by Gregory Ivanovich Sukharev
In the 1890’s, hundreds of young Doukhobor men endured persecution and suffering as a result of their refusal to perform military service. Historic accounts of this heroic period exist, however there are very few first-person accounts made by those who actually lived through the persecutions, much less by those who survived the tortures of the Penal Battalion. One of the most eloquent and informative of these is the account made by Gregory Ivanovich Sukharev in 1938, reproduced here from ISKRA Nos. 1821-1826 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., 1996). Translated by William A. Soukoreff.
I was born in the year 1875 in the village of Slavyanka, in the province of Elizavetpol, Kavkaz (Caucasus) region of Russia. After the Russo-Turkish war, when I was five years of age, my parents moved to Kars oblast where, soon after, my father died. After the death of my father we lived with our uncle. There were four of us youngsters left with mother, I being the eldest of my two brothers and one sister. Our mother was unable to support the family, so she gave up the youngest brother for adoption.
At the age of seven I was given charge of a flock of geese, and when I reached the age of nine I became a calf herdsman. At ten I was a shoemaker’s apprentice, and at twelve I was initiated in the art of mowing hay. At thirteen I became a shepherd, and when I was fifteen my uncle established us on our own plot of land, where I was now required to become the head of the household, attending to all the menial tasks and all the various duties and responsibilities. When I became sixteen, I married, in spite of my youthful age. It was incumbent on me to attend public meetings which I did with the genuine seriousness of a grownup, and from which I extracted alot of good. Thus I had virtually no time for enjoyment with my playmates.
At the time of the coronation of the Tsar Nikolai Romanov, a resolution was passed in our village to the effect that we would not swear allegiance to the Tsar and would renounce anything pertaining to war and militarism, including service in the army. When I’d reached the age of twenty I had been registered to become a soldier. My innate love of all living things, born of close contact with nature in my adolescent years, was opposed to this, so I began to decide what course I should take. Finally, I resolved to fight against war at any cost, and to refuse to be a soldier. Soon, however, I was notified that I must go and draw lots for (active) military service.
I was called for military service at the age of 21. We were assembled at the station of Argino in Kars oblast, where, in a large public hall, we were to draw lots for military service. In keeping with my convictions, I immediately declared that I would not take part in the drawing of lots (tickets). But the military authorities paid little heed to my declaration. The district commander Shegubatov himself drew a ticket for me, and loudly announced, “Sukharev’s ticket is number four!”
At the conclusion of the drawing, my comrades and I were left in the building, and ordered to strip off our garments, and stand naked for a detailed physical examination in order to determine our state of health and eligibility for military service. Each was brought into a special stall for measurement of height, breadth of figure and numerous other examinations, carried out with the aid of a doctor. I refused to comply with their requirements and did not enter the stall, but they physically forced me to comply, because in their hands lay the iron strength of state power. The district police chief ordered me to be forcibly placed in the stall, and this was instantaneously carried out. At the close of the examination I was proclaimed to be fully eligible for service.
I immediately answered that, being a Christian, I could not possibly take part in such service. The police official, probably out of pure curiosity, asked me, “Why, Sukharev, can you not take part in military service?” I answered that I would not be altogether against gratifying the will of the Emperor and joining the military if only they would not teach there the wanton slaughter of people, which is against my conscience. “Why does your conscience not allow that?” continued the official. “Because Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, strictly forbids the killing of people, and I believe in His teachings and wish to gratify His will,” I replied. “Who are you, that you wish to fulfil His will?” “I am a Christian, because I believe in Jesus Christ. His living spirit within me cannot and will not serve you,” I answered.
After all this, the four of us, F. Fominov, K. Chevildeev, L. Novokshonov and I were transferred to a relay prison (a temporary place of confinement used for lodging insurrectionists while on their way to places of exile).
On the following day we were conveyed to the city of Kars and brought before the military commander who, after lengthy questioning, decided that two of us should be taken to Ekaterinograd, and Novokshonov and I to the town of Grozniy, in Tersk oblast. There we were placed in the reserve battalion, the commanding officer of which very sternly admonished us with his orders, saying “You are now registered in the ranks of the army, and it shall be your duty to yield to military discipline.” To this we answered in turn that we could not and would not serve, nor comply with military discipline. He curtly replied, “You shall be forced to do so.”
After eight days we were escorted from Kars under the supervision of the local command to the next designated relay prison. And from that time, November 30, 1895, we were absolutely denied all freedom. On the road to Alexandropol, we were met by our friends and relatives in one of the relay prisons, and they, knowing the hardships and trials which awaited us, parted with us for the last time, with tears of heartfelt sympathy towards us, and with entreaties to be brave and strong, and not to stray from the teachings of Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross in agonizing pain and torment which should always serve as an example for His true followers.
On December 25 we arrived at the appointed place and were distributed amongst the various companies. Now, they began to try to dress me in a soldier’s uniform and subject me to military discipline. But all of this I boldly and triumphantly repudiated and refused to satisfy their demand. I tried my best to make it known that I was a follower of that same Christ who taught all people to love their enemies as well as their friends, and as such I could not be instructed in the slaughter of people. They refused to listen to my explanations, and forcing me into a soldier’s uniform, assigned me, from among the soldiers, an “uncle” who began to inculcate soldierly mannerisms and to run me through their gymnastic exercises, which I also rejected. For such violation of discipline I was placed in solitary confinement in a cold cell for three days and nights. This was on January 4, when the unbearable cold frosts and blizzards at Shatoi, the ancient stronghold of the Chechens 50 miles from Grozniy, were in their fiercest stage.
So intense was the suffering in the course of these three days and nights, that its duration seemed to me to be endless, almost an eternity. I was in good spirits and always held before me a mental picture of the anguish of my Lord Jesus Christ, as a consolation and a support to the strength of my soul. I tried, as much as possible, to conserve the heat in my body, because I was feeling both hunger and cold, but in spite of it all, the cold was gradually increasing. I could feel it penetrate my organism and gradually stifle the circulation of my blood. I involuntarily felt a strong physical torment gnawing at my vitals and, notwithstanding all my efforts to conserve the heat in my body, I was slowly reaching the point of actually freezing. The only thing that could and did give me warmth was my invincible faith in Christ.
After this torment I was let out of the isolation cell, and given another “uncle” who turned out to be much stricter than the first one. They began to treat me even more savagely and cruelly. With sincere faith I called upon the Lord to help me, and patiently suffered all the condemnations, observing the words of Christ, “Whosoever smites you on the right cheek, let him smite you also on the left.” In spite of their brutal treatment of me, they could not force me to accept their lessons in military discipline.
