Romasha Kanygin – The Shackled One

by Marion Demosky

The following is a true, first person account of the life of Roman Ivanovich Kanygin (1799-1895), progenitor of the Kanigan family of Doukhobors. Passed down orally from generation to generation, it was set down in writing by Romasha’s descendant, Marion Demosky, and published in ISKRA No.1616 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., July 26, 1985) and ISKRA No.1713 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., June 27, 1990). It is a dramatic and inspiring example of the tremendous faith and extraordinary spiritual endurance of our early Doukhobor ancestors. Reproduced by permission.

Author’s Note

This story is a dedication to the memory of my mother Polly Vasilievna Semenoff, from whom I transcribed it. Mother, in turn, committed it firmly in her memory when it was passed on, orally, by her grandfather, Aldokim Romanovich Kanigan, who was gifted with an exceptional memory and who lived to a ripe old age of 102. This particular story was her favourite of the many stories her grandfather related to her. It is my belief this story will be of interest to all the other members of the Kanigan clan which, after all the years since the time of Roman Ivanovich, has branched out into the 6th and 7th generations.

I sincerely hope that this story will likewise be of interest to all Doukhobors in whom the faith and the convictions of our forefathers are still alive…those whose relatives, even though distant, probably also had traversed the martyr’s path, and had left their footprints on the pages of history.

Marion Demosky, Grand Forks, British Columbia, 1985

Roman Ivanovich was born in 1799 in the village of Krukova, in the province of Tambov, Russia. His father was a Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and his family name was Kanygin. He had an only son, Ivanushka, whom he brought up to be literate and whom he prepared to be a priest. When Ivan’s father became old, it was in order for Ivanushka to take over the priesthood because in those days it was customary for the mantle of the priest’s office to pass from the father to the eldest son.

And so, on the day of Easter, Ivan’s father and the church were preparing for the services that pertained to that particular event. On this day it was in order for Ivanushka to receive the Eucharistic sacrament in preparation for him to become a priest, taking over his father’s position. Within the temple stood a statue of the Holy Virgin. A golden chalice was held in the hands of the statue and Ivanushka was supposed to dip a finger of his right hand into it as a sign of his receiving the Communion in the blood of Jesus … then making the sign of the cross, three times.

The priests were gathered together. A gown was held in readiness as they awaited for Ivanushka to arrive. However, Ivanushka made up his mind, on that day, to renounce the church. He sheared the long hair he wore and donned just plain, ordinary clothes. Upon entering the church, he refused to take part in the Communion, rather he began speaking to the people present about the injustices committed by churches and that he was now renouncing them.

The elder priest was so angered by these actions of his son that he began running back and forth in the church, tearing his hair and his clothes. For the betrayal of the church the father confined Ivanushka in a prison for a period of three months, during which time he continued to try to persuade Ivanusha to change his mind and to return to the church. Ivanushka, however being of a resolute mind, turned a deaf ear to his father’s pleadings, and even asked him (the father) to forsake the priesthood. In the end, the father’s anger against the son rose to such a height that he issued an order that he be burned on a skovoroda (heated metal plate). And, indeed, Ivanushka was done away with in this manner upon the behest of his own father.

Ivanushka left behind him three children. The oldest daughter was seven, her name was Khristusha (Khristina). The next was a male child of five, whose name was Kondrasha (Kondraty). The youngest, Romasha (Roman) was only three. Their grandfather, the priest, was making observations as to which one of them he would choose to make his heir. Roman was tall, quick and sharp, and the grandfather took him under his wing and sent him to a school to become literate and to study the Bible. When the child became thirteen, he already knew the Gospel by heart. However, though Romasha was doing well in his studies, which brought joy to the old man, yet he himself, being aware of the past and not able to forget the reason for which his father was made to die, resolved deep within his heart to take vengeance upon his grandfather … but not with malice or bad deeds, but by preaching the good. 

Romasha began resisting his grandfather, breaking off his studies for the priesthood. For taking such an attitude, the grandfather began to mete out severe punishment upon Romasha by various means. He ordered his servants to combine several ant-hills into one mound, then, removing all clothing from Romasha’s body, forced him onto these anthills, and only when the ants came close to devouring him to death did the grandfather allow Romasha to be taken out. The torture process was carried on for a long time. But Romasha, however, would not submit to his grandfather’s will. When Romasha reached the age of 16, the old man began to realize that by means of physical punishment his grandson would not be made to accept the faith of the church, so he resolved to achieve the aim by enticements. Upon consultation with his fellow priests, they brought a bundle of satchels filled with money, and piling them in a corner, addressed Roman with the promise that ”all this shall be yours, only do not abandon the church”.’ But Romasha threw back at them, crying “Let the gold remain with you, but I want to remain with God!” He turned his back on everything and left the city environment to begin living a life in the village.

At the age of 17 Roman married Stenya (Stepanida) Tarasova, and from that marriage they had two children: the older one – Trifan, the younger – Stepan. And during all this time Roman kept on convincing people of the wrong-doings of the church which, of course, did not please the authorities. And it came about that when Trifan was three and Stepan was still in his mother’s arms, these children were taken away while Romasha and his wife were taken into confinement. And in such a separated condition the family remained for seven and a half years.

On one occasion, while passing through the jail house, an elder priest made a statement to the effect that “if you (the inmates) will refuse to submit, you will be hacked to death by iron rods” while another priest walked behind him, inquiring (of the inmates) what each one was imprisoned for. When the turn came for Stenya to answer the question: ”What are you in here for, my dove?” She replied by asking the interrogator, ”And what happens to be your name, sir?” He replied: ”By our custom I am an Enlightened Master, but according to your simple ways, I am Arsentii Pavlovich”. ”Well then, Arsentii Pavlovich, I’m imprisoned here for the sake of the law of Christ”.’ The priest then told her that ”soon you will be released to join your dear little ones; soon you will be seeing them”.’

And so it indeed happened. Stenya, shortly after, was allowed to go home and her children were also brought back. But Romasha was held in prison for a while longer, but he did return later.

Upon arriving home Romasha made the remark that he ”had spent time in some 13 different prisons. Now, perhaps, there will be some respite”. However, enjoying his stay at home no more than two days, Romasha was visited, in the middle of the night, by a gendarme, a person who happened to be his friend from childhood days, and who began to beseech him to submit to the authorities and to renounce his convictions; otherwise, by daybreak, there would be eleven Doukhobors who would be driven to the Petropavlovskaya fortress in Petrograd. ”Roman” pleaded his friend, “We grew up together with you. We drank and ate from the same bowl. I really feel sorry for you. Very few people ever survive a term in this Petropavlovskaya fortress”. Romasha, however, replied that nothing would persuade him to change his mind. ”If that’s the case” the gendarme told him, “take along with yourself an extra night shirt so that you will have something to be clothed in when you die”.

Early in the morning, before dawn, in the midst of a winter storm, there were indeed eleven Doukhobors driven to Petropavlovskaya fortress where they were subjected to punishments in casements. A “casement” was a damp vault into which were introduced defanged toads, scorpions, and a variety of insects. Then a person was undressed to a state of complete nudity and forced to be confined in that place for two or three twenty-four hour periods. According to an account by Roman’s son, Evdokim, this type of torture is most awful and unbearable. The toad sinks its fangs into one’s spine, the serpent entwines itself around the arms and neck; the scorpion crawls into the ears and eyes. From such a place no person was able to walk out on his own. Tormented to the extreme, Romasha had to be carried out on a stretcher.

Of the eleven persons, after three and a half years of confinement, only four remained alive: Roman Kanygin, a Tarasov, a Potapov, and a Zbitnev. Of the others – some died, the rest became mentally deranged. When they emerged from prison, they were mere skeletons; bones held together by skin. When Roman arrived at his home, his wife Stenya was not able to recognize him. She was living alone at the time, since her children were once again taken away from her.

Having rested awhile at home, Romasha went forth to locate the whereabouts of his children. From enquiries, he learned they were living in a village some 50 versts from his home. He came to the village and, entering a yard of someone Iiving there, sat down by a stable which was opposite the place where his children were staying. They happened to be playing outside. Calling one of the boys that were there to come to him, he asked if he could bring Triyoshka Kanygin if he knew him. “Do you recognize me?” Roman asked. “I am your father. Tell Stepan, and then both of you go unnoticed along the fences up to the village. Be there by sunset”. The children hid in the shrubbery, and when it got dark, the father led them to his home. They travelled at night and hid themselves during the day in old cavities in the ground which he noticed while on his way to seek the children. They arrived home on the third day.

Not long after that Romasha, along with six other Doukhobors from the province of Tambov, were exiled to the Caucasus mountain region, to Karabakh in the province of Bakinsk on the Russo-Persian border, in the vicinity of the Caspian Sea. He pleaded with his wife Stenya to come along with him, saying, ”You will be transported on wagons while we will be driven behind”. But Stenya refused to go along with him, claiming she had enough of suffering, and so resolved to stay. She added that, allegedly, in the Caucasus the sky was sunken and the rain there was perpetual. At this time, when Romasha was driven away to the Caucasus, Stenya was pregnant. In a short period of time she gave birth to a daughter, Masha (Maria).

The distance to the place of exile in Karabakh was 700 versts. The group had to walk the whole distance to the place of exile, with each one of them shackled with chains, bearing cruel and torturous suffering from the irons cutting into their limbs to the very bone and where infection had set in. During that part of their march, when going through the Caucasus area, they came upon some Molokan villages, residents of which were exiled to that area earlier. While passing through these villages, the Molokans, when seeing the condition of the exhausted Doukhobors, begged the captain of the guards to stop at their place for a rest. They heated up their steam baths, washed the clothes worn by the Doukhobors, and steamed out the lice – thus alleviating their sufferings. When the lengthy journey came to an end and the process of unshackling the chains began, the weaker ones of the prisoners fainted from the pain. The chains were so deeply imbedded in the flesh, to the very bone.

Upon reaching Karabakh, the Doukhobors were released and were allowed to live in freedom. After some time an opening appeared at a border station where Romasha got employment, receiving a wage of one and a half kopeks an hour.

Not long after, he wrote to his wife asking her to come to him, explaining that the climate at Karabakh was favourable and that everything grew well. However, his wife still refused to come. In reply to his second letter she wrote that she would never return to him, and that if he wished, he was free to find himself another wife. It happened that in proximity to where Romasha lived there was a Molokan village where he got acquainted with a widow by the name of Marfa Harshenin, who was of the Chevildeev family, and whose first husband had died, and she was left a widow with a small boy, Vasya (Vasily). Roman took her for his wife and with her, while living in Karabakh, they had two sons: the first one – Nikolai, the second – Emeliosha (Emelian).

Marfa’s own son Vasya lived with them as part of the family. Marfa’s parents, the Chevildeevs, were of the Don Cossacks, converted into the Molokan faith. When rumours began to seep through to them in Karabakh that the Doukhobors at Milky Waters (Melitopol district, Tavria province) and in other areas would be resettling in the Caucasus region, Romasha was prompted to set out on foot to seek out his brothers and sisters. He reached the village of Slavyanka in the Elizavetpol district, where the Doukhobors began establishing a village and there discovered that both his brother Kondrasha and sister Khristusha were also living in the same village. They invited him to make his domicile with them, to which he consented. Consequently, Roman and his comrades, along with their respective families, after living in Karabakh for twelve years, now settled in Slavyanka.

There in Slavyanka, Romasha and Marfa had two more sons born to them: Aldokim and Misha (Mikhailo). Three years later, Roman’s former wife Stenya came to live in Slavyanka with her three children. Roman went ahead and built her a house also, in the same yard, and took care of them, alternately living with and caring for the needs of each family.

Romasha lived in Slavyanka approximately twelve years. Becoming quite prosperous, he constructed for himself two water driven flour mills. When the Doukhobors settled in the Caucasus, the Elizavetpol area produced bountiful harvests of grain, but in the region of Kholodnoye (“Wet Mountains”) in Tiflis province it was different. There the harvests were poor. So one time Romasha, leaving only enough grain for himself to last until the next harvest, loaded the remainder onto four wagons and transported them to Kholodnoye. Arriving there, he observed that the Doukhobors living there were very highly attuned spiritually. Their sobranyas were attended by great numbers, singing and recitals were very popular, and the people were fraternizing with one another. To Roman, seeing all this, it appeared that in such a highly developed environment, people did not consider it so important if there was a shortage of bread. He admired very much the lifestyle of the people at Kholodnoye, saying, ”here flows a river of soul gratification”. Consequently, he chose a suitable place, and upon returning to Slavyanka began coaxing his families to move their place of residence to Kholodnoye. His first wife – Stenya and children – refused outright. The second wife, Marfa, although reluctant at first to leave Slavyanka for the reason that she was so far away from her relatives as it was, and if she went to Kholodnoye, the distance separating them would be even greater, did, however, consent in the end. And so Roman, with his second wife and their children, moved to the Kholodnoye region, settling in the village of Troitskoye.

When leaving Slavyanka, Romasha gave away one of his flour mills to his brother Kondrasha, and the other one to the older children born from his first wife, Stenya.

While living in Kholodnoye another daughter was born to Romasha and Marfa – Hanya (Agafia).

Romasha was not a gifted singer, nevertheless, he did constantly hum to himself, in an ancient tune, the psalm Kto Vozliubit Pechat’ Gospodniuiu (“He Who Will Love the Mark of the Lord”).

Romasha, in the village where he resided, was not called by his name. People simply referred to him by the nickname Kandal’nik (the “Shackled One”) in view of the fact that so many years of his life were spent in prisons, in exile, and in chains, persecuted for the cause of the Doukhobor faith and ideals.

Roman was privileged to live in Kholodnoye for more than thirty years. When a division took place amongst the Doukhobors in the Caucasus, he remained in the ”Large Party”. All his life he enjoyed good health. However, a couple of days before the New Year of 1895, he felt a weakness coming over him, upon which he spoke out and said, “I’m aware of a weakness arid it appears the time has come for me to leave my mortal body”.’ He gave instructions that when he died, no one of the Chaldeans (Small Party of Doukhobors) was to be allowed in his home when the funeral took place, ”but when the coffin will be placed outside the house, if it would be so desirable, then let former friends of mine from amongst the Chaldeans come and take a look at my mortal remains”.’ On his grave he ordered that a black rock be stood upright as a marker. ”It could be” he said, “someone and at some time may be there from across the border and will take note where your Kandal’nik is interred”.’ At that particular period of time there was talk of Doukhobors migrating to Turkey. Romasha died exactly on New Year’s Day, at the age of 96. He was buried in the cemetery in the village of Troitskoye.

Romasha’s first wife Stenya married another man living in Slavyanka. And his children came often to visit their relatives at Kholodnoye. All of Roman’s children (eight altogether, born of two wives) were gifted singers, and all of them emigrated to Canada with the exception of Trifan, who died in Slavyanka while still young. Romasha’s wife Marfa came to Canada also and lived here with her children. She died in 1905, in the village of Uspeniye in Saskatchewan.

Roman is the progenitor of all the Kanigans in Canada. The families of his brother Kondrasha and of his sister Khristya did not emigrate to Canada. Khristya was married to a Kotelnikov and happened to be the blood grandmother of Avdotia Grigoreevna Verigina, wife of Peter “Lordly” Verigin.

Romasha’s second wife Marfa was formerly married to a Molokan by the name of Vasily Harshenin with whom they had a son, Vasya. When Vasya married, they had no children of their own, so they adopted a small boy Mikisha (Mikita) and a small girl Lusha (Lukeria) Shustov whose parents had died. They raised them as their own. In Canada, Lusha married Savely Kastrukoff. Mikisha continued to be identified by the Harshenin name until their children began using the Shustoff family name.

Upon arrival in Canada all the Kanigans settled in the villages of Troitskoye and Uspeniye, some twelve miles from Arran, Saskatchewan, with the exception of Stepan who came from Kars, Russia, to the region of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. In about 1905, Aldokim and son Vasya took a homestead and lived on a farm for thirteen years.

Aside from Stepan and Aldokim all the Kanigan brothers along with their families moved to British Columbia in 1909, settling at Ootischenia in the proximity of a large sawmill. Their two sisters, Masha Soukeroff and Hanya Jmaeff, also moved to British Columbia. Aldokim and his family joined his brethren at Ootischenia in 1917. Stepan lived in the Prince Albert area, but Iater moved, together with his son, to Oregon and then to California where he lived until his death. All the others: Masha, Nikolasha, Emeliosha, Aldosha, Misha, and Hanya ended their lives at Ootischenia and are buried there.

