Doukhobor Memorial Stone from the Village of Bogdanovka

by Alexander A. Chukhraenko

In 1844, the Doukhobors of Bogdanovka village, in Tavria province, Russia were exiled for their faith to the Caucasus mountain region.  Prior to their expulsion, they erected a stone monument to commemorate their community in what they considered to be the “Promised Land”.  For almost a century, the stone sat in the village, its significance largely forgotten.  In the 1930’s, it was unearthed and brought to the Museum of Local Lore in Melitopol, Zaporozhye, Ukraine where it remains an exhibit to this day.  The following article by local Ukrainian historian, Alexander A. Chukhraenko, outlines the history of the Doukhobor Memorial Stone and its significance as one of the few remaining physical artifacts from the Molochnye Vody period of Doukhobor history.  Translation editing by Jack McIntosh.

Representatives of the sect known as Dukhobortsy (Doukhobors) founded nine settlements in our region, which exist to this day.  They made a large contribution to the development of the local economy and culture, which numerous written historical sources record.  However, concerning material traces of the Doukhobors’ sojourn in the Molochnye Vody (Milky Waters) affairs are much worse.  Practically nothing has been preserved, besides a single, priceless exhibit in the Melitopol Museum of Local Lore: a Doukhobor memorial stone.

Because of the massiveness and great weight of the stone, it is displayed right in the entrance foyer of a museum, at the beginning of the exposition.  Such a position can be considered in some way symbolic because historians connect the arrival of Doukhobors in the Melitopol area with its first colonization by European people.  Until the Doukhobors, the area was inhabited only by Nogaytsi (Nogai Tatars).

Memorial stone engraved by the Doukhobors of Bogdanovka on May 15, 1844 just prior to their exile to the Caucasus.  It is housed at the Museum of Local Lore, Melitopol, Zaporozhye, Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the history of the memorial stone as a museum piece is quite original too, and is closely connected to the tragic fate of the Melitopol local museum and its collections.  During the Second World War, the museum was practically ruined, and its holdings disappeared.  The Doukhobor memorial stone is one of the few exhibits preserved from pre-war times.  Today, it is registered in the inventory book under No. 811.  The column “Date of receipt” reads “old holdings” because the documentation of this exhibit, including the passport, disappeared during the war.  It is only with great effort that I managed to learn that the stone was delivered to the local museum from the village of Bogdanovka (present-day village of Starobogdanovka, Mikhailovsky district), sometime during the 1930’s by then-director of the museum, Illarion Kurilo-Krymchak.  Inhabitants of Starobogdanovka remember nothing about the stone and (an incredible fact!) have no idea that their village was founded by Doukhobors.  This is the consequence of the total censorship under which historical science worked during the Soviet period .

Kurilo-Krymchak is known not only for his positive contributions.  He is also considered responsible for the disappearance of the museum’s collections.  He was the Burgomeister (German occupation term for principal magistrate, comparable to mayor) of Melitopol during the German-fascist occupation and disposed of the museum’s treasures.  After the liberation of Melitopol by Soviet troops, the former Burgomeister disappeared to the Crimea, but was seized in 1947 and shot for collaboration.

Interpretive panel providing a translation of the stone’s text into modern Russian from the exhibit at the Museum of Local Lore, Melitopol, Zaporozhye, Ukraine.

Now, back to the actual exhibit.  The stone plate is a rough oval, almost hexagonal in shape, with a diameter of about 1.2 meters; both of its flat surfaces are carved with poorly distinguishable letters, but the word “Doukhobors” is legible.  Pieces are broken off from the stone’s bottom right and left sides, with the consequence that some words are missing letters.  The stone is made of yellow sandstone, most likely brought from the Kamennaya Mogila (literally “Stone Mound”, a Mesolithic monumentlocated nearby the village of Bogdanovka). The inscription is in the common Russian of the mid-19th century, with borrowings from Church Slavonic that make it difficult to interpret.  It can be read as follows: 

Eternal memory to our upright forebears, named Dukhobortsy; [these] buried ones were saving and saved souls through their meekness, humility and love. It pleased God and Tsar to send us to the promised land in Tavria Province in 1802, and in 1844 to resettle in Transcaucasia. May 15, Bogdanovka.

It is interesting, that in the old museum building, a smaller Doukhobor stone was stored in addition to the larger one.  When and where it disappeared remain mysteries until this day.

About the Author

Alexander Anatolyevich Chukhraenko is a native of the former Doukhobor village of Terpeniye in the Melitopol district of Zaporozhye province, Ukraine.  He teaches history at the Terpeniye collegium “Zherelo” and also manages a local school museum.  He is a correspondent with the local newspaper “Melitopolskiye Vedomosty”.  He has researched, compiled and written a vast amount of information about the history of his village and surrounding area.  In 2007, he published the book, “Terpeniye: Pages of History”.  His discoveries are providing rare and invaluable insights into the Doukhobor period of settlement in the Molochnaya region.

For More Information

For more information on Doukhobor archaeological sites on the Molochnaya, see the articles The Doukhobor Monument to Alexander I in Terpeniye and The Mystery of Terpeniye’s Buried Treasure by Alexander A. Chukhraenko, The Cossack Cross of Spasskoye by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff with Alexander A. Chukhraenko and The Doukhobor Monuments of Efremovka and Rodionovka by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.