After this they appointed a third “uncle” and a fourth, and these in turn treated me cruelly, inhumanly. They threatened to beat me to death and to submit me to court martial, but none of this had any effect on me whatsoever. When they ordered me to take up a gun for training, I said, “Do you not yet comprehend my renunciation of militarism and warfare? If not, then I can repeat again that I can neither serve nor let myself be instructed in a service intended for the purpose of killing people. Because I regard all peoples of the universe as my brothers. If perchance I have enemies, I am obliged to pray for them. it is your desire to teach me to kill men, but Christ forbids it, saying, “Whosoever takes up the sword, shall perish by the sword.”
After this my “uncle” softened and began to implore me, “Sukharev, take the gun.” I remained silent. He tried to force the gun into my hands, but I wouldn’t take it. He tried to tie it around my shoulders but it wouldn’t stay and always fell off. Then he returned the rifle to its rack, and began to implore me, “Sukharev, if you will only consent to serve, the company commander promised me a decoration (medal), provided that I succeed in convincing you to be trained.” I answered that even if the company commander were able to make him into a general, I would still not agree to serve.
Russian Prison Warden and Guard, c. 1890. Photo by John Foster Fraser.
After this I was given a fifth “uncle”, a non-commissioned officer named Drozdov, who was far more ferocious than the others. He unmercifully beat me, and then committed me to an unendurable immobile standing position for many hours. He continued this punishment for several days in succession until he was convinced that I remained firm in my belief, at which time he stopped torturing me. For one week I was given full freedom, except that when meeting officers I was obliged to salute, as was demanded by the rules of discipline. But I refused to do so, and for this was subjected to cruel beatings and cold cells. Of all the officers there was one huge scoundrel, Vozhanov, who, whenever he encountered me, always pummelled me with his fists. After a week, the military inspector arrived. The sergeant major was questioned first, then all of my “uncles”. Their reports, of course, were unknown to me. How they treated me was probably never revealed, because none of them were found guilty.
Subsequently, the inspector questioned me, “Why are you not complying?” I answered, “Because I do not wish to kill people. Military activity leads directly to warfare, and this is contrary to God’s law which says in the Sixth Commandment, “Do not kill”. I wish to adhere to this Commandment, because I believe in and practice the law of Christ, and I serve Him only. That is why I cannot fulfil your laws.”
After this questioning, another week of so-called freedom, and then I was again locked in a cold cell for 20 days of solitary confinement. I will not describe in full detail the conditions in which I was forced to endure my grim punishment for a term of 21 days and nights. Cold and hunger again crushed me with nightmarish strength. Sometimes I felt an unfamiliar to me, animal like or more aptly, beastly appetite, which developed inside of me with a dismal power of its own, and began to torture me anew. After this torment, I was taken to the battalion court, where I was sentenced to serve three years in the disciplinary prison battalion. But they kept me in this single cold cell for an additional three and a half months. In the course of this term, an innumerable quantity of insects – bedbugs and lice – filled in the gaps in the efforts of the government’s inquisition, cruelly and heartlessly sucking the last remnants of my blood. It happened that oftentimes the rats would steal away my last piece of bread, which was given to me very seldom.
On June 24, I was transferred by relay order to the disciplinary battalion. On June 28 I was already inside the fortress, in which the ruthlessness and the cruelty of the torture of people resorted to is beyond any possibility of adequate description. Before even reaching the Ekaterinograd station, I could already see the gigantic fortress with its high walls looming in the distance. I involuntarily felt a strong chill gripping my entire frame, and my heart whispered, “This is where our brothers are being tortured.”
Upon reaching the gate of the fortress, we were met by the duty officer. Our escorts stopped and laid a mark on each of us, to which respective company each of us was to belong. The duty officer received us and admitted us into the fortress. Here we encountered a number of non-commissioned officers, one of which came up to me and, silently taking my hand, led me to the third company. The room which we entered was empty and reeked of a certain eerie atmosphere, as if that of a grave. I afterwards found out that on this day the third company was in “dispersion”. The “dispersion” company was so-called because, since a battalion was constituted of four companies, one was obliged to do the work while the other three were engaged in military training, and so on in daily rotation.
On the following day this dispersion company stepped out in full military regalia for their particular training exercises. They are given canteens, knapsacks and rifles, but after their obligations are done all the equipment is handed over to the armoury, because the disciplinary prison inmates are not allowed to keep any weapons with them. And so the same thing is repeated day after day. Lessons in arms use and military tactics are continued for two hours, after which everyone goes to the priest for confession and sermons. The priest arrives with his services which continue for another two hours, and literature for another two hours. This concludes the studies for the day. After supper at nine o’clock a careful survey is made of all the inmates. After the inspection, one non-commissioned duty officer remains with each company and the entire dormitory is put under lock. Each dormitory houses two companies of imprisoned soldiers, each group with its duty officer having its own quarters. This is a brief description of prison life.
After I’d spent some time in the eerie room, the quartermaster sergeant brought in an old, well worn uniform, which bore the mark of “useless”. The non-commissioned corporal gave a command for me to put it on. I said, I have my own clothing and don’t need any other.” But he told me to take it off because it was simple peasant clothing and that I should be dressed in a soldier’s uniform. I said that since I declined to be a soldier, I had no need for their clothing. But, in spite of my protests, I was forced into uniform. This happened at 8 o’clock in the evening when the soldiers, after their engagements, were gathering in the ward.
Here, I saw amongst them some of my own comrades, my brother Doukhobors. I was immediately stricken by the sight of their exhausted, tormented appearance. They looked so abused and oppressed that the expressions on their faces showed clearly the imprints of great suffering and sorrow. To my question, “Why are you so sad and emaciated?” they answered that they were sorrowful because they had been so severely punished and beaten, flogged with rods, and emaciated because they’d been given so little food. “We don’t eat meat and are forced to sustain ourselves with only bread and water. We are given only half a pound of bread per person for each meal, and even this is wormy. Without exaggeration it could be said that in every half a pound of bread there are from three to four worms.” I asked them, “Have you any strength left for the struggle?” They answered, “In spirit we are still brave, thanks to God, but in the future we shall trust in our Almighty Creator, Christ the Saviour. He is powerful and can do anything.” Thus ended our bitter prison meeting.