Kanigan Family Tree

1   Ivan Kanygin 
…….. 2   Kondraty Ivanovich Kanygin 
…….. 2   Khristina Ivanovna Kotelnikov
………………. 3   Grigorii Kotelnikov 
………………………… 4   Evdokia Grigorevna Kotelnikova 
…………………………….  +Peter “Lordly” Verigin
………………………………….. 5   Peter “Chistiakov” Verigin 
…….. 2   Roman Ivanovich Kanygin 1799 – 1895
…………  +Stenya Tarasov (Roman’s 1st Wife)
………………. 3   Trifan Romanovich Kanigan 
………………………… 4   (daughter) Kanigan 
………………. 3   Stepan Romanovich Kanigan 
………………………… 4   Mary S. Maloff 
………………………………….. 5   Nastia Popoff 
………………………………….. 5   Polya Kotelnikoff 
………………………………….. 5   Nikolai Maloff 
………………………………….. 5   Wasil Maloff 
………………………………….. 5   Anuta Vatkin 
………………………… 4   Vanya S. Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Mary Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Grunya Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Nikolai Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Peter Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Tunya Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Fanny Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Olga Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   John Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Walter Kanigan 
………………………… 4   Nikolai S. Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Mary Karaloff 
………………………………….. 5   Anna Louis 
………………………………….. 5   John Kanigan
………………………………….. 5   Nick Kanigan 
………………………… 4   Paranya S. Bonderoff 
………………………………….. 5   John Bonderoff 
………………………………….. 5   Peter Bonderoff 
………………………… 4   Onya S. Tomilin 
………………………………….. 5   Paranya Mahonin 
………………………………….. 5   Masha Stushnoff 
………………………… 4   Nastya S. Osachoff 
………………………………….. 5   Nick Osachoff 
………………………………….. 5   Pauline Atamanenko 
………………………………….. 5   Dora Atamanenko 
………………………… 4   Hanya S. Chutskoff 
………………………………….. 5   Olga Chutskoff 
………………………………….. 5   Verna Robinson 
………………………………….. 5   William Chutskoff 
………………………………….. 5   Gertrude Ryhorchuk 
………………………………….. 5   Peter Chutskoff 
………………………………….. 5   Fred Chutskoff 
………………. 3   Masha Romanovna Sookeroff 
………………………… 4   Sam Sookeroff
………………………………….. 5   Polly Malikoff 
………………………………….. 5   Lucy Goolieff 
………………………………….. 5   Nastya Bonderoff 
………………………………….. 5   George Sookeroff 
………………………………….. 5   William Sookeroff 
………………………………….. 5   Mary Pozdnikoff 
………………………… 4   Misha Sookeroff 
………………………………….. 5   Martha Postnikoff 
………………………………….. 5   Andrew Sookeroff 
………………………………….. 5   Evdokim Sookeroff 
………………………………….. 5   John Sookeroff 
………………………………….. 5   Anuta Berikoff 
………………………… 4   Hanya Kooznetsoff 
………………………………….. 5   Nastya Shkuratoff 
………………………………….. 5   Sam Kooznetsoff 
………………………………….. 5   John Kooznetsoff 
………………………… 4   Wasil Sookeroff 
………………………………….. 5   Misha Sookeroff 
………………………………….. 5   Fred Sookeroff 
………………………………….. 5   Peter Sookeroff 
………………………………….. 5   Dora Sookeroff 
………………………… 4   Masha Popoff 
………………………………….. 5   George Popoff 
………………………………….. 5   Eli Popoff 

…………  +Marfa (Chevildeev) Harshenin (Roman’s 2nd Wife)
………………. 3   Vasily Vasilievich Harshenin (Roman’s step-son) 
………………………… 4   Mikisha Shustoff (adopted)
………………………… 4   Lusha Kastrukoff (adopted) 
………………. 3   Nikolai Romanovich Kanigan 
………………………… 4   Grisha N. Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   John Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Pete Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Anuta Planidin 
………………………………….. 5   William Kanigan 
………………………… 4   Vanya N. Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Sam Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Pete Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Alec Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   John Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Nick Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Anuta Moojelsky 
………………………… 4   Trofim N. Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Grunya Vanin 
………………………………….. 5   William Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Larry Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Tanya Salikin 
………………………………….. 5   Mary Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Steve Kanigan 
………………………… 4   Havrila N. Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Fred Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Pete Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Nick Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Gertie Konkin 
………………………… 4   Martha N. Swetlishoff 
………………………………….. 5   William Swetlishoff 
………………………………….. 5   Fred Swetlishoff 
………………………………….. 5   George Swetlishoff 
………………. 3   Emelian Romanovich Kanigan 
………………………… 4   Nadya E. Plotnikoff 
………………………………….. 5   Tanya Strukoff 
………………………………….. 5   Mary Vanjoff 
………………………………….. 5   John Plotnikoff 
………………………… 4   Anuta E. Lavrenchenkoff 
………………………………….. 5   Elizabeth Kinakin 
………………………………….. 5   Mary Labonty 
………………………… 4   Axuta E. Stooshnoff 
………………………………….. 5   Helen Stooshnoff 
………………………………….. 5   Peter Stooshnoff 
………………………………….. 5   Nellie Harshenin 
………………………… 4   Martha E. Perepolkin 
………………………………….. 5   Mary Maloff 
………………………… 4   Daniel E. Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Luba Abrosimoff 
………………. 3   Aldokim Romanovich Kanigan 
………………………… 4   Wasil A. Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Elizabeth Rilkoff 
………………………………….. 5   George Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Tom Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   William Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Polly Semenoff 
………………………………….. 5   Mike Kanigan 
………………. 3   Mikhail Romanovich Kanigan 
………………………… 4   Grunya M. Hadikin 
………………………………….. 5   Philip Hadikin 
………………………………….. 5   Anuta Sookochoff 
………………………… 4   Martha M. Repin 
………………………………….. 5   Pete Repin 
………………………………….. 5   Dasha Fominoff 
………………………………….. 5   Hanya Fominoff 
………………………………….. 5   Masha Stooshnoff 
………………………………….. 5   Liza Repin 
………………………… 4   Fenya M. Shlakoff 
………………………………….. 5   Nastya Voykin 
………………………………….. 5   John Shlakoff 
………………………………….. 5   Mary Shlakoff 
………………………………….. 5   Florence Hughes 
………………………… 4   Savely M. Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Walter Kanigan
………………………………….. 5   Nastya Voykin 
………………………………….. 5   Cecil Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Vera Voykin 
………………………… 4   Afanasy M. Kanigan 
………………………………….. 5   Mary Jmieff 
………………………………….. 5   Mike Kanigan 
………………. 3   Hanya Romanovna Jmieff 
………………………… 4   Peter Jmieff 
………………………………….. 5   Fred Jmieff 
………………………………….. 5   Cecil Jmieff 
………………………………….. 5   Jim Jmieff 
………………………………….. 5   Florence Bloodoff 
………………………………….. 5   Lisa Jmieff 
………………………… 4   Arina Lactin 
………………………………….. 5   Mike Lactin 
………………………………….. 5   John Lactin 
………………………………….. 5   Mary Sophonoff 
………………………………….. 5   Nick Lactin 
………………………… 4   Masha Labintsoff 
………………………………….. 5   Florence Trautman 
………………………………….. 5   John Labintsoff 
………………………………….. 5   Helen Labintsoff 
………………………………….. 5   Pete Labintsoff 
………………………………….. 5   Mike Labintsoff 
………………………………….. 5   Mary Labintsoff 
………………………………….. 5   Brilliant Labintsoff 
………………………… 4   William Jmieff 
………………………………….. 5   Pete Jmieff 
………………………………….. 5   Mary Demoskoff 
………………………………….. 5   Ida Barisoff 
………………………………….. 5   Doris Murray 
………………………………….. 5   Pauline Brown 
………………………………….. 5   John Jmieff 

Exile of the Dukhobortsy, 1843

by Moritz Wagner

Moritz Wagner (1813-1887) was a German explorer, collector, geographer and natural historian who toured South Russia and the Caucasus between 1843 and 1846.  In 1843, he met a convoy of Doukhobor exiles en route from the Molochnaya to the Caucasus.  Earlier that year, he visited the Doukhobors already settled in Caucasia.  Wagner kept a diary and recorded his impressions of these encounters, which he published in “Der Kaukasus und das Land der Kosaken, in den Jahren 1843 bis 1846” (Dresden & Leipzig: Arnoldische Buchhandlung, 1848).  The following is reproduced from a review of “Der Kaukasus…” published in The Westminster and Foreign Quarterly Review (London), vol. 50, 1849, in which excerpts from the book were translated into English from the original German and quoted at length. It is one of the most vivid and detailed first-hand accounts of the Doukhobor exile to the Caucasus, and provides rare and fascinating insights into the circumstances of their expulsion and the conditions in which they were settled. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

As I returned wearied from my wanderings among the glaciers on the evening of the 2nd of August, to my lodgings, I found everything in unusual bustle. Hundreds of wagons, heavily laden, were rolling slowly through the village – old men with venerable beards, little children, women with sucking babes at the breast – sat in them, among chests, and boxes, and household and agricultural implements of every kind. They reminded me of processions of emigrants from the South of Germany, which I had seen moving towards Havre and Bremen, but that their Slavonian cast of feature, long beards, and old dilapidated hats with narrow brims, showed them to be Russians. They were, however, emigrants, though unwilling ones; people of the religious sect of Duchoborzen [Dukhobortsy], whom an imperial order had just driven from their beautiful and fertile habitations by the Sea of Azoph [Azov], to the uttermost limit of the Russian Empire on the other side of the Caucasus – a region of cold and desolate mountains.

Wagon on the Georgian Military Road between Vladikavkaz and Tiflis, 19th century.

There were among them men of a most venerable aspect – real apostolic figures, but so astonishingly like each other that I could scarcely distinguish them; they seemed all like twin brothers. The women and girls, who were not handsome, wore frightful little caps, tied together with broad ribbon, and long jackets of blue cloth, like those worn by Russian slaves [serfs]. The children, especially the boys, had a most gentle and amiable expression of countenance, and the people seemed to form among themselves one great family.

Sometimes ten or more of the wagons would suddenly make a halt; the men would alight, and assemble around an old woman, who held a great bottle of spirits, of which she would give a glass to one after another, and lastly take a good sip herself. By the uniformity of their simple costume, by their thoughtful faces, and patriarchal mode of life, it was easy to see that they must be reformers [Russian Protestants]; and the sight of so many people, thus resolutely and with solemn resignation going forth into exile, made so much the more painful impression on me, as I knew what a harsh climate and barren soil they had to encounter in the melancholy abode assigned to them.

I had spent some time in Gumri [Gyumri, Armenia], which is on the frontier, towards Asiatic Turkey, and had had some intercourse with those of the Duchoborzen who were already settled there. These poor people had not only suffered the severest privations, but had also been plundered and ill-treated by the Russian officials, and many families had already sunk under misery and hunger.

The Duchoborzen whom I now saw had been settled on the Steppes of the Sea of Azoph, by command of the Emperor Alexander, who had feared that this enthusiastic sect might make proselytes, and spread into the interior of Russia. On the banks of the Maloshna [Molochnaya] (the Milk River) where they were located, they had founded eleven [nine] large, handsome, and prosperous villages. That they are industrious men, and excellent agriculturists, is acknowledged even by their enemies, the adherents of the Russian [Orthodox] national church. In no other part of the empire were the fields and gardens so blooming, the cattle so thriving, as on this colony on the Milk River.

Mt. Kazbek on the Georgian Military Road where Wagner met the Doukhobors in 1843.

The colonists grew rich, but withdrew themselves more and more from their neighbors, and would allow no stranger to witness the mysteries of their divine worship – so that wherein its peculiarities consist has never been rightly understood. They assemble daily in their churches and sing psalms – and they declare that the Holy Spirit, the Father, or the Son, dwells in every man; but they do not seem themselves to have a very clear knowledge of their system. They listen with devout attention to the confused fanatical addresses of their elders; and then-chief [Kapustin], who inhabited an island of the Maloshna enjoyed a boundless reverence, the multitudes believing that he stood in some intimate relation to the deity. He appears to have exercised a mysterious and terrible power over them.

As long as Alexander lived, the Duchoborzen remained in tranquility. They paid their taxes punctually, furnished recruits, and subjected themselves to all the duties of subjects, and though they avoided all intercourse with the members of the Russian church, they offered no molestation to any one. But a change came with the accession of the Emperor Nicholas [in 1825]. The priests and official personages of their neighborhood knew that the Czar hated all religious sects, and desired particularly to establish the unity of the national church – and the persecution now began.

The Duchoborzen were accused of making their villages the asylums of runaway criminals, on whom they conferred, it was said, the names of deceased persons, who were privately buried, and thus the official books for years together showed no record of a death. There existed, moreover, a sort of secret tribunal, which disposed secretly of all of their society who were suspected of divulging the mysteries. Upon such vague accusations as these, commissions of inquiry were established; the authorities would not of course lose such a tempting opportunity of fining the rich Duchoborzen villagers; and the threat of sending them to Siberia, or beyond the Caucasus, filled many an official pocket that had been empty before.

That the Duchoborzen had really been guilty of the crime, such as it was, of affording a refuge to the deserters from the army, is highly probable, and this circumstance was ultimately turned to their destruction. A Russian deserter, who had been closely pursued by a police officer, was afterwards found in the mill-stream of one of the German colonists, and it was now declared that the Duchoborzen had murdered him, and dragged him here in the night, in order to turn the suspicion of the deed upon the Germans.

Mountain pass on the Georgian Military Road, 19th century.

Upwards of a hundred individuals were hereupon seized, imprisoned, whipped, and tortured, to wring from them the confession; but they constantly denied the charge and no proof whatever could be discovered. Notwithstanding, however, that it remained a mere suspicion, thirty men received the knout, as convicted murderers, and were then sent off to Siberia; and shortly afterwards an imperial ukase arrived, commanding that the whole body of the Duchoborzen should be transported to the frontiers of the Arpatschai [Arpachai River] – the coldest, dreariest, and most desolate region of the Caucasus. These poor people had to leave their fruitful fields and convenient houses, and build themselves huts among the rugged mountains, in a place where corn will ripen only in the warmest summers.

In the year 1843, when I was on the Arpatschai, I found some thousands of them settled there, in seven villages, but all in the most deplorable condition. The children looked pale and thin, from insufficient food. I asked one of the boys whether he would go with me and be my servant, to have good food, and wear good clothes, and he answered, ‘Oh, I should like to go – but he added – ‘not without my maminka‘ (my little mother).

The miserable condition into which the greater part of the first settlers fell, was not enough to soften the hearts of their oppressors; a fresh command arrived from St. Petersburg to drive the remaining four or five thousand of the Duchoborzen from their houses. As they had to sell their little possessions in all haste in order to begin their pilgrimage to the Caucasus, they fell into the hands of usurers and cheats, who gave them scarcely a tenth part of the value; and not a few official personages made handsome profits on the occasion.

The choice had been offered to them to remain in their villages on condition of conforming to the national church, but very few yielded to the temptation; and very remarkable it is, that with such vague ideas of religion as they possessed, such imperfect conceptions of God and a future state, they should yet cling so firmly to them, and for their sake renounce all hopes of temporal well-being, consent to abandon their beloved homes, and encounter the thousand-fold miseries of banishment in dreary and inhospitable deserts.


Moritz Friedrich Wagner was one of the foremost traveler-explorers of the mid-nineteenth century. He led expeditions to Algeria (1836-1838), Armenia and the Caucasus Mountains (1842-1846), Italy (1846-1849), Asia Minor and Central Asia (1850-1851), the United States, West Indies and Central America (1852-1855) and Central America and Ecuador (1857-1860). Wagner’s early career was as a geographer, and he published a number of geographic books based on his travels. He was also a keen naturalist and collector whose chief interest was the study of animal migration, and he faithfully reported the scientific and ethnological results of his many expeditions through a long series of writings.

In May of 1843, Wagner toured the Wet Mountains region of Northern Armenia and Southern Georgia.  There, near Gyumri and Akhaltsikhi (as noted in the original German text), he encountered several thousand Doukhobors living in seven (he erred as there were eight) villages. They had only recently settled there, having been deported from the Molochnaya region near the Sea of Azov in two parties in 1841 and 1842. The harsh mountain climate and barren soil had ravaged the exiles, whom Wagner found “all in the most deplorable condition”.  The children, he noted, “looked pale and thin, from insufficient food” and lacked “good clothes”.  Moreover, the Doukhobors had suffered mightily at the hands of corrupt Tsarist officials, who “plundered and ill-treated” them when they arrived.  Many families had sunk under misery, hunger and privation; yet clung firmly to their faith.

Three months later, in August of 1843, Wagner hiked the glaciers of Mount Kazbek (as noted in the original German text) south of Vladikavkaz, Russia. There, along the Georgian Military Road, he met a third party of Doukhobor exiles in “hundreds of wagons, heavily laden” with household and agricultural implements.  They were en route from the Molochnaya to the Wet Mountains. Wagner noted the resolute decorum and solemn resignation of these “real apostolic figures” who “seemed to form among themselves one great family”.  This pained him, having already visited their cold and desolate place of exile.

