healthy man fell into decay - and he became a hypochondriac and a recluse. One way or another, but in Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva, we find Vladimir-Wolf Havkin already in the second half of the 1920s.

The narrow strip of the lake coast in the foothills of the Swiss Alps has always been something of a settler of world anxiety and fuss. And Dr. Khavkin was one of those who strolled along the green, well-groomed streets of Lausanne, descended to the shore, looked at the water and at white birds above the water. He ended his life, leaving a mark on the lives of millions of other people.

There, in the town of Lausanne, in 1930 he died of heart disease, but before that he managed to leave a will. Having lived an ascetic all his life, Khavkin saved up 300 thousand dollars and a huge library. The scientist left all this considerable fortune to Jewish society.

In 1935, Mahatma Gandhi personally visited the institute in Bombay, learned in detail about the details of preparing meat broth for the vaccine, which are contrary to Hinduism, and after several hours of reflection expressed his desire to be vaccinated.

So for forty years after the creation of "Khavkin's lymph" all over the world were vaccinated more than thirty-five million people.

The day of death of the scientist is declared in India as a day of mourning, and the Hindus still revered their “great white healer” as a deity.

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