On the next day, when all were engaged in rifle practice, I categorically refused to do so. For this I was lodged in a cold cell for three days and nights of solitary confinement. When I was set free, our company was called for work. I ungrudgingly went about my work, but on the following day when the full company was mustered for practice, I declined to go. Again I was locked in the isolation cell for three days and nights, and when I came out I again joined the company, which was dispersed for work. The third time I again refused to present myself for the training, and again I was placed in a dark cold cell for three days. As soon as i was liberated, I again joined the group for work. And so it continued for the first 13 days after my arrival at the fortress.
But on the next occasion the sergeant major cried “Sukharev, will you obey?” I replied that I wouldn’t. I was placed anew under an enforced arrest and lodged in the cell. At the following sessions I again declared that I would not participate in military practice on the strength of my belief which I had previously expounded, and again I came under arrest. But this time, at 5:00 o’clock in the evening, the sergeant major, Myaskovsky with two armed soldiers took me from my cell and led me to the backyard, in line with the dormitory, where a prison guard was already waiting for me with his thorny rods. The guard had two assistants, prison inmates, who obeyed their orders precisely, sincerely.
Having brought me to the appointed place, they pulled off my coat and spread it on the ground. With pants unbuttoned, I was ordered to lie down. When I lay down, the two inmates sat on top of me, one sitting on my head and firmly holding my hands against my back while the other held my feet in place. The guard with his flogging rods stood in readiness, looking at me like a beast at its prey, ready to devour at a moment’s notice, thus intending to prove his genuine sincerity in his duty to the service. The flogging rods were improvised for the purpose from the thin rods of an ash tree, tied together in bunches of from three to four to a bunch. But for the Doukhobors an additional insertion was made of a single twig of a thorny bramble.
Lying prone as I was, pressed tightly against the ground, I was fully prepared for the inhuman torture of punishment which could only be evaded by abdicating the great truth of the testament of our Lord Jesus Christ. His example in suffering the throes of anguish and torment on the cross gave me strength and confidence. I fervently called upon the Heavenly Father to give me strength to survive the ordeal. Although I could feel the heavy pressure of the guard’s assistants sitting on top of me, the words of the sergeant-major nevertheless came quite plainly to me as he asked the company commander, “How many strokes of the rod do you order?” In answer, I could hear the voice of the latter, “Twenty strokes!”
The guard was ordered to make three swings and strike hard on the naked body. When the strokes began to fall, I instantly felt the blood squirting on my hands with each stroke, while the unendurable, horrible pain increased with each stroke of the rods. The sergeant major counted each stroke made by the guard, while the latter picked a fresh bunch of rods for each successive stroke so as to inflict the maximum amount of force and punishment.
Group of Russian Prisoners, circa 1890’s. Photo by John Foster Fraser.
When the required number of strokes had been given, and the two assistants seated on me released their hold, I felt somewhat relieved. Being in a state of insensibility and numbness, I could scarcely hear the voice of someone yelling, “Get up!” When I arose I felt my back all torn and bleeding. In my semiconscious condition I managed with great difficulty to button my pants, which caused me horrible pain. At a strict order from the commandant I followed the soldier to my cell, where I was put under lock in the cold dark dungeon.
All alone, I gradually came to my self, while the pain in my lacerated wounds assailed me with ever increasing force. I was unable to sit, lie down or move. I couldn’t even stand up straight. I could feel the blood trickle from my wounds, and soaking its way through my pants, freeze up from the cold, forming a tough crust resembling the bark of a tree. I could feel it getting colder and colder. I was getting very feverish, and was forced to stand for almost 24 hours. I tried to sit down, but it was impossible. Fragments from the rods stuck in my flesh. With every slight movement these slivers and thorns made themselves felt in a most unbearable manner. A day and a night of such ordeal seemed to be almost an eternity.
It would require a gifted master of the writing art to describe the agony of mind and body that I endured in my harrowed state during this period. I called on the Lord God for relief and this alone seemed to ease the endless suffering. I prayed aloud, “O, Gracious God, when shall the time arrive, that the powers of this cruel world will realize the error of their ways and cease to persecute and torture the people who merely wish to abide by the sacred teachings of the Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
In these agonizing moments, I fully realized and even felt the pains which Christ the Saviour so patiently endured in His Crucifixion. And how sad it seemed to me that His brilliant teachings, which are the essence of love, friendship and goodwill towards all things living on this earth, have not yet been understood. Only through such a relationship between all people can we expect to attain God’s Kingdom on Earth. This realization inspired and encouraged me and gave me strength to endure my suffering with patience.
About 24 hours after my flogging, I ws freed from my cell and ordered to work. I did not object and went back to work, as best I could, for the whole day. On the following day everything was set for marching drills with rifles, and I was again compelled to take part. On my refusal to do so, I was placed anew in the cell for a day and a night. On the same day at 6:00 o’clock in the evening the sergeant major arrived with two escort soldiers and, opening the door, cried “Sukharev, come out!” I came out and they led me to the same place where two days before they had enacted their inhuman inquisition. Approaching the spot, I noticed that this time there were two guards standing at attention, which flogging rods in their hands. I was told to unbutton my pants, but I refused to obey their orders. The two soldiers standing by took off my clothes and threw me on the ground. As before, one of them held my feed while the other sat on my head, bending the arms against my back, and squeezing my face against the ground so that I could scarcely breathe.
The company commandant gave orders for 30 strokes to be applied with extraordinary force. The flogging rods swished through the air like serpents, coming down from both sides with blows as hot as fire. The sergeant major counted each stroke out loud, one, two, three, four, etc. It seemed to me that this time the rods were not made of wood but of iron cable, fired up to a white heat. I could feel each stroke cutting to the very bone. Consequently during the flogging, I lost all semblance of consciousness.
When the final stroke was given and I was ordered to rise, I was unable to do anything. It seemed to me that I was lying on red-hot coals in a flaming fire and could not move any part of my body. The guards lifted me up, pulled up my pants, threw my shirt over me and dragged me off to my cell. The sergeant major asked, “Well, Sukharev, will you obey?” I answered, “No.” “After this you shall get 50 lashes!”, he yelled. I replied, “You, of course, have the power to give twice as many lashes, but I shall not forsake the teachings of Christ, even though you would devise far more ruthless means of torture. You have the power over my flesh, but you could not possibly force me to betray my spirit. Rather than forsake the will of God, manifested in the spirit within my flesh, I am willing, with a faith founded on the testament of the Lord, to transmit that spirit back to God.”