Unidentified informants, possibly members of the military escort conducting the sectarians, told Wagner that the Doukhobors were “industrious men, and excellent agriculturalists” and that “in no other part of the empire were the fields and gardens so blooming, the cattle so thriving” as on their colony on the Molochnaya.  Under Tsar Alexander I, the Doukhobors remained in tranquility; they “paid taxes punctually, furnished recruits and subjected themselves to all duties”.  Under Tsar Nicholas I, however, they became increasingly introverted. The Doukhobors “grew rich, but withdrew themselves more and more from their neighbours, and would allow no stranger to witness the mysteries of their divine worship”. A cruel persecution began.   

According to Wagner, “vague accusations” were made of Doukhobor murders at the Molochnaya colony which gave the authorities an excuse for “commissions of inquiry”.  No positive proof of these rumours was ever discovered, but over 100 Doukhobors were arrested, and thirty were exiled to Siberia as murderers; this is an anecdote not included in most written histories of the sect.  The real reason for their exile, contended Wagner, was that the Doukhobors were guilty of giving refuge to military deserters.  Moreover, fines and extortion by threats of exile for this crime “filled many an official pocket” with Doukhobor money.  Tsar Nicholas I, who “hated all religious sects,” accepted the dubious charges and exiled the entire Doukhobor colony to the Caucasus in 1839. 

Tsarist authorities waited until the last minute before informing the colony of its deportation in 1841.  The Doukhobors told Wagner that because they “had to sell their possessions in all haste in order to begin their pilgrimage to the Caucasus, they fell into the hands of usurers and cheats, who gave them scarcely a tenth part of the value” of their property left behind on the Molochnaya.  Moreover, Wagner was told that “not a few official personages made handsome profits” off the Doukhobor plight. 

Wagner’s account is almost certainly the most detailed and perceptive eyewitness account of the Doukhobor exile to the Caucasus, and his reasons given for their expulsion from the Molochnaya, among the most believable.

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of the original German text of “Der Kaukasus und das Land der Kosaken, in den Jahren 1843 bis 1846” by Moritz Wagner (Dresden & Leipzig: Arnoldische Buchhandlung, 1848), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

The Dukhobortsy, 1865

by Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin

Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin was one of the most famous 19th Century Russian Realist painters and one of the first Russian artists to be widely recognized abroad. In 1864-1865 he went to the Caucasus in search of subjects for his canvas, where he encountered a variety of local peoples, including the Doukhobors of the Kedabek district of Elizavetpol province.  He kept a journal and wrote down his observations, which were published in “Vassili Verestchagin: Painter-Soldier-Traveller, Autobiographical Sketches” (F. H. Peters, trans., London: R. Bentley & Son, 1887).  The following excerpt provides a detailed and unique first-hand account of the Doukhobors during their early settlement in the Caucasus, and highlights their social customs, spiritual beliefs, religious services and general prosperity.  It also includes a number of rare and historically important drawings by Vereshchagin of various Doukhobor subjects and scenes from the aforesaid publication and from “Voyage dans les provinces du Caucase” par Basile Vereschaguine, traduit du russe par Mme et M. Ernest le Barbier. 1864-1865. Texte et dessins inédits. Seconde Partie. – “La Transcaucasie” Le Tour du Monde (Paris), t. 19, premier semestre 1869: 315-21; 322-36. Foreword and Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.


Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin (1842-1904)

Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin (1842-1904) was born in the town of Cherepovets in Novgorod province, Russia into a relatively prosperous family of landowners. As the son of a nobleman, he was expected to follow a military or diplomatic career. At the age of eight, he entered the Alexander Cadet Corps, an educational institution in St. Petersburg that prepared future military officers from a very early age. Three years later, he entered the Sea Cadet Corps at St. Petersburg, making his first voyage in 1858. Vereshchagin was one of the ablest students in his class and looked to be at the outset of a promising naval career.

However, during the years of his military education, the young man developed a passion for art – viewed as a ‘lowly’ calling by his peers. Immediately upon graduating from the naval school in 1860, Vereshchagin left the service and enrolled full-time at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts to begin the study of drawing in earnest. He left the Academy four years later, dissatisfied with its classical standards and approach. The same year, in 1864, he entered the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he studied under the famous Jean Leon Gerome. But in the Paris Academy, too, classical standards were prevalent, and thus Vereshchagin soon departed, frustrated.

In search of new subjects, Vereshchagin travelled to the Caucasus in 1864-1865, where he created a series of sketches and studies devoted to the life and customs of the local people. It was his second trip, having briefly visited the Caucasus in 1863.  It was at this time that he visited the Doukhobors living in the Kedabek district of Elizavetpol province, whom he sketched and wrote about in his journal.

Not far from the town of Shusha… live the Russian sectarians who were banished from Russia proper on account of their indefatigable zeal in propagating their doctrines. They live as settlers among the Armenians and Tatars; and as their villages lay but a short distance off my route, I went so far out of my way in order to visit them, to question them, and to observe them with my own eyes.

From a lofty mountain ridge we looked down into a valley in which lies the village of Slavyanka, inhabited by the Dukhobortsy (“Doukhobors”). A little further behind the mountains lie some more villages [Novo-Goreloye, Novo-Spasskoye and Novo-Troitskoye], inhabited by the same sect, but these I did not see. Presently we met some of the inhabitants returning home in large parties from their hay making, and carrying their scythes and rakes. They wear white shirts, stuck soldier-wise into their white breeches, and caps with broad peaks. Most of them had a merry air, and were talking and laughing together. When they saw me they politely raised their caps.

Water wheel in Slavyanka, Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.

The village lies in a hollow, by a rushing torrent that falls into the Kura [River]. The distance from Elizavetpol may be sixty versts [an Imperial Russian measure equal to 1.0668 km] or a little more. All round rise mountains, almost bare of vegetation; though in the place itself, which numbers 205 houses, and some 600 male inhabitants, there are trees and more vegetation in abundance. The Dukhobortsy came, or rather were transplanted, to this place from the Tauride [Tavria] district, whither they had been forced to migrate from the interior of Russia between 18[02] and 1830.

Many of their old men still remember quite well their homes in old Russia, in the districts of Tambov, Saratov and elsewhere. The first batch of these were sent here in 1840, others later. They had a hard time of it at first, as they had to take up their abode among the neighboring Armenians and Tatars, who treated them with great cruelty, constantly robbing them and sometimes going to the length of murder. 

Doukhobor woman, left, Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.

Doukhobor woman, right, Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.

There are no forests in the neighbourhood, and the carriage of timber by the mountain paths is exceedingly laborious, so that they could not think at first of making a permanent settlement. Many returned to the bosom of the Orthodox Church and went back to Russia. Those who remained gradually improved their condition, and today, after five-and-twenty years, the settlements of the Dukhobortsy (four villages, if I mistake not) are so well built and well arranged as to be an object of envy to the natives of the district.

In earlier times severe measures were taken against their doctrines, and great efforts were made to prevent them from spreading; and it was with this object that the Dukhobortsy were transplanted to the mountains of Transcaucasia. The Tsar Alexander I visited them while they were still in the Tauride district, was present at their worship, and by his gracious behaviour not only left behind him a good name among the sectarians, but also improved their position in the community, which at that time was far from enviable. “It is only since his visit,” say the Dukhobortsy, “that we are looked upon as human beings and suffered to drive our cattle into the town and to buy and sell in peace. Before that, when we went among our neighbours on business, we heard nothing but insulting remarks, such as ‘You are no Christians: you are people who are not fit to show your faces among men.'” It is easy to see that the Dukhobortsy retain a vivid recollection of the persecution and insult which they formerly suffered, and that though better times came afterwards few of them would care to return to the interior of Russia. 

Sketch of a Doukhobor man, Autobiographical Sketches.

The main thought of their religion may be expressed in a very few words – one God in three persons, vix. God the Father – the memory; God the Son – the understanding; God the Holy Ghost – the will: the Trinity in unity. They have no sacred books, and do not recognize the Old or the New Testament, or the writings of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church. “These books,” say they, “are written by human hands, and the work of human hands is imperfect.” Their conception of Christ is very obscure: beyond a confused notion that He is at once man and God, they have not the least idea how He lived or for what He suffered.

The sources of their knowledge of Christ are their so-called ‘Psalms of David’. These ‘Psalms’ are the only prayers in use among the Dukhobortsy; some specimens which I have collected show how absurd it is to ascribe them to David, whom they hold in high honour.

It may be that these prayers had more meaning at the time when the sect was founded; but in being handed down from father to son (for to this day they are preserved by oral tradition only) it is not to be wondered at that many words and phrases have been so corrupted as to make the most ridiculous nonsense, especially as these people can neither read nor write.

But the Dukhobortsy are convinced that these psalms have been handed down to them word for word as they came from the mouth of the Psalmist.

Their mistrust of, or rather aversion to, everything that is written sometimes leads them into strange absurdities. Besides the prophet David, for instance, there are three persons of the Old Testament whom they hold in special honour; these are Ananias, Asarias and Misael; and the reason is that these three stood still till the last moment by the cross of Christ. “The apostle Peter,” say the Dukhobortsy, “was very near to Christ, and yet denied Him: these three stood by Him.” When I remarked that these three men lived long before Christ, and therefor could not be present at his crucifixion, they answered that it was not their business to criticize, it was enough to believe what had been handed down by their fathers.

Не убоюся на Бога сположуся.”

“Fear nothing and trust in God.”

                19th century Doukhobor slogan

“Is it not known to you,” said I to some old men with whom I was talking, “that besides David there are other prophets of the Old Testament who prophesized a great deal of Christ, for instance Isaiah?” “What Isaiah do you mean, little father?” was the answer. “Do you mean Abraham, or Isaac or Jacob? Who can know them all? They are many, and it is a long time since they lived.” As for the saints of the Orthodox Church, they allow that they may have been very good men, but no more.

Sketch of Doukhobor women chanting their psalms, Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.

The dogma of obedience to the authorities is beginning, under the stress of practical necessity, to come into force with them, and, on the other hand, the favourite dogma of the Dukhobortsy, “Fear nothing and trust in God,” is beginning to lose its significance. This reminds me of an amusing incident. One Sunday (which day the Dukhobortsy spend in idling and drinking brandy) a discharged soldier (for many men of this class are found in the sect) was cursing and swearing under my windows. I sent down my guide, a Cossack, to tell him to take his curses elsewhere. I watched from the window how my Cossack accosted him: “What do you mean by cursing and swearing here? Don’t you see that a stranger, an official, is lodging here? It is most unseemly.” The drunkard looked contemptuously at my envoy, rested his hands on his sides, and replied in a sing-song voice, “I fear thee not, but trust in God.” The Cossack made an angry gesture, and returned to me in great vexation. “It is no good speaking to him, sir; a rude fellow, as drunkards are wont to be.”

The Dukhobortsy protest that they honour the Tsar, and that it is a slander to say they do not. “It is impossible not to honour the Tsar: only, we do not call him our father as the Orthodox do.”

Their worship is extremely simple. One Sunday I was taken into a peasant’s house where the service (moleniye) was to be held. The room was such as you may see in an ordinary peasant’s house, very clean, spacious but low, with a great Russian stove, and decorated with fine towels (rushniki). It was crowded with people – the men on one side, the women on the other – the elders seated on benches, the rest standing.

They repeat the prayers in turn. When one makes a mistake the others correct him: “That is not right.” “How should it be then?” “Thus,” and then the prompter himself makes a slip, and is corrected on all hands. I observed that the mistakes are mostly made by the men: the women know the prayers better, and the corrections come chiefly from their side. The saying of the prayers lasts a considerable time, till the whole stock is exhausted, or (as more frequently happens in seasons of hard work) till the congregation shows signs of exhaustion and snoring is heard from the corners and comfortable places. Then some one suggests to the meeting that it is time to pass from praying to singing.

Doukhobors chanting their psalms at a moleniye (prayer meeting), Vereshchagin, Le  Tour du Monde.

“What think you? It is close here: shall we not go into the courtyard and sing?” All turn out into the court, and the men again take their places on one side, the women on the other. This custom is strictly observed, for it is counted as obedience to the precept “During prayer have God’s image before thee.” The singing also lasts a long time, and is always in such a sad and pensive strain as to make one quite melancholy; one’s thoughts turn to the distant home – to the Volga and the Burlaks with their songs. At the head of the men stands a precentor who begins each psalm. In the village of Slavyanka this post of honour was held by an old man, who often came to chat with me, and never came empty handed: one day he would bring a piece of honeycomb, another day some fresh cucumbers; and I, on my side, never failed to slip into his pocket a handful of cigarettes, which which, as I heard, he made a great display before the neighbours. “All these the Government official gave me, to show his respect for me.” Often he alluded complacently to the importance of his office – “It is not everyone that is equal to it: one must have a calling to it.” Only the precentor and perhaps a few others keep to the words in singing; the rest merely make meaningless sounds.

Sketch of Doukhobor men chanting their psalms,  Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.

Before the end of the service the congregation form a semicircle, bow, and kiss each other, the men passing in turn along the men’s ranks, and the women doing the same on their side. They grasp each other by the right hand, bow twice, kiss, and again bow twice. A final and more profound bow is made by the men in the direction of the women, and by the women in the direction of the men. The bows look very awkward, and are made rather to one side. Each member of the congregation goes through this ceremony with every other member, without any distinction of age. But I did not see any very small children at these services. The singing goes on during the salutation; as soon as it is finished, they put on their caps and all go to their houses.

I wrote down their psalms as dictated to me by members of the sect – some old, some young. Both the old and the young, but especially the old, have a very imperfect understanding of what they say, and gabble the words off by rote without any regard to the sense. If I asked them to explain a passage the old men would answer, “Who can understand it? The wisdom of God is hard to grasp” or “God knows, I know not. So prayed our fathers before us, so pray we and teach our children to pray. As for what it means, we leave that to God.”

I did also get some explanations, but they were mostly very obscure, and it was impossible not to remark that likeness in the sound of words and phrases was taken for identity of meaning. When they are repeating their psalms, if they forget a word they at once get confused and have to go back to the beginning.

It also sometimes happens that a good Dukhobortsy leaves out a long piece in the middle of a prayer and is not conscious of the omission till he comes to the end. After a little reflection he will say, “I seem to have left out something, for I have come to the end too soon.” Sometimes he will notice the omission at once. “No, that is not it. Read, please, what you have written down there.” I read “and we become partakers of the holy communion of the divine, the life-giving…” “Yes, yes. Now write ‘Saviour’, ” and he begins to gabble through the words by rote, “the divine, the life-giving Saviour – the divine, the life-giving” – add “the immortal”. How does it go on? To make sure I am forgetting nothing, read it right through again from the beginning.”

When they are saying their prayers together of course this does not happen, because each mistake is at once corrected by those present. They have prayers not only on Sunday but also on week-days, late in the evening when their work is done, especially on Saturday.

It is strange that the Dukhobortsy, with their sound common sense, should ascribe their psalms to the prophet David, seeing that the greater part of them contain the plainest allusions to the time and the circumstances of the foundation and development of their sect. As an instance of this I here give a prayer or psalm which serves as a sort of catechism of the doctrine of the Dukhobortsy. I repeat that I wrote it down word for word as it was dictated to me:

“The God whom we serve in the spirit we glorify in Jesus Christ. The spirit was given to us; of the spirit we partake, and are of good cheer. We believe in the universal almighty God, Creator of the heavens, and the earth, and the bright light. In Him we believe. We are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We pray to God in the spirit: in the true spirit we pray, and to the true God. With my voice I call upon God, and with my voice I pray to God. we make confession to our heavenly Father, for He is gracious, His goodness is everlasting; and as our sins are remitted we receive the holy, divine agonizing, life-giving communion of the immortal Jesus to the forgiveness of sins. We go into the church of God, into the only holy apostolic cathedral, where the true Christians are gathered together. We have an upright and honourable priest, not a false and wicked one, who is set apart from sinners. The mother of God we name and venerate, for she bore Jesus Christ to the forgiveness of the sins of Adam. We honour and emulate the saints. We adore the holy picture of God, the priceless picture of God, the holy picture, which sings and speaks: true pictures of saints, unlike written parchments, made by the Son of the Father and of the Holy Ghost. 

The Tsar we hold in honour: God save the Tsar! Hear us, O God! We observe the fasts – continence in thought. Keep me away from all evil, from murmuring with my lips, from sudden death, from incontinence. Take away from me all untruth. We have marriage, an institution of eternal welfare, wherein we make ourselves sure. Into a church built with hands we will not go. The painted images of saints we do not adore, for in them we see no holiness and no saving virtue. Therefore we practice not the laying on of hands, but turn to the word of God, the life-giving cross. To our God is all honour due!”

After I had written down the psalms, of which the above is a specimen, I read them to various members of the sect in order to make quite sure that they had been given to me correctly. All assured me that, with some unimportant exceptions, what I had taken down agreed with the tradition as known to them.

These same Dukhobortsy, who glorify God and their faith in this wise, live an honest, reasonable, and prosperous life. These qualities, indeed, they share with other religious communities that have been banished and forgotten, such as the Molokans, the Subbotniks, and the Skoptsi in Transcaucasia. But, being acquainted with the Molokans as well as the Dukhobortsy, I place the latter far higher than the former in respect of morality. For instance, among the Molokans the use of wine and tobacco is forbidden, and they do not take either in public; but in private they indulge in these forbidden pleasures. The Dukhobortsy, on the other hand, openly drink and smoke and grow tobacco. The Molokans are not averse to cheating, or even to stealing when the opportunity occurs; with the Dukhobortsy, on the contrary, acts of this kind are so rare that you might count them upon your fingers. It is remarkable that the Dukhobortsy regard the Molokans as apostates from Dukhoborism, while the Molokans declare that the Dukhobortsy are apostates from Molokanism. Probably the Molokans are right. The two sects hate each other. “Godless creatures, worse than dogs,” say the Molokans of the Dukhobortsy, who in their turn, say of the Molokans, “Are they human beings?”


With regard to myself and my occupations the Dukhobortsy showed much less distrust than the Molokans, who apparently persisted in believing that my visit had secret inquiries for its purpose, and their transference to Siberia for its probable result. The Dukhobortsy, indeed, were not at once ready to talk. “You question us about this and that,” said an old Dukhobortsy to me, “but you have not yet told us who you are.” “Why do you want to know that?” “So that we may know what we may say to you and what me may not. We want to know whether you are an official or not, whether you are a noble or a simple gentleman, and by what name we are to call you.” I explained as simply and clearly as I could that I was nothing but a traveller who wanted to see what sort of life is led by Russians, Tatars and Armenians.

Sketch of a Doukhobor woman, Autobiographical Sketches.

“You live in the mountains,” I said, “and it is seldom that anyone comes to you, or that you leave your villages. Hence various rumours about you are spread abroad, and I wanted to ascertain what was true in these rumours and what was false.” Some seemed to understand my motive, and nodded their heads in assent: “So it is, indeed; much nonsense is talked about us.” There were even some “politicians” among them who thanked me for the honour I did them by my questions.

As I have already mentioned, the Dukhobortsy have no books and keep no kind of records. The old men cannot read, and do not get their children taught, for they consider such knowledge superfluous for peasants. The only exceptions are the clerks to the village governments, who are generally discharged soldiers that know how to read.

When I learned about this systematic ignorance (for so it may be called), I saw that an old man had not been joking when he asked me to reckon how old he was now, having been a boy of fourteen when he moved with his father from the Government of Tambov into the Taurus district in the year 1822. “I have long been trying,” he said, “to find this out; but there is no one here whom one could ask.” When my old friend learned that I had travelled a great deal he would have me tell him where the sun goes to rest. “Is there, he asked me several times, “Is there, then, no place at all where the sun rests?”

I wanted to know where the men’s dress came from. In answer to my questions the Dukhobortsy said theirs was a genuine Russian costume; but it is not found anywhere in Russia. As to their long and broad trousers, there may be truth in what they say; but what is the origin of the short archaluk (“jacket”), embroidered in soldier fashion, with a stand-up collar, which is always fastened with hooks, as among the Cossacks? This archaluk is worn by all without exception.

The women wear the ordinary Russian dress, but their head-dress is shaped like a sugar loaf, and has a kerchief or piece of stuff tied round it with the ends hanging down. The houses of the Dukhobortsy are like the peasant’s houses of Southern Russia. On the outside they are decorated with wood carvings representing a little horse, a man on horseback, a cock, etc; the interior is always extraordinarily clean; the walls neatly adorned with embroidered towels, samplers, popular pictures and other knick-knacks.

Their carts are very like those I was in East Prussia – great ladder wagons, ie. with the sides not made of solid boards, but of rails sloping outwards. A telega (“wagon”) of this kind will hold twenty persons, and even a twenty-first can find a corner.

Doukhobor wagon, Vereshchagin, Le Tour du Monde.

The village abounds in beehives, and a good bee master will make as much as a hundred rubles a year out of his honey. Besides honey they sell yarn and linen cloth, and in good years other products, especially potatoes and corn.

The soil is somewhat stony, but nevertheless bears good crops. They sow oats which yield ten-fold, or even fifteen fold; wheat and barley do not succeed so well as oats; buckwheat does well; millet, again, not so well. They also grow good crops of spelt. From hemp seed they extract an oil which they use for food, and also bring to market. Their potatoes and linseed are nothing to boast of.

Sketch of Doukhobor merino sheep, Vereshchagin, Autobiographical Sketches.

The Dukhobortsy in the village of Slavyanka, with 205 houses, have about 7,000 head of cattle. Their horned cattle, a cross between the native and the Black Sea breeds, have a splendid appearance. Their sheep, too, which they call shpanki, and which probably come from Spain or the south of France, deserve notice: their wool fetches from eight to nine rubles the pud, while the natives in the neighbourhood only get three, four or five rubles for theirs.

It is evident that the Dukhobortsy are thriving; it is only of their neighbours that they complain. About these neighbours – ie. the Tatars and the Armenians – they express themselves in very severe terms.

The only difference between them is that the Tatars have recourse to robbery and murder, while the Armenians deceive you and cheat you on every opportunity. There is no end to their tales of robbery and murder.

“It is only since the arrival of the new governor of the district,” say the Dukhobortsy, “that we have begun to live in any tolerable manner; before that we had no chance against the Tatars. They robbed us in open day; they would seize you, bind your hands behind your back, and hold a dagger to your throat while others drove off the cattle. It is useless to think of getting satisfaction or appealing to the law; if you do, you are summoned before the court from your work just when the day is worth a ruble, and have to go into the town merely to learn that the thieves have not been discovered. “So sign this paper, little brother, so that we may have no more charges brought on this score.” And there the matter ends. When you undertake a journey, your friends do not know whether they will ever see you again; and if you come back safe from even the shortest excursion you say, “The Lord be praised!” If a night passes quietly, without a single theft being committed, we all thank God and think, “Perhaps we shall get through the day too without any misadventure.”


On August 10, 1865, while en route from the town of Shusha to the town of Kazakh in Elizavetpol province, Vereshchagin passed through the Doukhobor village of Slavyanka. He stopped there for several days, during which time he conversed with his Doukhobor hosts, visited their homes, sketched a number of subjects and scenes, and observed their state of affairs and way of life.

The Russian painter found a population of 600 male Doukhobors living in 205 households in Slavyanka in 1865. Presumably, there was comparable number of female Doukhobors living there at the time.

Vereshchagin noted that the mountain lowlands of Slavyanka had a temperate climate and fertile soil with trees and vegetation in abundance. Having arrived there from Tavria twenty years earlier, the Doukhobors, through hard work and diligence, had adapted to their surroundings and become “thriving” and “prosperous”. Their homes were finely decorated and extraordinarily clean. They built flour mills (sketched by Vereshchagin), kept an abundance of beehives, maintained a herd of 7,000 cattle as well as extensive herds of sheep (sketched by Vereshchagin), planted sizeable grain fields, pasturage and market gardens, and operated oil presses. They also engaged in the cartage trade (their wagons were sketched by Vereshchagin) and marketed their surplus grain (oats, wheat, barley, buckwheat, linseed, hemp, millet and spelt), vegetables (potatoes and corn) and honey as well as yarn and linen cloth. Indeed, the Doukhobor settlement of Slavyanka was “so well built and arranged as to be an object of envy” of all their neighbours.  Few, if any, would have cared to return to Central Russia from whence they came.

The Doukhobors complained only of their neighbours – the native Tatars and Armenians – who treated them with great cruelty, constantly robbing them and sometimes going to the length of murder. Until recently, the local Tsarist administration had proven ineffective in protecting the Doukhobors; however, under the new district governor, peace and order had begun to prevail.

Vereshchagin made note of the distinctive form of Doukhobor dress, which he was told was a “genuine Russian costume” yet was not found anywhere else in Russia. The men (sketched by Vereschagin) wore white shirts, stuck soldier-wise into their long and broad trousers, with a short, embroidered jacket with a stand-up collar, and caps with broad peaks. The women (sketched by Vereshchagin) wore ordinary Russian dress, but had a unique head-dress shaped like a sugar loaf, with a kerchief tied round it with the ends hanging down.

The Russian painter wrote approvingly of the Doukhobors’ simple, honest way of life as well as their general morality, noting that acts of theft and cheating were virtually unheard of. He noted, however, that the Doukhobors’ growing material prosperity had resulted in a softening of their religious principles. For instance, they were more obedient to Tsarist authorities than they had been in past generations. They had also abandoned their strict prohibitions against drinking, smoking and swearing. They recited their prayers by rote, with little understanding of their spiritual meaning, and when asked to explain them, gave only obscure answers. Moreover, some of the prayers, handed down orally over the generations, had been so corrupted “as to make the most ridiculous nonsense”; this was no doubt exacerbated by the systemic illiteracy among the Doukhobors, who kept no books or records.

Vereshchagin gave a concise summary of Doukhobor religious philosophy, which rejected church institutions, sacraments, sacred books, icons, saints and clergy in favour of a simple, individual-based religion founded on egalitarianism, love and compassion. He noted the Doukhobor belief in the indwelling of God in every person, as well as their figurative, rather than literal, interpretation of the Trinity – God the Father – memory; God the Son – understanding; God the Holy Ghost – will.

Vereshchagin described the Doukhobor form of worship in extensive detail. On Sundays, the service was held in a peasant’s house. The men stood on one side of the room and the women on the other. They repeated their prayers in turn, correcting each other when one made a mistake. After a considerable time, the congregation went outside into the courtyard, where the men again took their places on one side, and the women on the other. An elder stood at the head of the men, who then led the congregation in singing. The sad, melancholy strains of the Doukhobor psalms made a profound impression. After some time, the congregation then formed a semicircle, bowing and kissing each other, the men passing along the men’s ranks, and the women doing the same on their side, all the while continuing their singing. Once this was finished, the service is over and the congregation returned to their homes.

Vereshchagin’s impressions of the Doukhobors, through his writings and sketches, are among the few rare sources of detailed published information about them in the two decades following their settlement in the Caucasus. As such, his work is a valuable contribution to our understanding of this little-known, little-document period of their history.

As for Vereshchagin himself, he returned to the Paris Salon in 1866 to exhibit his very first drawing, which, quite fittingly, was “Doukhobors Chanting their Psalms”. The next year, he accompanied the Russian military expedition to Turkestan, where he was granted the rank of ensign and was awarded the Cross of St. George for his heroism at the siege of Samarkand. He was an indefatigable traveler, returning to St. Petersburg in late 1868, to Paris in 1869, back to St. Petersburg later in the year, and then back to Turkestan at the end 1869 via Siberia. In 1871, he established an atelier in Munich, and made a sole exhibition of his works at the Crystal Palace in London in 1873. He made another exhibition of his works in St. Petersburg in 1874. Later that year, he departed for an extensive tour of the Himalayas, India and Tibet, returning to Paris in 1876. With the start of the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), Vereshchagin left Paris and returned to active service with the Imperial Russian Army. Thereafter, he settled at Munich, where he produced a series of sensational works aimed at promoting peace through representing the horrors of war. In 1882-1883, he again traveled to India, followed by Syria and Palestine in 1884. Vereshchagin was in the Far East during the First Sino-Japanese War, with the American troops in the Philippines, and with the Russian troops in Manchuria. During the Russo-Japanese War, he he sailed aboard the Russian flagship, Petropavlovsk, which on April 13, 1904, struck two mines and sank, taking down with it most of the crew including Vereshchagin.

Remarkably, almost eighty years later, there were still Doukhobors alive who were able to recall Vereschagin’s visit to Slavyanka. In his book, Dukhobortsi: Ikh Istoria, Zhizn I Borba (Regehr, North Kildonan, 1948), Doukhobor historian and philosopher Peter N. Maloff (1900-1970) retells his grandmother Malasha I. Maloff’s (1856-1943) recollections about the Russian artist’s visit to her village:

Many years later, a little before her death, I was reading her a booklet by a well-known writer, V.V. Vereshchagin, under the title of “Doukhobors and Molokans’.  As she listened, she suddenly became transported with delight, as though she recalled something from the distant past.  “My god!” she exclaimed, “this happened at our home, in Slavyanka.  Right after [actually, before] the Turkish war, my father-in-law brought him from Ganzha, a clean, attractive gentleman he was.  He stayed with us for several days.  He heard some Doukhobors singing at our neighbours’ at a funeral and said: “I would like to hear some more of your singing.”  Then the melodious Agafonovs took him to their home and, gathering the Slavyanka choir together, sang for him for several days.  We had real singers there: Mavrunya and Masha Strelyaev, the Nichvolodovs, the Konkins and many others. Heavens!  Who ever thought that he was going to write a book about us.

Today, over twelve sketches of the Doukhobors, drawn by Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin in 1865, are kept at the Tretyakov State Gallery in Moscow, Russia.

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of “Vassili Verestchagin: Painter-Soldier-Traveller, Autobiographical Sketches”  by Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin (F.H. Peters, trans., London: Bentley, 1887), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

Travels in the Caucasus and the Armenian Highlands, 1875

by Gustav I. Sievers and Gustav I. Radde

Gustav Sievers and Gustav Radde were Russian-German naturalists and explorers who toured the Caucasus and Armenian highlands in 1875. During their expedition, they visited the Doukhobor villages of Orlovka and Gorelovka in the Akhalkalaki district of Tiflis province. They kept a journal and recorded their impressions of this encounter, which they published as “Vorläufiger Bericht über die im Jahre 1875 ausgeführten Reisen in Kaukasien und dem Armenischen Hochlande von Dr. G. Radde und Dr. G. Sievers” in “Petermann’s Geographische Mitteilungen” Vol. 22 (H. Haack, 1876). Available in English for the first time ever, this translation provides the reader with an extraordinary first-hand account of the Doukhobors during this little-known period of their history. Translated by Gunter Schaarschmidt exclusively for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Foreword and Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.


Gustav Ivanovich Sievers (1843-1898) was a Baltic-German naturalist and explorer. After working at the universities of St. Petersburg, Heidelberg and Würzburg, he obtained a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. From 1869 onward, he was librarian of the Tiflis Public Library and taught at the Tiflis Gymnasium. At the same time, he pursued the study of entomology, in particular, rare beetle species. From 1869 to 1875, he undertook a number of expeditions through the Trans-Caspian and Caucasus regions with Gustav Radde and published scientific articles about their travels.

Gustav Ferdinand Richard (“Ivanovich”) Radde (1831-1903) was a Prussian-born geographer and naturalist. He formally studied medicine and pharmacy at the university there. At the same time, he privately studied botony and zoology, which became his chief interests. In 1852, he emigrated to Russia and undertook explorations in the Crimea from 1852 to 1855 and in Siberia from 1855 to 1860. In 1860, he was appointed Conservator of the Zoological Museum of the Imperial Acadamy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. Following expeditions to South Russia in 1860 and 1862, in 1863, Radde was appointed Assistant Director of the Tiflis Physical Observatory. In 1864, he received a commision from the Chief Viceroy of the Caucasus to conduct an extensive expedition of the Caucasus, of which he published numerous scientific papers. In 1868, Radde became the Director of the Tiflis Public Library.

Gustav Ivanovich Radde (1831-1903).

In the spring of 1875, Sievers and Radde organized an expedition of the Caucasus and Armenian highlands with Dr. Oskar Schneider of Saxony for the purposes of geographical and natural historical study. While en route from Tiflis to Alexandropol, they visited the Doukhobor villages of Orlovka and Gorelovka. What follows are their detailed observations about the Doukhobors they encountered and their way of life.

As long as the road was relatively good, we moved forward rapidly and gradually ascended in the Akhalkalaki Plain up to the high-altitude source of the Kirkh-bulak that allows this creek (brook) to flow down towards the north. Lake Khanchali-göl is situated towards the southeast and is shallow and already partly overgrown at its edges. After arriving at the Kirkh-bulak source we turned quickly in a southeasterly direction and, not far from the edge of the lake near the Turkish border, continued straight on. Here the traveller finds himself at the lowest altitude of the road, yet still at an altitude of 6,000 feet above sea-level. The soil resembles the heaviest black steppe loam of the Black Sea lowlands. Due to the frequent rainfalls the soil was softened to such an extent that the carriage moved very slowly and we reached the Doukhobor village Orlovka only in the afternoon.