“Silence!” bellowed the sergeant major, with a curse poking me into the cell. Locking the door, he left me in a condition worse than after the first flogging. My unhealed wounds, raw and bleeding, were now even more deeply gashed. My pants, saturated in blood, stuck to my wounds so fast that I was unable to move. I tried to tear them away from the skin, so that I could give some freedom to the movement of my legs, but the pieces of my lacerated skin stuck to the underwear, causing intolerable pain. With great care I managed to free my wounds, and hobbling to and fro, began to exercise my limbs, although I had very little space to move about in.
Suddenly, the priest, Stefanovsky, opened the door of my cell and came in. He immediately began to reproach me for my refusal to serve the Emperor. I answered that I would not be against serving the Emperor if he would not teach the killing of people. “All people are children of one God-Father and are brothers between themselves.” I referred to the New Testament, Matthew 5:21, where it says “Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be subject to judgement.” But the priest answered, “In times of peace no one shall force us to kill.” I said, “What difference is there, if one kills in times of peace or war? In our understanding it is not allowable to kill a human being at any time, for any reason.”
The priest then asked me what would happen if my enemies were to pounce on me. I replied that we had no enemies, because Christ tells us: Pray for your enemies, and forgive them that trespass against you. “How would it be if another empire would invade us; are these not our enemies? After all, they can kill all of us, if we didn’t defend ourselves!”, said the priest. I answered that if we would not attack and mistreat them, nobody would kill or hurt us. Evidently my contradictions very much annoyed the priest, who sullenly stared at me for a moment and then left my cell in a very resentful mood.
Group of Russian Prisoners with Heads Half-Shaven, circa 1890’s Photo by John Foster Fraser.
Soon after, Vasily Matveyevich Lebedev, one of my fellow Doukhobors, who was also subjected to such punishments for refusal to bear arms, entered my cell. Unable to endure the cruel tortures at the hands of the authorities, he had unwillingly accepted the gun and given his consent to serve the government. After the exchange of greetings and a few words in regard to my health, he began to counsel me to act in his way, to accept the arms and give my assent to serve the authorities. I said, “Lebedev, go away from me. You can see that I am physically maimed and wounded, and yet you stab my heart! Leave me and do not tempt me!” He went away.
Finally, Nikolai Kukhtinov visited me, who also, unable to resist the punishments, had agreed to give his services. And he, likewise, had been sent to try and influence me to surrender. But I rejected his advice also, and asked him to leave me in peace.
On the next day I was freed from my cell and ordered to work. I went about my work without complaining. We were working behind the fortress, mixing clay with our feet, with which we made bricks for building the prison barn. The mixing of clay was accomplished by the simplest of methods: The clay, which was piled in a heap, was sprinkled with water and tramped on with our bare feet. I also was obliged to take off my boots, roll my pant legs above the knees and trample on this pile together with my comrades until a fine mixture was obtained for the making of bricks. I found it exceedingly difficult to accomplish this task, because my wounds had just begun to heal, and opened at the slightest movement, causing an abundant discharge of blood, and an unendurable pain in my body.
Finally the officer in charge of the work brigade ordered me to take off my pants. When I took them off, my comrades were shocked at the sight of thick crusts of dried blood on my underwear. Some of them, in utter amazement, asked me, “How are you, in your painful battered state, able to work?” I replied, You should realized that we are all under oppression, and are forced to do various things. In this case, in principle, I am not against the mixing of clay and the making of bricks, as I know that every person should toil and by means of his labour should acquire sustenance for himself. But of course our circumstances here are altogether different.”
On the following day at nine o’clock in the morning everyone was assembled for training drills. I felt extremely weak and sick, but I was ordered to take part, to which effect the officers threatened me with even greater punishments than those I had already endured, all the while casting beastly glances at me. I felt that I did not have sufficient strength at the moment to endure any further punishments, so I declared that since they were forcing the gun on me, I had no choice but to take it, but I would not use it, under any circumstances, and would regard it as just another wooden stick. “Silence, you swine!” bellowed the sergeant major, and added, “I ask you again, will you serve?” Here, in the severely weakened state that I was, and very much against my conscience, I reluctantly answered that yes, for now, I would. My intention was to consent only long enough to give me a chance to strengthen myself.
But the main point of my temporary consent was that we Doukhobors in the Penal Battalion had already made a decision or pact among ourselves, that as soon as all of our comrades were assembled in the fortress (it was understood that all the young Doukhobor men who had refused military service were to be transferred to the Penal Battalion from all the surrounding districts where they had been serving, to undergo disciplinary punishment and correction of their errant ways), we would all in unison once again abdicate our obligations and cease to serve. All of the newcomers coming in from the various areas had, in fact, been subjected to the same treatments as those of us in the first groups, receiving 30 strokes of the rod at the first time. So, we decided that in the month of August we would all once again refuse to participate in the training drills, insofar as our conscience tortured us over our temporary capitulation and that none of us wanted to handle guns and carry out the training drills.
On the next day, however, I happened to find out that two of our comrades from the fourth company, Ivan Malakhov and Nikolai Rylkov, had refused to participate in the training drills and had been immediately locked in separate cells. The company commandant had turned them over to the battalion court, because it was not within his jurisdiction to pass sentence for an additional quantity of strokes in the floggings. Having heard this, in the morning my comrade and I also again refused to go out for training, so we were placed likewise in separate cells. We also heard that from the fourth company ten others had refused, bringing the number of us who were refusing to cooperate to sixteen. But for some reason, out of this number, three were to be punished more severely.
The first one was Nikolai I. Malakhov, who received 80 strokes of the rod. Secondly, Nikolai Rylkov also received 80 strokes of the rod, and thirdly, there was Feodor Plotnikov, who, due to his poor state of health, received only 60 lashes. These three men were so ruthlessly and cruelly beaten that the guards were obliged to carry them back to their cells in a state of total unconsciousness. One of them, Ivan Malakhov, was not able to stand or walk for a long time on account of the unmerciful flogging he’d received. These extremely harsh punishments and tortures came at the orders of Lieutenant Colonel Morgunov, who at that time had the appearance of a fierce tiger. He promised to skin us alive, and pull out our veins, if necessary, in order to force us to eat meat and comply with military discipline. But the battalion commander, Colonel Maslov, was somewhat softer. He was away at the time, having gone to St. Petersburg, to consult with the ministry in regard to our situation.