The sect of the Doukhobors that had been settled in these high and rough regions since the middle of the 1840s has transformed these areas that were originally used only as pasture lands by Tatar nomads into fine cultivated areas. That was accomplished in spite of the various natural obstacles including the nuisances caused by the vicinity of the Turkish border. To be sure, agriculture in this region is possible only in the limitations of a rough Nordic environment. There is no guarantee in any given year that wheat will ripen while crops like barley and rye thrive very well. Because of the abundance of haymaking and the inexhaustible summer pastures cattle-breeding enjoys excellent existential conditions.

The traveller enters this land of the Doukhobors with great joy: here he finds villages in the Russian architectural style with pointed gable houses and with carefully tilled fields over a very wide area giving testimony to the diligence of the inhabitants. The stork’s nests in the villages remind the traveller of home. In addition, he will find in the Doukhobors’ homes not only an exemplary order and cleanliness including in the solicitously tended beds but also all sorts of pleasant signs of affluence and even floriculture on the window sills. By nightfall we covered the route to the large village of Gorelovka and stayed there overnight.

In this village resides Lukeria Vasil’evna Tolmashova [sic. Kalmykova], a widow in her thirtees who enjoys the special esteem of all Doukhobors who, as it were, consider her to be the decisive adviser in all interior affairs of the sect. She had just returned from a journey to Elisavetpol and was festively received by the younger Doukhobor males and greeted with songs and gun salutes. All of us paid her a visit towards evening. On the outside her estate resembles a rich farmhouse in Northern Germany and is marked by an unusual tidiness and cleanliness. At the entrance of the house we were received by a giant of a man – he was the executor of our hostess’s orders. The rooms again were marked by an exemplary cleanliness and a comforting degree of a certain luxuriousness that, to be sure, does not at all result in sumptuousness but nonetheless guarantees a very pleasant existence to the inhabitants and goes beyond the mere satisfaction of everyday needs. Very soon there appeared our hostess, a strong, tall woman whose facial features pointed to an erstwhile beauty and whose figure just barely stayed within the limits of the permissible corpulence.

The road to Orlovka village in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, much the same today as when Gustav Sievers and Gustav Radde visited it in 1875. A Panoramio photo by Dimit. 

The Doukhobors (literally: Spirit Wrestlers, or without thinking of Gutzkow’s novel, Die Ritter vom Geiste [“The Knights of the Spirit]) started out as a sect of the Greek-Catholic [i.e. Orthodox] Church in the middle of the last century. It is rumoured that as early as in the year 1740 a retired soldier in Kharkov Province is reported to have spread a doctrine that does not recognize any symbols of the Greek Church and wishes to worship only in the spirit. In the year 1750 we find the beginnings of this doctrine in Ekaterinoslav Province but not until 1768 there followed a public announcement in Tambov directed at the government by a sect that did not want to recognize either a church built by the human hand or icons or any external cult [i.e. ritual] but wished to worship only an invisible spirit, living Christ. Already during the rule of Empress Catherine the government was required to use force against part of the sect that did not only aim at an apostasy from the Church but gave reason to fear that they could incite serious and general unrest. At the same time the government was tolerant towards the peaceful adherents of the sect. However, eventually the tension of the orthodox congregations in connection with the apostates must have increased to such an extent that Tsar Alexander I gave permission for the resettlements of the Doukhobors to Tavria Province, not far from the Sea of Azov in the area of the Molochnaya River. Under the benevolent government of Alexander I the Doukhobors at the Sea of Azov had become well-to-do and, especially after the ukaz [“decree”] of December 8, 1816, had remained unmolested. This ukaz stipulated that the planned renewed resettlement of the sectarians be canceled; that the persecutions carried out against them (particularly until 1801) had turned out to be devoid of success and purpose; that the judgments of the concerned governors in whose regions the Doukhobors resided had all been laudatory; and that there should therefore be no thought of renewed persecution but, on the contrary, every effort should be made to spare them any unnecessary limitations and denigration. Only in the year 1830, under the reign of Tsar Nicholas, it was ordered that the Doukhobors be resettled into Transcaucasian lands. The main resettlement process took place in the years 1841 to 1845 and resulted in the eight settlements in the above mentioned region near the Turkish border that carries the name of Dukhoboria.

These Doukhobors thus have no churches, no saints, no priests, no written tradition, and no oral daily prayers, nor do they make the sign of the cross. They do chant a number of doctrines named psalms that from generation to generation have become part of the oral tradition. They maintain, however, that their belief is very ancient, that it is the only correct one of all the belief systems on earth, and that it ranks 78th among all such belief systems. The Doukhobors conduct their joint services in some room of a private home, greet one another in the name of God, sit down with the women separated from the men, and, after an elder has started, the psalms either individually or in chorus. Later they join hands and, by bowing to one another, they believe to have shown reverence to the holy God whose image they represent. They then kiss one another.

In the copious work that I envisage I will return to the Doukhobors, Molokans, Subbotniki (Russian Judaists), Pryguny (Jumpers, Leapers) in more detail; I want to mention here only that the settlements existing especially in Doukhoboria are far better off than those in the Caspian Lowland, not far from Lenkoran. The main reason for this is that the natural conditions in Doukhoboria quite closely resemble those in Central Russia and that therefore the new settlers were able to continue living in their long familiar ways. By contrast, the lush lowlands at the border of the hot Mugan Steppe differed in every respect from those in the homeland of the exiled peoples so that the climate decimated them and they are now complaining about the lack of descendents and keep on wishing that they could leave the area again – as I have learnt about all of this via my own eyewitness perception.

View Doukhobor Villages in Georgia, 1841-Present in a larger map  


While en route from Tiflis to Alexandropol, Gustav Sievers and Gustav Radde visited two Doukhobor villages in the Akhalkalaki district. On the afternoon of June 22, 1875, they traveled from Lake Khanchali to the village of Orlovka, where they briefly stopped. From there they continued east, reaching the large village of Gorelovka in the evening. They stayed overnight there and departed the next day. During their stay, they conversed with their Doukhobor hosts and observed their way of life.

The naturalist-explorers observed that the mountain highlands of Dukhoboria – the “land of the Doukhobors” – were inhospitable, “high” and “rough” at an altitude of 6,000 feet above sea-level. Subject to frequent rainfall, where spring came late and winter early, there was no guarantee that wheat crops would ripen. Despite this, they noted that the Doukhobors had transformed the region into “fine cultivated areas” of barley and rye, which thrived there. They had also developed extensive cattle breeding to take advantage of the abundance of haymaking and summer pastures.

Sievers and Radde wrote approvingly of the Doukhobors, who through “diligence” and hard work had adjusted to the adverse conditions and whose villages presented an “unusual order and cleanliness” and even “affluence” that gave the traveler “great joy”. They were particularly impressed with the Sirotsky Dom, the Doukhobors’ main spiritual and administrative centre, where they were billeted for the night, which was marked by “exemplary cleanliness” and a “comforting degree of a certain luxuriousness” that made for a pleasant experience. They had an audience with Doukhobor leader Lukeria Vasil’evna Kalmykova, whom they described as a “tall, strong woman”, an “erstwhile beauty” and a “decisive advisor”; interestingly, they witnessed the festivities that followed Kalmykova’s return from a visit to the Elizavetpol Doukhobors.

The Russian-German scholars reiterated the ‘official’ history of the Doukhobors, noting their origins in 18th century South Russia, their resettlement to Tavria in the early 19th century, and their exile to the Caucasus mid-century. They outlined the Doukhobor belief system, including the absence of churches, saints, priests, liturgy and sacraments. They also described a Doukhobor religious service held in a private village dwelling, in which the men site separately from the women, psalms were sung, followed by bowing to one another, which they may have witnessed during their stay.

Sievers and Radde’s writing are among the few, rare sources of published information about Doukhobor settlement in the Caucasus in the mid- to late-19th century.  As such, their work is a useful contribution to our overall understanding of this period of Doukhobor history.

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of the original German text of Gustav Sievers and Gustav Radde’s work, “Vorläufiger Bericht über die im Jahre 1875 ausgeführten Reisen in Kaukasien und dem Armenischen Hochlande von Dr. G. Radde und Dr. G. Sievers”in Petermann’s Geographische Mitteilungen, Vol. 22 (H. Haack, 1876), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

Ivan G. Samarin – The Great Molokan Communicator

Molokan Review

Ivan Guryevich Samarin (1857-1948) – the “Great Molokan Communicator” – helped the Doukhobors and Molokans leave Russia at the turn of the last century. For this he was imprisoned. Samarin obtained a 99 year military exemption for the Molokans in America. He published “Spirit and Life, the Book of Songs and the Book of Prayers”. Reproduced from the pages of the Molokan Review, 1949.

The subject of this sketch was born in February 1857 in the village of Mikhailovka, Kazasch district, Elizavetpol province, Russia (present-day Azerbaijzan). his parents were Gurii Prokofievich Samarin and Lukeria Ustinovna Makarova, residents of the same village. Samarin’s education was sketchy. One old man had taught him for two months to read the old Slavic script; also for two months a friendly soldier taught him the art of writing, and a wandering peddler instructed him in the use of Arabic numerals and simple arithmetic. In those days pencils were unknown. Samarin used a slate and a tin stick, or a goose-quill, with which he wrote on coarse paper with ink made from hazelnuts.

Then in 1873, while still very young, he married Aksinya Pakhomovna Abakumov, daughter of Pakhom Pavlovich Abakumov and his wife Fedosia Fedorovna Titkova. Two years later he was engaged as a public scribe of his village. Then, having improved his ability to read and write at the office of the Justice of the Peace and the Police Commissioner, he was charged, in addition to his regular duties, with the compilation of charts showing the number of livestock at the neighbouring villages.

In 1879 and 1881, Samarin petitioned the authorities for permission for the Molokans to move to Kars and Transcaspian provinces, and he made arrangements for seed grain to be advanced to them. In 1881 Samarin himself moved to Kars province (present-day Turkey) and became scribe in four Doukhobor villages there.

Blue Marker = Molokan Village, Red Marker = Doukhobor Village View Larger Map

When Lukeria Vasilyevna Kalmakova, leader of the Doukhobor sect, died in 1886, a dispute arose concerning the Orphan’s Home (the spiritual, administrative and financial centre of the Doukhobors). Samarin, not neglecting his official tasks, aided Kalmakova’s successor, Peter ‘Lordly’ Verigin, in this controversy, preparing numerous documents on behalf of Verigin and his followers, a service that necessitated much travelling throughout the province of Tiflis (present-day Georgia). Petitions prepared by Samarin were submitted to the Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaevich, the Tsarevich and his mother the Empress, who at that time were residing in Abastuman. 

Samarin was also instrumental in placing the Doukhobor litigation into the hands of a Tiflis attorney and in moving Vasily Lukianovich Verigin (Peter Verigin’s father) to Kars province. He had written many letters to the Verigin brothers and other persecuted Doukhobors who were living in exile in Arkhangel province, giving them advice and comfort. These and similar labours were continued by Samarin until the time when the Doukhobors proclaimed their intention to abandon all earthly pursuits and enter into a new spiritual life.

In 1893, Samarin moved to the village of Novo-Petrovka in the province of Kars where he built a turbine flourmill and engaged in the milling business. In 1897 he compiled a house-to-house statistical report on five neighbouring villages for his authorities. This task was completed with characteristic speed in three days.

At the request of his Molokan brotherhood, Samarin went in 1899 with Filipp M. Shubin to consult the Canadian consul at Batum on immigration possibilities. Later they visited Moscow to investigate Canadian laws on compulsory military service. In 1900 Samarin and Shubin visited St. Petersburg and petitioned the Emperor either to free the Molokans from military service or to grant them permission to migrate from Russia, like the Doukhobors. In June of the same year, with P.M. Shubin and F.S. Bychneff, he departed for Canada on an inspection tour for lands suitable for settlement. In the course of their journey they crossed the United States border and examined some land in Wisconsin, especially near Milwaukee. In Canada they visited various localities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, then proceeded to Ottawa, capital of the Dominion of Canada. There, they received a guarantee from the Canadian Government freeing Molokans from military service for 99 years, and a land grant for 160 acres per family, together with other concessions. In the autumn of the year named, they returned home and read a report of their journey at ten Molokan villages

Molokan immigration document.

Immediately after this, Ivan G. Samarin and Nikolai I. Agaltsoff went to St. Petersburg to learn the result of their petition, which they repeated in 1901. The net result of their insistence was the imprisonment of Samarin in a solitary cell of the Kars Prison, after many searchings and much questioning. There he was joined by P.M. Shubin. In a few months they were released on a petition by their sympathizers.

In 1902-1903, still lacking any official word from St. Petersburg, the Molokan community, after many conferences, decided to start the migration in small groups and family units. But instead of Canada, the Molokans decided to settle in the United States – in sunny California – whereupon the small parties of migrants commenced to move toward Los Angeles.

In the autumn of 1904, I.G. Samarin left Novo-Petrovka and arrived in Los Angeles in February 1905. After inspection of several plots of land with Vasily G. Pivovaroff and Mikhail S. Slivkoff, they made local arrangements for transportation credit for other Molokans to travel from New York to California. On May 10 of the same year they negotiated a large loan with the bank and with private individuals (the Mennonites in Kansas City) for other groups which were travelling through countries where cash expenditures were required.

Next, Samarin and Pivovaroff found and bought for the Brotherhood a plot of land in Guadalupe, Lower California, Mexico, where Pivovaroff made his home. Meanwhile, M.S. Slivkoff busied himself with arranging his new life, and the entire task of helping the migrants was left in Samarin’s hands.

The first which received help were five groups travelling through Argentina and five travelling through Panama. The Panama groups received transportation reduction amounting to $15.00 per fare (also one group arriving through San Francisco) and five groups travelling through Canada saved $12.00 on each fare. Considerable help was given to the migrants at Galveston, Texas, Bremen, German and Liverpool, England. Some cash remittances were made for the migrants stranded at Mazatlan and Manzanillo, in Mexico, and money and food were sent to those detained in quarantine in San Francisco.

In March 1906, Samarin, on behalf of his fellow Molokans, travelled to Mexico City and personally received the guaranties of religious freedom and suspension of customs duties for the Molokan colony at Guadalupe. Then he carried protracted negotiations regarding land grants in Lower California, at Rosario with Taras P. Tolmasoff and other Molokan representatives, and at Santa Rosa with P.M. Shubin, Ivan K. Mechikoff and many others.

In 1913-14, after many conferences, the Molokan community decided to make an effort to leave Los Angeles and take up farming. in connection with this project, which was later abandoned, I.G. Samarin and Joseph P. Kariakin prepared, on behalf of the community, an extended petition to the President of Uraguay.

In 1917, Samarin, Shubin and Pivovaroff represented the Molokans before the proper U.S. authorities with regard to the military draft which was incompatible with the Molokan religion, and in this connection, they personally visited the White House and the Russian Embassy in Washington. In 1918, Samarin further petitioned the U.S. Government to allow the Molokans to donate money to the Red Cross instead of buying war bonds – again on religious grounds. In 1922, he also compiled various documents for the Molokan representatives in Peru. In 1927-1929, Samarin and Shubin prepared petitions to diplomatic representatives of Turkey and Persia (Iran) in America, on behalf of fellow Molokans residing in these places, and in 1930, he wrote to the Secretary of Agriculture in Washington regarding lands open to settlement in the United States.

Exact reproduction of one of the pages of Rudometkin’s writings – not enlarged nor reduced.

In 1920 and 1924, Samarin organized with the enthusastic help of all fellow Molokans, the Russian Molokan Aid Society which had extended help to the famine-stricken communities in the Caucasus and Transcaspian provinces in Russia. This society sent clothing, shoes and food – flour, beans, etc, as well as money. These shipments were of vast help to the sufferers and literally saved many lives. The Molokan community opened its purse and heart to this appeal, contributions being received from all members of all ages and of both sexes. In addition, in 1931 and through 1938, large cash contributions were solicited for the destitute refugees in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. In connection with benevolent activities, Samarin conducted a large correspondence and rendered all other possible help.

In 1915-1917, Samarin edited and published the book Spirit and Life, which contained the writings of Molokan Maxim Gavrilovich Rudometkin, written by him in monastary imprisonment in 1858-1877. These writings were smuggled out of Russia by Alexei Sergeevich Tolmacheff, concealed in loaves of freshly baked bread. These were written not only in a very small hand, but partly in the old Slavic script, as shown in the picture herewith. Samarin had spent countless hours deciphering these pages, often with the help of a magnifying glass, and preparing them for publication.

In 1928-1930, Samarin issued the second printing of the book. At the same time he published the Book of Songs and the Prayer Book for the Spiritual Molokans.

Having spent 75 years in blissful marraige with Aksinya Pakhomovna, he sorrowfully bade her a last earthly farewell on May 29, 1948. Exactly six months later, on November 29, he rejoined her, thus ending his earthly wanderings. Both passed on in Los Angeles at the ripe age of 92. Thus was written the last chapter of the unselfish life of this outstanding scholar and historian, the indefatigable leader of his people who left undying memories in the hearts of his countless friends and followers.

All his work after 1879 was performed by Ivan G. Samarin without thought of personal gain, but solely out of love for his people. In his passing, the Molokan community has lost one of the most active labourers in God’s Vineyard, as well as an outstanding leader who guided his people to happiness, peaceful life and physical and spiritual well-being.

Notes from the Molochnaya, 1855

by Alexander Petzholdt

Alexander Petzholdt was a German scholar who toured the Molochnaya region of Tavria, Russia in 1855.  During his expedition, he visited the villages of Rodionovka and Terpeniye, formerly inhabited by the Doukhobors.  He found their once clean and orderly villages in a dilapidated state, and their once resplendent garden park neglected and overgrown.  Petzholdt kept detailed notes of his observations, which he later published in “ Reise im westlichen und südlichen europäischen Rußland im Jahre 1855: Mit in d. Text gedr. Holzschr. u. Kt” (Griesbach, 1860; pp. 222-223, 225-227).  Available in English for the first time ever, this translation provides the reader with a brief, rare, first-hand account of the physical legacy of the Doukhobors on the Molochnaya, ten years after their expulsion.  Translated by Gunter Schaarschmidt exclusively for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.  Foreword and Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. 


Alexander (George Paul) Petzholdt (1810-1889) was a Saxon-German scientist and traveller-explorer. After studying at the universities of Leipzig, Berlin and Giessen, he practiced medicine and pharmacy in Dresden from 1838 to 1846.  At the same time, he pursued the study of geology and plant chemistry.  From 1846 to 1872, he was a professor of agriculture and agricultural engineering at the University of Dorpat (now Tartu) in the Baltic region of the Russian Empire.  During this period, Petzholdt undertook extensive expeditions throughout the Empire on behalf of the Russian Government and published a number of books based on his travels.

In the year 1855, Petzholdt received a commission from the High Ministry of Public Education to conduct an expedition of southwestern Russia. To this end, he traveled throughout the provinces of Mogilev, Chernigov, Kiev, Ekaterinoslav, Tavria, Kharkov, Kursk, Orel, Tula and Moscow.  During his stay with the Mennonite colonists on the Molochnaya River in Tavria, Petzholdt visited several villages formerly inhabited by the Doukhobors, who had been expelled to the Caucasus ten years prior. What follows are his detailed observations about the state and condition of their former villages.

Alexander (George Paul) Petzholdt (1810-1889).

During my stay with the Mennonites on the Molochnaya River I also visited the village of Astrakhanka formerly inhabited by Molokans and the villages of Terpeniye and Rodionovka formerly inhabited by Doukhobors.

The Molokans and Doukhobors are exceptional Russian sects that in their own words “have abolished in its entirety the sensual divine service in order to find and acquire the pure spiritual Christian faith”; therefore they do not have any churches, icons, crucifix etc. Nonetheless, this search for the pure and spiritual Christian faith does not prevent the most severe moral excesses and, especially in the case of the Doukhobors, the most extensive atrocities. Because of this, the Government which has been otherwise most tolerant in religious matters had to do its utmost in order to subdue this sect. In the following I will try to supply the reader with an approximate understanding of the nature of these interesting sects. In this I will follow Haxthausen’s treatise [August Freiherr von Haxthausen, “The Russian Empire, its People, Institutions and Resources” (2 vols) (London: Chapman and Hall, 1856)] for the description of their history and matters of faith.

The time of the rise of these sects is obscure but the Molokan sect is probably older than the Doukhobor sect. The latter probably arose from, or was at least generated and inspired by, the former. At present only Russian peasants are the followers of both sects.

. . .

Concerning the Doukhobors, their name is said to go back to Bishop Ambrosius of Ekaterinoslav who in 1785 engaged in an investigation of their belief system; the name roughly means “spirit or light combatants”. While the Doukhobors adopted this name they interpreted it to mean “spirit or light wrestlers” (the Russian language allows such a double meaning); they were also called “iconoclasts”.

They appeared first in Ekaterinoslav Province but spread soon to all parts of Russia. In 1801 about 30 families settled from Ekaterinoslav with Tsar Alexander I’s permission to the right-hand side of the Molochnaya River. Since this small colony, having no enemies or oppressors, flourished very fast, Doukhobors from all regions of the Empire descended upon this area and settled there with the Government’s permission. They founded nine villages in this way and had formed a population of about 4,000 members before being exiled. The most significant of their settled villages were Terpeniye, the location of the Doukhobor leader, and Bogdanovka.

The Doukhobors’ teachings form a complete theological and mystic-philosophical system filled with magnificent views and consisting of a considerable inner cohesion.  [What follows is a lengthy footnoted quote from Haxthausen describing the Doukhobors’ spiritual teachings. After the footnoted quote, Petzholdt continues:]

Molochnaya River beside Terpeniye village, much the same today as when Alexander Petzhold visited it in 1855. A Panoramio photo by Matryoshka

When the Doukhobors had resettled to the Molochnaya in 1801, their leader Kapustin, whose origin and former life are completely obscure, introduced a complete community-held property management system. The fields were cultivated collectively in accordance with his arrangement, the harvest was distributed to all, storage facilities were set up for hungry years, etc. Various industrial branches developed, gardens were laid out and soon put the young villages into a most prime condition. However, when after Kapustin’s death his son, Larion Kalmykov, took over the leadership of the Doukhobors with its ensuing gravest excesses and atrocities, the Russian Government stepped in.

In 1834 a commission was set up that completed its investigation in 1839. As a result all Doukhobors were exiled to the Caucasus. In 1841 the most aggravating heads of households and their families (800 persons) were exiled, in 1842 another 800 persons followed, and in 1843 finally the last 900, thus 2,500 persons in all [in fact two more groups of 900 persons each were exiled in 1844 and in 1845]. Only those who, realizing their erroneous ways, converted to the correct belief and entered into the womb of the Orthodox Church, were allowed to stay in their villages as the owners of their lands. Crown peasants from other regions, Little Russian and Great Russians [Ukrainians and Russians], were resettled into the vacated villages, e.g., to Terpeniye and Rodionovka etc. I therefore did not find Doukhobors any longer when I visited these villages in 1855.

Concerning the condition of these villages at the time when I saw them, it seemed to me that their condition was better under Doukhobor management than now; this is certainly true of Terpeniye where one can still sense the former prosperity that has now gone to ruin. Terpeniye is situated on the right side of the Molochnaya on the high embankment of that small river – the village stands out due to its beautiful park that was created and carefully tended by the Doukhobors. Especially coming from the Mennonite colony Altona, one can see Terpeniye from afar due to its high location on the slope of the mountain range of younger tertiary limestone that extends along the Molochnaya.

The shaded and cool park beckons the traveler of the steppe already from far away. Since this plantation is the oldest in the area we naturally also find the tallest trees here. This Doukhobor park setting is very romantic and bestows on Terpeniye a special attractiveness because it does not have the pedantic regularity of the Mennonite park settings that significantly prevents one from getting the impression of being in a forest. In addition there is the God-given presence of water that wells forth everywhere from the limestone mountains and that was used by the Doukhobors in the irrigation of the park land on the slope but mostly speeds uninhibitedly and with a murmur towards the Molochnaya in the shade of leafy trees. Simple benches had been installed everywhere and beckon us to sit and linger. There is the most magnificent view from the highest point of the park onto the steppe. This contrast is apt to place the beauty of this locality into the best of lights. Because of such an abundant source of excellent fresh water, which is lacking all around, a cold-water spa had been built that, however, lacked patients and of course also a physician when I visited the place. Instead, the place was heavily populated by all sorts of song-birds that had taken refuge to this oasis. At least to my taste these birds formed a hundredfold substitute for the disgusting activity as we usually find it in a West European spa.

Historic photo of local Russian and Ukrainian residents at the garden park at Terpeniye, 1905. At the time of the photo, it was still recalled that Doukhobors had established the park a century earlier.  Photo courtesy Alexander Chukhraenko.

After ascertaining that it was going more and more back to the wild after the Doukhobors could no longer tend to it, the garden park in Terpeniye has become the responsibility of the overall Mennonite supervisor of the administration of the Berdyansk crown model plantation.


In his tour of Tavria province in 1855, Alexander Petzholdt visited two of the villages formerly inhabited by the Doukhobors: Terpeniye, situated on the right bank of the Molochnaya River; and Rodionovka, situated at the confluence of the Tashchenak River and the Molochnaya River estuary. The Doukhobors themselves no longer lived in the villages they had founded, having been exiled to the Caucasus region ten years prior. Nevertheless, the physical landscape of the Molochnaya still bore their imprint, and their memory was still kept by local residents.

Petzholdt reiterated the ‘official’ position – documented by Haxthausen – that the Doukhobors were exiled to the Caucasus because of undefined crimes and excesses committed while they lived on the Molochnaya; however recent historical scholarship has cast doubt on the veracity of these accusations. Petzholdt probably included this as a nod to his benefactors, the High Ministry of Public Education, to ensure the further financial backing of his expeditions. These comments are counterbalanced, somewhat, by Petzholdt’s own observations about the industry, efficiency and hard work of the Doukhobors, as well as the “magnificent views” and “considerable inner cohesion” of their spiritual beliefs.

The German scholar wrote disapprovingly about the physical state of the villages he saw. Under Doukhobor management, the villages had been clean, orderly and in “a most prime condition”. However, a decade later, the former prosperity had now “gone to ruin” under the habitation of Crown peasants from other regions and the villages had become dilapidated. Petzholdt noted with particular disappointment how the once-beautiful garden park at Terpeniye, a veritable “oasis” on the steppes, created and carefully tended by the Doukhobors, was now neglected and overgrown. Petzholdt is one of very few writers to make reference to the Terpeniye springs and park.

This would not be Petzholdt’s only brush with the Doukhobors.  In 1863-1864, while touring the Caucasus, he would meet a convoy of Doukhobor teamsters in the Tiflis district hauling freight to the German colonies. He would also visit the Doukhobors living in the Borchalo district, where he observed their living conditions and way of life. For more information, see Doukhobors in the Caucasus, 1863-1864.

Petzholdt’s writings are among the few, rare sources of published information about the physical legacy of the Doukhobors on the Molochnaya after their expulsion to the Caucasus. As such, his work is a useful contribution to our understanding of this little-known period of Doukhobor history.

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of the original German text of Alexander Petzholdt’s work, Reise im westlichen und südlichen europäischen Rußland im Jahre 1855: Mit in d. Text gedr. Holzschr. u. Kt (Griesbach, 1860), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

Doukhobors in the Caucasus, 1863-1864

by Alexander Petzholdt

Alexander Petzholdt was a German scientist and traveller-explorer who toured the Caucasus region of Russia in 1863-1864. In Tiflis district, he met a convoy of Doukhobor teamsters hauling freight to the German colonies. Later, he visited Doukhobors living in Borchalo district. Petzholdt kept a journal and recorded his impressions of these encounters, which he published in “Der Kaukasus: Eine naturhistorische so wie land- und volkswirtschaftliche Studie (ausgeführt im Jahre 1863 und 1864) (H. Fries, 1866). Available in English for the first time ever, this exclusive translation provides the reader with a remarkably rare and detailed first-hand account of the Doukhobors during this little-known, little-studied period of their history. Translated by Gunter Schaarschmidt for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Foreword and Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.


Alexander (George Paul) Petzholdt (1810-1889) was a Saxon-German scientist and traveller-explorer. After studying at the universities of Leipzig, Berlin and Giessen, he practiced medicine and pharmacy in Dresden from 1838 to 1846.  At the same time, he pursued the study of geology and plant chemistry.  From 1846 to 1872, he was a professor of agriculture and agricultural engineering at the University of Dorpat (now Tartu) in the Baltic region of the Russian Empire.  During this period, Petzholdt undertook extensive expeditions throughout the Empire on behalf of the Russian Government and published a number of books based on his travels.

Petzhold first discovered the Doukhobors in 1855, while on an expedition of southwestern Russia for the High Ministry of Public Education.  During his stay with the Mennonites on the Molochnaya River in Tavria, he visited the villages of Rodionovka and Terpeniye, formerly inhabited by the Doukhobors, who had been expelled to the Caucasus ten years prior.  The physical landscape of the Molochnaya still bore the strong imprint of the Doukhobors; however, the German scholar found their once clean and orderly villages in a now-dilapidated state, and their once-beautiful garden park in Terpeniye neglected and overgrown.  For more information about Petzholdt’s expedition, see Notes from the Molochnaya, 1855.

Eight years later, in 1863, Petzholdt received a commission from the Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich, Governor of the Caucasus, to conduct an expedition in that province.  There, in the German village of Marienfeld (now Sartichala) in Tiflis district, he encountered a convoy of Doukhobor teamsters whom he mistook for Germans because of their well-built wagons, good horses, German harness, German clothing and cleanliness. “I offered the first carter a cheerful good morning; the man looked at me with surprise and gave no answer. I was told that they were not Germans but Doukhobors who, before being exiled to the Caucasus, had been long-time neighbours of the Mennonites in the Molochnaya area and had learned alot from the Germans.”  They were Doukhobors from the Akhalkalaki district.

The following year, in 1864, Petzholdt travelled from Tiflis via Katherinenfeld (now Bolnisi) to the Doukhobor village of Bashkichet (now Dmanisi) in Borchalo district, which he visited twice.  He also visited neighbouring Doukhobor villages in the district; while he did not mention them by name, these would have been the villages of Karaklisi (now Vake) and Ormasheni (now Kirovisi). What follows are his detailed observations of the Doukhobors of Borchalo district – their state and condition of life.

Concerning the Russian colonies of the Doukhobors and Molokans, one can find these in many areas of Transcaucasia. Even though only a few of these colonies are located in favourable areas, almost all of them are found in such an excellent condition that the traveller is fond of recalling his visit there: he remembers having made the acquaintance of industrious, orderly, and intelligent people.

It is well known that the Doukhobors and Molokans are Russian sectarians that [allegedly] engaged in acts of violence of the grossest kind. The latter is true in particular of the Doukhobors. Such [alleged] acts of violence aroused the justified displeasure of the government and led to the sectarians’ exile to the Caucasus.

Earlier they had inhabited a number of villages on the Molochnaya River in Tavria province in the immediate vicinity of the estates occupied by the “Mennonites on the Molochnaya”. The sectarians thus enjoyed the great advantage of learning from the Mennonites, who served as their mentors. The sectarians lived in this area in great wealth as everyone who had the opportunity of getting to know them testified. I myself had seen their deserted villages in the year 1855 and can only agree that the people who had lived there were efficient and tidy.

Alexander (George Paul) Petzholdt (1810-1889).

But, as I already indicated, various [alleged] excesses on their part forced the government that was otherwise very tolerant in religious matters to take severe measures against these sects. As a consequence of these measures, all Doukhobors and a large part of the Molokans were exiled to Transcaucasia in the years 1841 and 1842. Only those who saw their wrong ways and converted to the correct faith by entering into the bosom of the Orthodox Church, were allowed to remain in their old settlements and in the possession of their estates. The deserted villages were resettled with crown estate peasants from other areas (Ukraine, Central Russia) while the exiled were assigned land in various areas of Transcaucasia for the establishment of new villages.

Since they had been sent to the Caucasus as a punishment, it goes without saying that they were not assigned the most fertile lands; on the contrary, they received in part very inhospitable areas and were forced to adjust to the conditions as well as they could. Those Doukhobors who were assigned their future place of residence in the plains of the Western part of the Akhalkalaki district near the Turkish border were worst off: this area is situated almost 3,000 feet above sea-level, traversed by low mountains that receive an early snow-fall, is only open towards the Turkish side, and gives the impression of a dead wasteland. The Doukhobors in the upper part of the Mashavera Valley [in the Borchalo district] had a somewhat better deal, as did the Molokans in the Shemakha district and on Lake Gokcha (now Sevan); the Molokans in the Bambak (now Pambak) Valley between Delishan and Alexandropol had the best deal.

The Doukhobor village of Bashkichet (now Dmanisi), much the same today as when Petzholdt visited it in 1864. A Flickr photo by AutumLilee.

I myself was able to view only the sectarians’ villages located in the Bambak Valley, on Lake Gokcha, and on the road between Nukha (now Shaki) and Shemakha as well as the villages on the upper part of the Mashavera River [in the Borchalo district]. I was unable to view the state of the Doukhobor colonies in the Akhalkalaki district in person since I did not get there during my Transcaucasion travels. I only saw Doukhobors of the latter area on the road.