In the meanwhile, we were all making preparations for an all-out struggle, even at the risk of possible death. If only this could be accomplished at once! Lieutenant Colonel Morgunov was torturing us almost to death; in some cases there was hardly any breath of life left in our lacerated bodies. Such heartless inflictions succeeded in driving fear into us, and thus it was that we decided to accept the arms, even though for a short time. We unanimously declared to ourselves that our temporary acceptance of arms was only for the sake of our physical self preservation from their ruthless punishments, but ultimately we would never partake in active military service or kill people. “Anything that is contrary to the teachings of Christ we shall fight against.” And so our struggle continued until the very last day of our ordeal with floggings and other torture in the disciplinary battalion.
At this time Mikhail Shcherbinin died from the results of the cruel treatment he received in the battalion. The prison authorities gave us permission to conduct the funeral services according to our Doukhobor custom. A Doukhobor comrade and I washed the corpse, and clothed it in the personal clothes of our deceased friend. The doctors carved his insides and diagnosed some sort of a chronic disease. But we all knew that he had died as a direct result of the many cruel beatings and other tortures that were inflicted upon him. For example, several guards would take him by the hands and feet and forcibly throw him over the “horse” (gymnastics stand) and then he would be trampled to insensibility with the guard’s feet. He was severely bruised in the chest and coughed with blood. The doctor did not allow any of us Doukhobors into the hospital, because we firmly stuck to our convictions, refusing to accept military service or to eat meat.
Feodor Akimovich Fominov was a peaceful man of large stature, but he also gradually succumbed to the heartless pummelling and other means of torture. He died in the Siberian province of Yakutsk, where all 36 of us had been exiled for 18 years. Many were the sufferings that he endured here in the penal battalion. No prison clothing fitted him, so he was forced into it. For the rents in his clothes which were unable to withstand the strain of the pressure of his body, he was subjected to countless beatings. Finally, he was given clothes that were made to measure. He was such a handsome man and a great Spirit Wrestler, but the miserable unscrupulous, good-for-nothing guards and officers tortured him to death because he refused to give in to military discipline.
With him also died Feodor Malov, Lukian Novokshonov, Ivan Chutskov and Vasily Sherstobitov. We hardly managed to get them to Yakutsk province to our appointed settlement on the Aldan River. There they were buried – may they rejoice in Heaven and their spirits live eternally. On our way to Siberia, we also left in Moscow Feodor Samorodin, one of our comrades, seriously ailing from the mistreatment in the penal battalion. He was placed in a hospital and there his life came to an end. Another comrade, Alexander Gritchin, died in Chelyabinsk. The rest of our comrades, having survived, with difficulty, the terrorism of the disciplinary battalion, wearily made their way to the far distant province of Yakutsk. Eventually all of those who refused to bear arms and render military service were banished to the same place of exile for a term of 18 years.
But, I did not finish my narration of our torturous life in the disciplinary battalion. There, in addition to enforced military training, we were compelled to go to church and to worship according to the rites of the (Orthodox) priests. We told them that we could not attend their hand-made church and would not worship according to their custom or bow to their ikons and idols. But they used force to make us to go to church, saying, “Duty and discipline demand it, you are Christians just like us!”
We explained that we did not wish to repudiate Christendom, but we have a church of our own, which is not created by hand. And in the words of Christ the Saviour we could pray anywhere. Christ says, “Go to your room and close the door, and pray in secret. Your Heavenly Father, seeing your secret, shall answer you openly.” This is the only prayer that we acknowledge. Our conscience does not permit us to worship in your church, because we and our fathers and grandfathers rejected the need for priests and all the other trappings of the church. As it says in one of our psalms, “We do not let the priest into our homes for any reason or purpose. We serve only the righteous powers, whose judgement is upright and just, like our benevolent God.”
But, in spite of this, they forced us to go to church. As all of the companies were marched to church, they were stopped at the church entrance and given the command, “Caps off!” The companies would then enter the church, but we Doukhobors would turn back. The corporals would remain with us and try to forcibly pull us in. Some of our comrades would grab hold of the trees which grow at the entrance and not let go. Then the corporals would pull out their sabres and with the blunt edges strike at the hands until the blood began to ooze. A veritable free-for-all would arise within the church. The beaten were sent to the doctor but the doctor refused to accept them. The doctor’s name was Priobrazhensky. He always asked of our ailing comrades, “Would you eat meat?” “No”, answered the Doukhobors. “If so, then go away from here”, the doctor would say, and refused to give any remedy.
Once the priest ventured to reproach one of our comrades, Ivan Rylkov, saying he was a poor Christian because he refused to go to church to pray to God. Ivan answered that this church could not be very close to God, as he hadn’t seen anyone beaten so severely, even in a saloon, as he was beaten in their church.
Once, I became blind, for such was the degree of my illness as a result of the tortures and privations, that the physical weakness resulted in “chicken blindness”. From sunset to sunrise I could not see anything. From the shortage of food we all suffered various effects of starvation. Besides the bread, we had nothing else, and even that in a very small quantity. Whenever we chanced to pass the bakery, and we would happen to find, by sheer luck, a piece of bread swept from the kitchen, we would grab this morsel and relish it with hearty contentment.
On the 20th of October we were all again interrogated by the company commanders: “Are you going to learn to kill?”, to which we answered emphatically, “No”. After the questioning we were strictly forewarned: “Think seriously about it. You are given one week’s time, then you shall be questioned again. Anyone who does not concede shall be treated in a different manner.” A week passed and the same thing repeated – none of us agreed to kill. When we were questioned for the third time, they threatened us with some great punishment of which they themselves did not know.
On the 24th of November, 1896, we were given our own personal belongings and ordered to discard our uniforms and put on our own clothes. On the 25th of November, at 10 o’clock in the morning, we were to take our belongings and appear at the gate. These orders were only for the ones that refused to be taught to kill. There were 36 of us, all told. All of the company commandants were present. We were placed in a row in military fashion, in expectation of Colonel Maslov. Suddenly the door opened and the Colonel appeared. After exchanging greetings, he inquired if all of us had enough clothes. We told him that we had no bashliks which we needed because it was a time of severe cold and heavy frosts (the “bashlik” is a hooded, cape like, protective over garment, somewhat like a cowl, worn by the mountain people of the Caucasus area). The Colonel gave orders that these be supplied immediately. The quartermaster brought them out, but they were later confiscated at Vladikavkaz.
After this, the Colonel ordered us to appear at the bakery. We entered, thinking that he would give orders for us to be given some bread for the road. So appealing was the odour of fresh bread, but alas, such bitter disappointment! Instead of this, the Colonel delivered a short speech: “Thank you, brothers, for your virtuous behaviour. If you refuse to serve, it’s your business. You shall now be banished to a place of exile far away in distant Siberia for eighteen long years”. The gate opened and we made our exit from the towering walls of the fortress, where the escort guards were already awaiting us.
I was very ill, unable to walk straight, as if something was forcibly bending me to the ground. The railway station was eighteen miles away. Under heavy escort guard, and ill and feeble as we were from our recent tortures, we started on our long journey to distant Siberia. And with us we took an indelible memory, one that would remain with us for the rest of our lives, of the ruthlessness of the servants of the then reigning Romanov generation, and the “kind-heartedness” of the Russian Orthodox church, in whose hands we had existed for a year and a half!
The company commanders remained standing at our departure, still bearing their beastly grudges because they were unable to defeat us and force us to submit to military discipline. But, in our soul of souls, we fervently rejoiced and thanked God for setting us free from our horrible trials, and even though we were being banished to Siberia, to the province of Yakutsk, we were happy in the knowledge that we had not betrayed our faith.
Outside the fortress we were met by one of our elder Doukhobors, Nikolasha Chevildeev. He had managed to find out beforehand of our departure, and had prepared breakfast for us. He had cooked some potatoes and had bread ready on the table. But our escort guards did not allow us to partake of this sumptuous repast. The elder took two loaves under his arm and carried it behind us, beseeching the guards to pass at least one piece of bread for each of us. But they did not allow it. Nevertheless, he insistently proceeded to follow us. After walking a few miles he succeeded in soliciting the guards to hand us the bread. With great appetite we ate the piece and thanked God and thanked the good man for this gift of God. We walked along in great spirits, in spite of the fact that we were hungry and ill and being banished to Siberia. Our spiritual disposition was cheerful because we felt we had been delivered forever from the ruthless tyranny and the physical punishments.
All of us arrived safely at the station of Prokhlodnoye on the Vladikavkaz railway. Here our guards locked us in the relay prison, which was so small that we were obliged to sleep in a sitting posture. In such a condition we had to spend the last night, painfully crowded, like “herrings-in-a-barrel”. We felt that, in a sense, we were fulfilling the essence of various Russian sayings, such as “There is no bad without good”. After all, even though the Lord has imposed trials on us and we had endured, for a year and a half, the tyranny and severe tortures for our renunciation of military service for all time, now, at last, we were able to raise the joyous banner of Christ, and know that we would never again perform military service or kill our fellow man.
In the morning, our escort guard transported us to the platform of the station where the train was waiting. We were placed in the convict coaches, manacled in twos, hand to hand, and thus we arrived at Vladikavkaz, late in the evening. It was very dark. In our party several persons were ill, suffering from “chicken blindness” and, not being able to see anything at night, some of them accidentally strayed from the rest of the party. The guards shouted and swore with anything they could think of. One guard shouted to the other, “Shoot the so and so!”
We had a hard time trying to explain that they would not run away, but that it was simply that they could not see their way. But in spite of this they continued to swear. In this manner we finally arrived at the Vladikavkaz prison, where we were given a good night’s sleep in the convict cells. We stayed for two weeks at Vladikavkaz. Our friend, the Doukhobor elder Nikolasha Chevildeev, had stayed with us throughout all of this time, and he always brought us good food into the jail. His own son, Kiril Chevildeev, was one of our party, whom the escort guard from the Penal Battalion had not permitted to embrace his own father – to greet him in a normal fashion of a son to a father. But here we were given more freedom and treated better than in the Penal Battalion.
After two weeks we began our long journey into exile, along the Rostov-Vladikavkaz railway to distant Siberia, to the province of Yakutsk. Firstly, we were escorted from Vladikavkaz to the city of Rostov-on-the-Don. In Vladikavkaz we were again manacled together in twos, and kept that way until we reached Rostov. They kept us for three days and nights in the jail at Rostov. We were housed in one large cell together with other prisoners. The room was disgustingly filthy. From the ranks of these prisoners, senior “orderlies” were elected, and they confronted us saying, “Each of you give us three kopeks for the lavatory. This “lavatory” was a half barrel with handles on both sides, and at nights it was brought in for use as a toilet by all the prisoners. We declared that we ourselves would look after the emptying of the “lavatory” but the “orderlies” began to curse, saying, “we shall teach you, etc.” In the course of these three days and nights we were obliged to hear much shouting and profanity.
Trans-Siberian Railway, circa 1890’s. Photo by John Foster Fraser.
From Rostov we were driven to the city of Tula, still manacled together in twos. In Tula we were kept for one week. Although here the prison was somewhat cleaner, the prison guards and the prisoners did not act very kindly towards us. “So,” they said, “you do not want to serve the Emperor!” We were separated into several different cells, with a certain number in each cell. Here they kept us for one week and then sent us further to the city of Samara.
The prison at Samara was unbelievably filthy, and infested with insects. We were kept there for three days and then sent further to the town of Penza, in the province of Penza. Here, besides the uncleanliness of the prison, the water was very bad.
We stayed here, likewise, for three days. From Penza we were sent further to the town of Chelyabinsk. This was in the frontier province of Russia.
All through Russia we had been transported by train in prison coaches with barred windows under strict vigilance. At each window a guard was posted. Here in Chelyabinsk we were also subjected to physical examination. The prison authorities treated us roughly, and kept us here for a whole week. Subsequently we were obliged to part with Russia and seek a “haven” in distant, frigid Siberia. Our route to Siberia led us through the town of Tyumen in the province of Tobolsk. This was in winter. During this time we lost two of our friends who were ailing – Feodor Samorodin, who in the course of being transported died in Moscow. The other, Alexander Gritchin, being very ill, died in Chelyabinsk.
The rest of us were escorted to the town of Tyumen. The prison was very large, and we were placed with some other prisoners in one large common cell. We implored the prison authorities to give us a separate cell. At first we were refused, but since we were obliged to stay here for the winter, we gradually became separated from the other prisoners, and were left to ourselves.