At the beginning of these remarks I have already praised the condition in which I found the Doukhobors in Transcaucasia, and I will refrain from any further details. As far as I was able to observe, they are efficient, hard-working people who keep their entire household in good order. With the kind of skill and obedience that is innate in the Russian personality, they have adjusted as well as possible to their new conditions which are after all quite distinct from their previous ones. They pursue farming and cattle-raising both of which support their needs. However, the Doukhobors of the Akhalkalaki district had been assigned a most unsuitable settlement area where neither farming nor cattle-raising was worth while, and they therefore had to resort to other sources of income. As I have already stated, I did not visit their villages. And so it is with great interest that I read the description of the living conditions of these Doukhobors by an anonymous author. Indeed, I may be permitted to relate the most essential details of this interesting treatise in an excerpt because our ‘Anonymous’ has lived with these people for a longer period of time and became accurately acquainted with their doings.

Doukhobors living in the mountain lowlands of Borchalo district enjoyed a more moderate climate, fertile soil and better growing conditions than their brethren settled in Akhalkalaki district highlands. A Flickr photo by Rita Willaert.

After first describing the location, the so-called Dukhobor’e (land of the Doukhobors), our Anonymous writes:

[What follows is a lengthy quote from the anonymous article, The Dukhobortsy in Transcaucasiain the Baltic journal Baltische Monatsschrift (Volume 11, Riga: Jonck & Boliewsky, 1865). The quote begins in the section “Geography and Climate”, second paragraph and ends at the end of the section “Customs and Practices”, with many omissions in between.  After the quote, Petzholdt continues:]

When I stayed in [the town of] Akhaltsikhe, the Doukhobors, especially those from the villages Goreloye and Spasskoye, pleaded with me to come to them and to convince myself that they had been allotted too little land. They were hoping that I could intervene with the authorities in Tiflis to give them more land and especially land suitable for pasture. They stressed that they had already made that request many times but there had been no results. Unfortunately, I was unable to accept their call. Considering all the facts supplied by the above Anonymous, one would wish that the authorities would offer these people the means to pursue cattle-raising and thus to be able to support themselves by other means than the ones they have available now.

View Doukhobor Villages in Georgia, 1841-Present in a larger map


In his tour of the Caucasus, Petzholdt found a population of 7,000 Doukhobors living in thirteen colonies, namely one (he erred as there were three) in the Borchalo district; four in Elizavetpol district; and eight in Akhalkalaki district.  He only visited those living in the former, and not the latter two districts.  He also found a population of 23,000 Molokans living in thirty-eight colonies, namely six in Tiflis district; five in Elizavetpol district; seven in Novo-Bayaset district; two in Alexandropol district; and eighteen in Baku province – of the latter, eight were located in the Shemakha district, three in the Shusha district, and seven in the Lenkoran district.

Petzholdt noted that the Doukhobors were assigned insufficient, barren lands in very inhospitable areas of the Caucasus and were forced to adjust to the conditions as well as they could.  Those assigned to the mountain highlands of the Akhalkalaki district, a “dead wasteland” situated almost 3,000 feet above sea level, were worst off.  By comparison, those assigned to the lowlands of Borchalo district, situated at a lower altitude with a more moderate climate, fertile soil and growing conditions were somewhat better off. 

Petzholdt wrote approvingly of the Doukhobors as an “industrious, intelligent, efficient and hard-working” people whose character and whose “clean, orderly and excellent” villages reflected the influence of their Mennonite mentors. At the same time, he admired the skill and obedience “that is innate in the Russian personality”, which enabled the Doukhobors to adjust as well as possible to the adverse geographic and climatic conditions of the Caucasus.  

Nonetheless, Petzholdt reprimanded Doukhobors, Molokans, and Germans alike: “they live in isolation and keep to themselves so that it is not surprising that they have not yet been able to exert a noticeable influence on their environment.” He went on to quote from Karl Koch’s book, “Wanderungen im Orient” (Weimar, 1846-1847) which states: “Concerning the Doukhobors and Molokans (of the Shemakha district): “Like the German colonists, the influence of these industrious people on the original inhabitants of the area is by far not as benevolent as one might think. Unfortunately, they refrain from socializing with people of different persuasions and even the mere touching of one of their vessels by one of the latter is enough grounds to throw the vessel away.”

Petzholdt reiterated the “official” position that the Doukhobors were exiled to the Caucasus because of undefined crimes and excesses committed while they lived on the Molochnaya River in Tavria province; recent historical scholarship has cast doubt on the veracity of these accusations.  This was probably included as a nod to his benefactor, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich, Governor of the Caucasus, to ensure the further financial backing of his expeditions. It is counterbalanced, somewhat, by Petzholdt’s adjuration to authorities to provide the Doukhobors (particularly those of Akhalkalaki district) with sufficient land to support themselves by means of cattle-raising; at the time they derived their only means of income through cartage – the transport of goods by horse and wagon for hire.

Petzholdt’s writings are among the remarkably few sources of detailed, published information about the Doukhobors in the two decades following their settlement in the Caucasus.  As such, his work is a valuable contribution to our understanding of this little-known and little-explored period of Doukhobor history.

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of the original German text of Der Kaukasus: Eine naturhistorische so wie land- und volkswirtschaftliche Studie (ausgeführt im Jahre 1863 und 1864) (H. Fries, 1866), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

The Dukhobortsy in Transcaucasia, 1854-1856

by Heinrich Johann von Paucker

During the Oriental (Crimean) War (1853-1856), Imperial Russian Army regiments stationed on the Caucasian Front were billeted in Dukhobor settlements. One such soldier was Heinrich Johann von Paucker, a young Baltic German military cadet quartered in the village of Rodionovka.  Paucker kept a journal and recorded his observations of his Dukhobor hosts, with whom he came in regular contact. Having a keen ethnographic eye, he documented the geography and climate, historical background, religious beliefs, customs and practices and religious services of this unique people – virtually unknown to western members of the Russian Empire. His account was published anonymously in German as “Die Duchoborzen in Transkaukasien” in the Baltic journal “Baltische Monatsschrift” (Volume 11, Riga: Jonck & Boliewsky, 1865, pp. 240-250); republished under his name in the German journal “Deutsche Rundschau für Geographie und Statistik” (Volume, 4, Lepzig: October; November 1881, pp. 18-21; 66-69). Available in English for the first time ever, this exclusive translation provides the reader with an extraordinarily rare, in-depth glimpse into this little-known period of Doukhobor history, for which few other published sources exist. Translated by Gunter Schaarschmidt for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Afterword and editorial comments by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

When roaming through the Great Russian Empire in its more distant parts, one comes upon ethnic groups and religions that are not known at all, or only known by name, to we Western members of the Empire. These groups and religions still offer the investigator a large scope for study. Included in these groups is the sect of the Dukhobortsy in Transcaucasia with whom I came in frequent contact during the last Oriental War [Russian name for the Crimean War, 1853-1856] because the regiment in which I had the honour of serving had been assigned to their villages for a base-camp during the winters of 1854-1855 and 1855-1856. This small ethnic group which dwells so far from the Motherland at the border of European civilization (one could almost say outside this civilization) was of such great interest to me in its isolation that I felt obliged to record my observations in writing. Perhaps they deserve a more general interest, too, especially since everything concerning the Schism in Russia [the Raskol or splitting of the Orthodox Church into an official church and the Old Believers movement in the 17th century] is covered by a veil of secrecy that has been lifted only in very recent times.

Geography and Climate

The land of the Dukhobortsy, the so-called Dukhoborye is located in the Western part of the Akhalkalakian circle and occupies the entire plain adjoining the Turkish border. This plain, almost 3,000 feet above sea level and traversed by low mountains that are covered by early snowfalls, is open only towards the Turkish side and gives the impression of a lifeless desert. The snow usually begins to fall in September and disappears in March but sometimes lingers into April. Nonetheless the cold is moderate and seldom exceeds 10-12˚ Réaumur [-12.5˚ to -15˚ Celsius]. But the amount of snow is quite significant and it is so loose that drifts are caused by the slightest of winds and this drifting snow can at times last for several days in a row. In the winter 1854-55 an entire village was literally buried by such a violent storm and there was not enough manpower to shovel away the snow mass, so that it became necessary to tear away the straw roofs of the stables in order to drop food and water through the openings for the animals.

The inhabitants don’t have much of a summer – in the short season they have to hurry to bring in the hay crop and prepare for the winter months. The hay is usually stored in the backyard in large bundles. The Dukhobortsy employ a strange unit of measure when they sell hay: they sell it by the cord – the price is approximately 9-12 rubles depending upon the amount and the quality of the hay. Hay is extremely important as a merchandise among the Dukhobortsy since their only source of [outside] income are loads of hay delivered for Crown and private enterprises. The Dukhobortsy keep relatively few cattle although the latter would be very necessary for them because the Kisyak or manure must be used in these bare, woodless steppes not only as a heating fuel but also for construction – you don’t find any wooden buildings at all. The walls of the houses are produced simply from Kisyak cut into blocks and are carefully whitewashed. There is no ceiling; instead there is a plain roof consisting of rafters and covered with a thick layer of straw. Nonetheless the huts are roomy and bright. The local Kisyak does not give off heavy fumes when heating, like among the Armenians, probably because the Dukhobortsy dry it very carefully and store it wrapped in straw in a shelter – a process that the Armenians should copy from their neighbours.

There is no way to grow grain [wheat] in these areas although the inhabitants have never tried to grow it and most probably spared themselves unnecessary labour. The land here seems really not capable of producing anything but grass. The impression of this lifeless steppe is very sad – there are miserable individual villages but no forest, no field, no garden or lawn, in some places there are meagre vegetable gardens in the yards. The inhabitants must buy the necessary grain for their consumption from the bazaars of Akhalkalaki or Alexandropol which are approximately 60-70 versts [an Imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 1.0668 kilometers] away. The climate is on the whole very unhealthy: people suffer often from fevers and many die from typhoid every year. However, many doctors are of the opinion that the diseases are rather the result of the close living quarters and the damp dwellings than of the unhealthy climate.

Historical Background

The Dukhobortsy attract our attention because of their religion that differentiates them both from the Greek Orthodox Church and from the other sects of Russia as well as because of the mysterious nature of their religion. One could call them the Quakers of the Greek church since like the latter they believe in the direct effect of the holy spirit; their main teachings, however, consist in their peculiar conceptualization of the soul, the mind, and the heart. They do not possess any written records that would elucidate their religious beliefs. These are laid down only in their oral tradition. But since the individuality of each person who hands down the tradition plays an important role, their dogmas are not as clear as seems to be the case with other sects. If the authorities had found a written record among them in the years of persecution, such a record would of course have been incontrovertible evidence of heresy.

The 16th and 17th centuries in Europe were a time of general turmoil and politico-religious revolutions; Russia, too, was not exempt from this. In Russia, the revision of the parish registers by Patriarch Nikon caused different interpretations (tolki). The so-called Old Believers adhered to the [old] ritual to the letter and sought to maintain the sanctity and inviolability of the Orthodox Church. However, others became opposed to the dogma itself – this trend eventually led to the formation of the Dukhobortsy sect. The many foreigners that the Tsar had called into Russia no doubt contributed to feeding the spirit of the religious disputes by importing many ideas from their old country into their new home country.

In the first years of their existence the Dukhobortsy, i.e., Spirit-Wrestlers, formed a single sect with the Ikonobortsy, i.e., icon-wrestlers, because like the latter the Dukhobortsy rejected icons as attempts at idolatry; later, however, when they intensely developed the teaching of the effect of the holy spirit, they separated [from the Ikonobortsy] and adopted their present name. The Dukhobortsy derive the origin of their belief from the three boys in the fiery stove mentioned by the prophet Daniel [the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Daniel 3:1-30] but designate a certain Siluan Kolesnikov, who lived in the village of Nikolskoye in the Province of Ekaterinoslav at the end of the last century, as the founder of their belief system. However, while they recognize Kolesnikov as a famous religious hero, others maintain that their sect had been founded already at the beginning of the 18th century and that its origin was in the Province of Tambov. It seems that the latter view is more correct because even though their traditions begin with Kolesnikov, these traditions existed already earlier and were widely spread in the southern provinces of Chernigov, Kursk, Kharkov, Ekaterinoslav, Voronezh, Tambov and Saratov. The Dukhobortsy, like all dissenters, had to endure severe persecution and oppression until a new star rose for them with the government of Alexander I.

In the year 1801 the government considered it necessary to resettle the adherents of this sect to a more distant area. For this purpose the Dukhobortsy were allotted a huge segment of untilled land called Molochnye Vody [Milky Waters] in the Province of Tavria in the district of Melitopol as a new residence. At first only 30 families were sent there. They started tilling the land with great zeal. Soon rumours about the free and happy life of the new settlers reached those left behind and caused them to ask for permission to move there as an entire group. This permission was granted. As a result the Dukhobortsy formed a colony consisting of 9 (nine) villages in the Crimea. The names of these villages can still be found today in the Caucasus, e.g., in the Akhalkalakian district: Bogdanovka, Troitskoye, Spasskoye, Rodionovka, Tambovka, and Goreloye, or, near Bashkichet or Elizavetpol: Akimovka, Terpeniye, and Gavrilovka. The Dukhobortsy reproduced so vigorously that by the year 1832 their number had grown to 800 families with 4,000 members of both sexes.

They could have lived happily and contentedly in Tavria especially since they excelled in considerable work ethic and good management but soon the old spirit of rebelliousness and of religious fanaticism was stirring among them. They began to interpret their resettlement to the Crimea as an apocalyptic event, openly preached their faith, and were disobedient to the authorities. Thus, for example, they refused to supply recruits to the Governor General of Kherson by arguing that those recruits would have to swear an oath of allegiance which oath would be prohibited by their religion. Punishing them achieved nothing so that the authorities arrived at an agreement that under such circumstances they would accept the Dukhobortsy’ word of honour. The numerous complaints and remonstrations by local authorities finally led to a decision in 1841 to resettle the sectarians to Transcaucasia, which decision was carried out in the same year.

Religious Beliefs

Let us now examine more precisely the religious notions of this sect. What is peculiar is their development of the doctrine of the Trinity and of Christ’s person. While they believe in a triune God [God in three persons], He reveals himself as such only in the human soul: God the Father in the power of memory, God the Son in the wisdom of reasoning, and the Holy Ghost in volition and conation. Their [the Dukhobortsy’] conception of the entire earthly life of our Saviour is symbolical and they interpret this life as a mystical habitation of Him in man’s heart. In accord with their doctrine He is conceived and born from the words of Archangel Gabriel in the soul of every person. Here He preaches the word of truth, suffers, dies, and rises again from the dead. Therefore even those who have never read the Gospel or heard about Christ must recognize His inner workings because Jesus is the human conscience that teaches everyone to distinguish between good and evil.

Furthermore, the Dukhobortsy are convinced that not only Christians but also Jews, Muslims, and non-believers enter the kingdom of heaven and that on Judgment Day all people will rise from the dead in spirit. Concerning the Day of Judgment, the torments of hell will consist in the eternal pangs of conscience. The soul is God’s image but after the fall of man the image disappeared, memory was weakened and man forgot what he had been before, reasoning became deadened, and the will was no longer governed by the Holy Ghost and thus turned towards evil.

The biblical story of Adam and Eve is regarded by the Dukhobortsy as a symbolic image of our earthly existence. The soul had already fallen earlier, before the creation of the world, together with the other evil angels. The world was created only as a prison to which they were transferred for their sin. Thus sin came into the world not with the fall of man but Adam and Eve were themselves already created as sinners. This teaching underlies the commandment not to mourn the deceased because they have been pardoned and death has redeemed them from wandering on this earth. They see in Abel’s fate the persecution of the just by the unjust or the Cains; [they see] in the march of the Israelites through the Red Sea and in the decline of the Egyptians the perdition of the sinners and the salvation of the believers.

They completely reject the sacraments; likewise they have no clergy and do not even attribute any importance to the decrees of the general councils which otherwise are recognized by most sects of the schism. They reverence the saints and apostles of the Greek Church as mere humans who, although born in sin, led a life pleasing to God. They consider crossing oneself a useless ceremony and therefore refrain from doing it; neither do they pray for their fellow-men and enemies; and they do not even mention those “who have power over us” in their prayers because everyone already has enough to pray for himself.