Upon our arrival in Tyumen, we announced that we were vegetarians, and that we had no use for meat. For a long time they refused to serve vegetarian food until the prison Inspector arrived. When he came to investigate our cell with the caretaker and the assistant, we immediately informed him of our trouble. Addressing these worthy characters, he inquired of them as to why they would not serve vegetarian food. “What do they want, double rations?” he asked. “No,” said the caretaker, “they want butter in place of meat, and to have all the provisions with them so that they could prepare their own meals.” Thereupon the Inspector ordered the caretaker to make the necessary arrangements to have these supplied at once. After a few minutes, the latter appeared and requested that two of us should come with him and receive the provisions. My comrade Nikolai Vasilievich Rylkov and I did as we were bid. From that time we were also given some dishes and began to cook our own meals in the same cell where we slept.
Here we were left for the winter and compelled to work. We were quite willing to work, although our clothes were not fit for the severe cold of the Siberian winter. We asked the caretaker for some warm clothes, but he refused, saying “You shall get work in a warm building, in a flour mill.” We refused to work in the mill because, as we told him, we were not completely denied our rights, but were only denied a soldier’s status. Other criminal convicts were treated almost like slaves, as in this case – the turning of the grind mill required sixteen men to harness themselves like animals. After this they did not try to force us to do this work. We passed the winter uneventfully. The work we were given was not hard, and every day we were given bread to our heart’s content.
Siberian Prisoners Starting Up-Country, circa 1890’s. Photo by John Foster Fraser.
With the advent of springtime they sent us further to Siberia long the Siberian railway to the town of Krasnoyarsk in the province of Yenisey. We arrived at this destination on the 1st of April, where we stayed in the relay prison until the 4th of May. During the course of this period one of our comrades, Ivan Kukhtinov, died. I am using the word “we” frequently because, all in all, there were over thirty persons in our party.
On the 4th of May, 1897, we were sent on foot from Krasnoyarsk. We were ferried across the Yenisey River and driven on foot for one thousand miles. Oh, how hard it was to walk! The relay prisons were indescribably filthy and full of insects – bedbugs and fleas.
On arriving at a certain relay prison, we would flop down on the bunks or on the floor from utter fatigue, and physical exhaustion, while these worthless parasites covered us from head to toe, mercilessly sucking the last drops of our blood.
Our routine was as follows: we would walk steadily for two days, and on the third day stop for a while to heat water in which to boil our clothing. Our forced march was exceedingly debilitating. Five of our comrades were very ill and were obliged to be transported in wagons. There were altogether, some three to four hundred people in the prisoner convoy. One time, some of the non-Doukhobor prisoners caused a disturbance, and as a punishment, the wagons were emptied of our ailing friends, and they were obliged to walk. It was extremely difficult for them to do so. The next station was some thirty miles away and our sick friends walked slowly.
Now and again the convoy soldiers cursed at the stragglers, threatening with their guns and sabres. On the next day we demanded wagons for the sick members of the party. The officers told us to appeal to the commander. He, in turn, demanded two rubles to be given him for “vodka”. We handed him this sum and our sick comrades seated themselves in the wagons. We walked steadily for two months during which time we suffered many hardships and difficulties. Bread was very expensive and so were vegetables. We were given ten kopeks a day for food, and bread was eight kopeks per pound, so we had to sell some of our clothing in order to buy bread.
During this time, four Russian prisoners escaped from the ranks. The convoy guards had sent the convoy out at night, giving them a chance to run away, under the cover of darkness. The night was dark and a drizzling rain enveloped the landscape. I was a victim of total blindness at sunset (these night marches were especially torturous for those of us who were afflicted with “chicken blindness”) so I could not see what really happened. I heard one convoy guard shouting to the other, “shoot him.” But the latter shouted back that it was against the law to shoot in the dark. When we arrived at the next relay station the officer counted the members of the party and found four persons missing. After this we were treated even more roughly.
We reached Alexandrovsk on the 28th day of June, 1897. We stayed here for two weeks, and then proceeded on our journey. We were driven on foot for three days, and then rode on wagons for four days until we reached Kachooga on the shores of the River Lena. We again set out on four rafts which were made of logs nailed together on top of which cabins were constructed, and in such a manner we followed the course of the Lena. There were also a number of other nationalities amongst us. We were given work to do, for which the convoy officer paid us fifty kopeks per day. From among our Doukhobor group there were always eight or nine of us working, and we occupied two of the rafts, while the other two were occupied by the other prisoners, who also did work on their rafts. These earnings helped to alleviate the food problem.
For a few days our journey was quite uneventful, and then, from of those among the other half of the Russian prisoners created a disturbance. They began to complain that the Doukhobors should not be allowed to work as they were already “rich”. It was true that a few of us did have a little bit of money, which we all shared, but the convoy officer nevertheless took the other prisoners’ complaint into account. Henceforth we Doukhobors were given work for only one party, while the others were given work for two parties of workers.
Once we reached a certain part of Irkutsk province the majority of Russian prisoners were required to remain there as their place of exile. This left only enough prisoners for our two rafts, which were tied together and continued onward. After some time the other prisoners again began to voice their dissatisfaction, demanding that the officer give them all the work. This was granted, but before long, they had accumulated more money than they needed for food and they began to spend all their time drinking and playing cards.
They began to neglect their work and fulfil their duties very poorly and inconsistently. During their drunken periods they were so oblivious, that one night, they allowed the rafts to run aground on a sandbar. In the morning, once it became clear what had happened, we scolded the Russian prisoners, pointing out that, due to their carelessness, we would all be held accountable, and may well be disembarked and forced to cover the remainder of the journey on foot. But they just shouted at us and brazenly renounced all authority, making mutinous threats about exerting their “rights”.
At this time, I was preparing breakfast on the officers’ raft. The commanding officer had just arisen and was washing up. Hearing the commotion at the other end, he hurried his morning preparations and, grabbing a revolver, went over to re-establish order. Coming up to the noisy mob he pointed the revolver at the rowdiest of the prisoners, intending to quieten him down. But the prisoner, seeing danger, grabbed one of our Doukhobors, Kiril Chevildeev, and pulled him in front to use as a shield. The officer yelled at Kiril to get out of the way or he would also be shot, but the Russian prisoner was holding on in desperation and would not let go. Then the officer shouted, “Solders to arms” and all of the convoy guards grabbed their rifles. The mutineer panicked and bolted for the cabin, but the soldiers cornered the poor wretch and then proceeded to severely beat him with their fists and the stocks of their rifles. After they’d beaten him unconscious, the commander ordered all of us to be locked in the cabins.
Prison Barge on the River Lena, circa 1890’s. Photo by John Foster Fraser.
We Doukhobors protested that we should not be locked up, and that if we were freed, we would do what we could to dislodge the rafts from the sandbars. At first, the officer, who was extremely agitated and perturbed, did no listen to our appeal, but eventually conceded. We were let out and, after considerable effort, we managed to free the rafts from the sandbar, and continued to float down the river. The other prisoners were only released after four days.
We followed the course of the River Lena for another 30 days, until we reached the town of Yakutsk. As in the previous parts of the journey, many of us, including me, continued to suffer from “chicken blindness” where we could not see at all at night. This made things very difficult for us, especially when we had to take a turn at the helm. Several times, I barely missed falling into the river, which at that time was very big. But at last, thank God, we reached our destination.
After disembarking, we were lodged in the prison at Yakutsk. On the following day the Governor and a number of officials came to visit us. After an exchange of greetings, he declared that we were sent here under the vigilant supervision of the police and that we could not remain in close proximity to the town, but since he had received a letter from Tolstoy, begging him to make us as comfortable as possible, he had made arrangements for our settlement on the mouth of the River Notora. It was a good place with plenty of fish in the river. But we told him that this did us no good because we were vegetarians. “Oh, my God”, he exclaimed, “What am I going to do with you!”
We began to implore the Governor to give us permission to stay close to the town in order that we could obtain some form of employment. But he refused, saying that according to our papers we were dangerous people and, as such, could not be permitted to stay in close proximity to the town. He informed us, however, that the money that had been confiscated from us earlier was now awaiting us, and we could use it to buy warm clothing and such necessities, tools and farm implements, as we might require. “Some of you may go to town with the guard and buy whatever you need,” he said. A number of us went and bought overcoats, “bashliks”, tools, and staple food such as flour and salt. The prison authorities also presented us with clothes and leather footwear, in a word, most everything that is essential for prisoners.
When all this was finished, they asked us, “How will you proceed, what convoy escort do you want?” We replied that an escort was not necessary because we would go peacefully, and that we would not run away. The Governor and the members of the administration said, “We will give you one police official and two Cossacks and they shall see to your transportation.” From the town of Yakutsk they sent us on foot, while our supplies were transported on wagons. Yakutsk is a swampy place and we found it difficult to walk. We tramped for 15 days, some 400 miles, and arrived at the village of some exiled Skoptsi (a Russian sect known for the practice of self-castration) on the shores of the River Aldan. There we made a purchase of flour, baked some bread and proceeded on big boats along the course of the river for about 150 miles further, to the mouth of the River Notora. We bought a Yakut yurt (hut) for 10 rubles and began to settle down for the winter.
Soon we had our first snowfall and the grim winter cold set in. The thermometer registered 60 degrees below zero. Those who have not felt the rigour of a Siberian winter could not possibly comprehend its stinging cruelty. In some places the ground froze solid to a depth of 150 feet. In the summer time this would thaw off to a depth of four or five feet, but in the woods, where the sun’s rays are unable to penetrate the dense foliage, the ground remained frozen all the year round. It is a land of perpetual snows.
There was a thick coat of ice on the walls of our dwelling, so we were obliged to sleep with our feet towards the wall and in moccasins. The moccasins often frozen to the wall, while under our legs there would be a thick layer of ice, and all the while the cold came in from every direction. There were 33 of us in this barn, and we found it very trying to pass the winter. We had flour and salt but no vegetables, and even bread was not plentiful. We had to live on rations so that our flour would last until the ice break, but even then we suffered a shortage of food.
Group of Doukhobor Exiles in Yakutsk, Siberia, circa 1904
Finally, 20 persons were elected to go to the Skoptsi village which was 150 miles away. Unfortunately, just as we were about to leave, a military officer arrived and strictly forbade us to leave, saying that we must first obtain permission from the governor. He reminded us that we were exiled in Siberia under surveillance and control of the police and could not take leave on no account. So we had to wait for a whole month while our store of bread was gradually diminishing. Our patience became exhausted, so we sent out twenty men anyway. Along the way they met up with the officer who was bringing the governor’s permission, so they were able to get to the Skoptsi village where they rented quarters, and there they were able to procure some work and purchase flour and other essential supplies.
In the meanwhile, 13 of us stayed behind, including me. I was assigned to look after three sick comrades, Ivan Chutskov, Feodor Fominov and Feodor Malov, who were very ill. Two of them died before spring, and Fominov left for the town of Yakutsk where he died on August 20, 1898.
Next year, in the month of June, our wives came to us, and thus we lived for four more years on the Notora. During this time an additional 45 of our Doukhobors came to join us. We occupied ourselves with building houses, constructed a flour mill, broke some of the soil and sowed wheat, rye, barley, potatoes and other vegetables. Some years we reaped a bountiful harvest, in others the frost killed everything. In general, however, life was not too bad. Three more persons, Tolstoyans, having also rejected military service, joined our group.
During all of our stay on the Notora, I was at times required to undertake various journeys. The main journey was when I was sent to Yakutsk for various supplies, such as cloth for clothing. During these trips, which took a full thirty days and nights for the return journey, I encountered many interesting experiences.
After four years on the Notora, I was forced by ill health to move closer to Yakutsk, together with my family. I settled in the Skoptsi village about 10 miles from the town of Yakutsk, and went into town to work, working usually up to 18 hours per day. For this I received 60 cents a day, and on these means I was required to feed myself and my family.
After living here for somewhat more than three years, we were informed in 1905 that our exile had ended – we were now free and could go wherever we wished. Along with most of the others, we decided to go to Canada, to join our brethren there. The governor told us it would take 3000 rubles to pay for our passage to Irkutsk. The government would allow us 1000 rubles, and our brethren sent us 1000 more from Canada. We set up to gather the remainder from our own earnings and resources.
On June 3, 1905, with a great feeling of joy, the first group left Yakutsk for Canada. The journey from Yakutsk to Irkutsk took eleven days and nights by ship and another seven days and nights by boat, going up the River Lena. From Irkutsk we travelled for 14 days and nights by train to Libau (a Baltic port in Latvia) where we were required to wait for 20 days until a person came from Canada, who brought us 10,000 dollars to pay for our passage. From Libau we journeyed three days and nights to London, and from there to Liverpool. From there to Quebec took eleven days and nights by steamer. From Quebec to Yorkton and, on September 18, 1905, we settled into the village of Slavyanka, on the Red River.
I have always kept strictly to all the Doukhobor principles, and I continue to do so until today. I earn my living by my own toil, and live a vegetarian way of life. Always an opponent of war.