An important doctrine in practice is that of the equality of all people. Thus there are no masters and servants among the Dukhobortsy but only completely equal “brothers”. For this reason the children call their father simply “elder” and they call their mother “keeper”; the men use the term “sisters” when addressing their wives while the latter call their husbands “brothers”; none of them use the term “Dad” which is otherwise so popular in Russian because, as they say, all people are brothers, only God alone is our father. As an expression of thanks they use the phrase “may God help you”. They do not bear arms and further consider war a sinful and unjust activity, citing in support the doctrines of love and compassion in the Gospel as well as the Seventh Commandment. This view of religion demands that its adherents live in larger communities so that in case of someone’s mishaps everyone can help the individual. They must also avoid quarrelling and any kind of brawl as well as using indecent or abusive language. And while they must not drink wine or spirits, curiously they are allowed to smoke tobacco which is so taboo among the Old Believers. They do not practice fasting.

Once an elderly Dukhobor recounted to me a very charming symbolic story which I will try to render here in its entirety:
“Far, far away from here, in a region inaccessible to the human mind, there is an azure ocean and in that ocean there is an island. Once in a while, muffled in thick fog, it reveals itself to the seafarer but constant waves stir the ocean and prevent man from setting foot on the island. This ocean and the island represent human destiny which, obscure and dark, lies ahead of us until man forces his ship through the wild surf into the quiet harbour of death. On the island there is a high temple which is not man-made and has been here from the first day of creation. The vault [ceiling] rests on as many pillars as there are religions in the world. At every pillar there is a person who is in the process of professing the religion represented graphically on the pillar. One single pillar is made of pure gold – it is the symbol of the pure and true belief in God who created the island as well as heaven, earth, and water. All the other pillars are made of stone representing the false wisdom of the human spirit petrified in his sins. All these pillars including the golden one are covered with marble representing the ignorance of man that deprives him of an unobstructed view into the light of divine doctrine. And while nobody is able to see the gold, everyone tells the other that he is holding the golden shaft of belief in his hands. Centuries pass, the world ages oppressed by the wrath of the Creator of all things. And then comes the hour of the general and terrible decline – the billows of the ocean wallow blood and fire, the sky collapses, the earth’s joints tremble violently, and the magnificent temple, not man-built, falls. The marble chips off and the golden pillar glitters and it alone illuminates the entire world where there is only darkness and agony. Now all men recognize the gold and fall on their faces blinded by the light of divine truth. Woe to those who held a stone shaft in their hands while those who listened to their inner Christ will be saved because only in Him there is salvation. We are all blind and do not know who is holding the gold of true belief in his hands.”

Customs and Practices

Let us say a few words about the outward appearance of our Transcaucasian Dukhobortsy, about their practices and customs, and their domestic life! Most of them are tall and robust; all men, except the old ones, shave their beards leaving just a moustache. They cut their hair and, together with their clothing consisting of wide trousers and a cloth jacket, thus resemble the looks of the Germans who had settled in Transcaucasia. When you see one of these Russian sectarians drive by on a covered wagon with iron axles and harnessed with two horses, you could easily mistake him for a German colonist. The female sex deserves the epithet “fair sex”; however, it is not the usual type of a Russian village beauty, i.e., of robust health; rather in the pale, oval faces of these girls and women there is a somewhat nobler expression that harmonizes splendidly with their cleanliness, grace, and carefully selected clothing. The latter consists of a white, often very elegant chemise with wide, stitched sleeves and a coloured skirt; their head is covered by a low round small cap very artfully made of various coloured triangular flaps. Their hair is clipped a little in front – the married women hide their hair at the back under the cap, while the girls wear braids. The women are very industrious, get up early and, before sunrise, have already taken care of everything connected with domestic chores after which they usually busy themselves with some or other needlework. In the evenings they very much love socializing and gather under whatever pretext in someone’s house where before long the young lads show up and they spend the evening with work, fun, and laughter.

The character of the female sex is marked by a considerable vivacity and frivolity so that even marital fidelity is not held in high esteem among them. The passion for dressing up has contributed a lot to the decay of morals. The men view their wives’ conduct with lenience and do not on their own accord seek to punish them for being unfaithful. Incidentally, if one of the women goes too far and does not know how to hide her amorous adventures properly, she is subjected to a harsh punishment: she is led naked through the village streets and is pelted with excrement and dirt. Such a case occurred during our stay in Rodionovka and the procedure was stopped only through the intervention of the troop commander.

On the whole, the Dukhobortsy do not attribute any importance to matrimony. To get married requires only the good will of two adult persons of different sex, mutual love, and the parents’ consent. The transaction on such an occasion is roughly the following: the relatives and acquaintances of bride and bridegroom gather in the house of the bridegroom’s or the bride’s parents where the oldest family member pronounces the two man and wife, without any further promises or even written contracts. As a result divorce is very easy because just the simple desire of the married couple to get divorced is sufficient. After the completion of the divorce both parties are completely free. In spite of being so easy, however, divorce is a rare occasion.

In the old days the Dukhobortsy were known for their diligence and their good management but nowadays little has remained of that except a certain cleanliness and orderliness. In the Crimea they practiced extensive agriculture as well as cattle- and horse-breeding. Likewise they possessed large flocks of sheep and practiced the art of weaving. When they resettled to Transcaucasia they had to give up all of this because in many respects the character of the new region was not conducive to continuing these former activities. In this deserted steppe where trade was dominated by a few enterprising Armenians, there was no choice but to devote oneself to [wagon] cargo transporting since it was the most lucrative form of income.

This on the whole lazy life, we believe, has produced the now dominating addiction to alcoholic beverages which, after all, are forbidden by the doctrine of this sect. In Dukhoborye everyone, men, women, boys, and girls, drinks very heavily. No meeting proceeds without some hard drinking. When they visit one another, they sit down at a large table and discuss their everyday concern with a glass of brandy. The more they drink the more solemn and concentrated they become until their mood gives vent to the singing of an Old Testament psalm. Rocking back and forth, supporting their heavy heads with their hands, they keep sitting until one of them begins: “Oh brothers!” After that nothing makes sense any more since all words get absorbed by a lengthy monotonous screaming of the chorus.

Notwithstanding their drunkenness the Dukhobortsy are very frank and honest – they do not steal nor do they break their word of honour. Since they never swear oaths they instead value a simple promise that much more.

Like all Russian sectarians the Dukhobortsy, too, believe in religious customs: every morning, before and after a meal as well as at night before going to bed, the entire family forms a circle and the head recites aloud the Lord’s Prayer or a psalm.

Religious Services

Finally we shall say a few words about their divine service. Every person, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and non-believers, can visit the Dukhobortsy’ house of prayer because of their tenet that man cannot desecrate God’s temple by his presence but only by bad deeds. On a bright winter day on a holiday we set out to attend a divine service. The crowd of the devout, all in festive clothing, presented a very friendly picture. We joined the procession that was moving to the end of the village where the house of prayer was located. We entered with all the others. At the entrance the crowd divided – the men lined up to the left, the women to the right, apparently according to age. The room where we found ourselves was furnished in a very simple manner; at the far end there was a wooden table with salt in a wooden salt barrel and bread; otherwise there were no further ornaments.

After everyone had been seated as assigned, the choir leader began the psalm: “Thus speaks the Lord, the God of Israel” etc. whereupon the choir joined in. It is very noteworthy that their sacred songs consist of different biblical texts that are often taken out of context and occasionally arranged in a meaningless way. After the end of the singing the second-eldest stepped in front of the table, took the hand of the eldest, and both of them twice bowed very low to each other, then they kissed and bowed for the third time. After that the third stepped forward and began the same procedure with the former two, and then that procedure made the round, first for all the men and then the women. In spite of the long duration of this ceremony we had waited for it to end and, leaving the house, we addressed an elder with the request to explain to us the significance of those bows and kisses. He replied: “One must worship God’s image in one’s fellow man because man represents God on earth.”

Because of this doctrine the Dukhobortsy lapse into a peculiar form of idolatry in spite of the fact that they reject icons. That is because they select from their midst a handsome boy whom they call the “mother of God”, and whom they worship in superstitious awe like a deity. This custom may partially explain the demoralization of the female sex because this boy gathers around him a kind of court consisting of the young girls of all villages, and no girl can be wed without having spent some time there. It goes without saying that this mother of God generis masculini [Latin for “of the male sex”] is severely persecuted by the authorities but they seldom succeed in locating the boy in question and stemming this abuse.

In the above I have only attempted to put down my personal observations of a peculiar form of the Russian Schism and I implore the disposed reader not to try to measure this short sketch in terms of the standards of a thorough scientific treatise.


Heinrich Johann von Paucker (1839-1898) was a Baltic German from the province of Estonia in the Russian Empire. As a youth, he received an excellent classical education at Revel (now Tallinn) and Mitau (now Jelgava). In 1855, at age sixteen, he joined the Life-Guards Lithuanian Regiment of the Imperial Russian Army as a cadet and was immediately transferred to the Caucasian Front of the Oriental (Crimean) War.

In the Caucasus, Paucker’s regiment was billeted in the Dukhobor village of Rodionovka in the Akhalkalaki district of Tiflis province during the winters of 1854-1855 and 1855-1856. During his stay there, the young military cadet came to closely observe and study his Dukhobor hosts, with whom he came in regular contact. He kept journals, and with a keen ethnographic eye, recorded his detailed observations of this unique people, little known to western members of the Russian Empire.

At the time, the Dukhobors had been settled in the Akhalkalaki district for less than a decade, having been exiled there from Tavria province in 1841-1845. This relocation had brought about profound and rapid changes in the social, cultural and economic life of the Dukhobors, who were still adjusting to the harsh realities of their new physical environment, as well as the disruption wrought by the Oriental War, when Paucker stayed among them.

Paucker described in detail the geography and climate of Dukhobor’ye – the “land of the Dukhobors” (which, significantly, is the first recorded usage of that name). The climate, he noted, was overall very unhealthy and many Dukhobors, not yet acclimatized to their new surroundings, suffered and died from fever. There on the high mountain plateau, spring came late and winter early; there was no way to grow grain in the short season. The Akhalkalaki Dukhobors, he observed, had thus abandoned their traditional agricultural economy and relied on contracts for wagon transport and the sale of hay for income, with which they bought grain for their consumption in nearby market towns. At the time of writing, they had not yet established the large horse and cattle herds for which they would later become known. He noted also that there were no wooden buildings in the barren, treeless region; the Dukhobors had adapted by constructing their homes from bricks of dried cattle manure.

Recounting their history, Paucker identified the Dukhobors’ origins in the Russian Schism of the 17th century; a time of general religious turmoil when some dissenters, imbued with new ideas introduced by foreigners, rejected the dogma and authority of the Orthodox Church. He traced the growth of the sect from early 18th century Tambov and Ekaterinoslav, through the severe persecutions and oppressions of later that century, to their settlement in Tavria at the beginning of the 19th century, whereafter they enjoyed an era of peace, toleration and prosperity. Later on, stirred by a spirit of “rebelliousness” and “religious fanaticism”, they began to openly preach their faith and disobey the authorities, which led to their exile to Transcaucasia.

Paucker gave a concise summary of Dukhobor religious philosophy, which rejected church institutions, sacraments, icons and clergy in favour of a simple, individual-based religion founded on egalitarianism, love and compassion. He noted the Dukhobor belief in the indwelling of God in every person, as well as their figurative, rather than literal, interpretation of the Trinity. They refused to bear arms and avoided quarrels and abuse. They did not possess any written records about their beliefs, which, he observed, were passed down by oral tradition.

Of particular interest is Paucker’s description of the outward appearance and character of the Dukhobors. The Dukhobor men, he observed, were tall and robust with clothing resembling that of the German colonists in Russia. The same observation had been made by earlier writers, and it is generally accepted that the Dukhobor men adopted aspects of their dress from their Mennonite neighbours while living in Tavria. He noted the noble beauty of the Dukhobor women, and their industry, cleanliness, grace and carefully selected clothing, of which he provided a full description. In general, he found the Dukhobors to be orderly, frank and honest, but lacking the diligence and good management for which they were renowned in Tavria. He also observed that many Dukhobors had lapsed from their prohibition against alcohol, and now drank heavily.

Paucker observed that the Dukhobor community played an important role in reinforcing the behavior and morality of its individual members “so that in case of someone’s mishaps everyone can help the individual”. For example, he recounted how, as punishment for infidelity, a Dukhobor woman was led through the village streets and pelted with excrement and dirt. Inexplicably, however, he inferred from this incident that Dukhobor women generally did not hold marital fidelity in high esteem; a sweeping statement unsupported by the historical evidence.

Paucker discussed the religious customs of the Dukhobors, noting the importance of prayer in their daily lives and describing in detail their unique marriage ceremony and religious service. He also noted the Dukhobor custom of bowing to one another, in reverence to the spirit of God that dwells within each man; a custom he mistakenly confused for idolatry.

Finally, Paucker made note of a boy whom the Dukhobors held in inordinately high esteem; who held court in the villages, and whom they referred to as Bogorodets (masculine form of Bogoroditsa or “Mother of God”). While not identified by name, this could only have been Petr Ilarionovich Kalmykov (1837-1864), the youngest in a line of hereditary Dukhobor leaders dating back to the time of Kapustin. Paucker noted he was severely persecuted by Tsarist authorities, however, they seldom succeeded in locating him; presumably he was concealed by his followers. His account thus provides significant insights into the early life of this important historical personage.

Paucker’s writings are among the remarkably few sources of detailed, published information about the decade immediately following the Dukhobor exile to Transcaucasia; a little-known and little-explored period of Dukhobor history.  His work is thus an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the era.

As for Paucker himself, following the Oriental War, he was promoted to the rank of officer and transferred to the Light-Infantry Battalion in Riga in 1858. He was subsequently promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant. In 1860, he transferred to the Telegraph Corps and served as Chief of Telegraph Stations in Voronezh and later Yaroslavl. After receiving his discharge from the Imperial Russian Army in 1864, he settled in Wesenberg (now Ravkere), Estonia where he took up teaching and translation work. He also served as a civil servant for the Estonian Provincial Government. From 1865 until his death he published a large volume of translations and original works on various subjects.

Significantly, Paucker’s first published work was on the Dukhobors, which appeared anonymously (under the initial “K”) as Die Duchoborzen in Transkaukasien in the Baltic journal Baltische Monatsschriften in 1865. Anonymous publication was common in Russia at this time, as the state censorship regime was particularly severe and maintained a strict vigilance over the publication of written materials, removing or banning anything it considered even remotely ‘subversive’. Hence, many writers, fearing reprisals from Imperial censors, published their works under initials or pseudonyms.  Sixteen years later, in 1881, Paucker republished the article under his own name in the German journal Deutsche Rundschau für Geographie und Statistik.

Special thanks to Jack McIntosh, former UBC Slavic languages bibliographer, for identifying the anonymous author of the 1865 publication of Die Duchoborzen in Transkaukasien as being Heinrich Johann von Paucker.  

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of the original German text of Heinrich Johann von Paucker’s “Die Duchoborzen in Transkaukasien” in Baltische Monatsschrift (Volume 11, Riga: Jonck & Boliewsky, 1865, pp. 240-250), visit the Google Book Search database.

Tolstoy and the Doukhobors: Main Stages of Relations in the Late 19th & Early 20th Century

by V.O. Pashchenko & T.V. Nagorna

Most Doukhobors today are well aware of the historic relationship between Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and their forebears. However, surprising few modern Russians and Ukrainians know about the close connection between Russia’s greatest writer and the sectarians with whom he was a kindred spirit. The following article, written from a contemporary Russian and Ukrainian perspective, examines Tolstoy’s close cooperation with the followers of the Doukhobor religious community, as well as his moral and financial support of their emigration en masse to Canada in 1899. Reproduced from the Journal of Ukrainian History Vol. 3 (No. 468) (Kiev: Institute of Ukrainian History, 2006). Translated from the original Ukrainian by Khrystyna Hudyma exclusively for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.  Further translation and editing by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.  Click here for the original Ukrainian article.


The figure of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy hardly needs any additional comments: the famous Russian writer, public figure, person with an active position in the Russian Empire. However, some aspects of his public activity still remain unresearched. For instance, the fact that in 1897 Tolstoy refused the Nobel Peace Prize in favour of the Doukhobors is not well-known. As is the fact that funds raised by his publication of the novel Voskresenie (Resurrection) amounting to 32,360 rubles, Tolstoy transferred to the committee organizing resettlement of these Spiritual Christians abroad. Moreover, an average reader does not know about Tolstoy’s admiration of Doukhobor social practice, their way and peculiarities of life, and attitude to a range of different problems. The high level of social organization of Doukhobor communities allowed the writer to call them “people of 25th century”. Tolstoy borrowed these kind of thoughts, i.e. ideas of equality, priority of spiritual values, non-violence, which were too progressive for that time, from his communication with adherents of the Doukhobor movement. Taking this into account, special attention is focused on his relations with the followers of the Spiritual Christianity movement, communities of which were spread across Ukraine in the 18th-20th centuries. Furthermore, Doukhobors in the Russian Empire first appeared in the territory of Ukraine. Thus, there is information about them appearing and spreading in Kharkov and Ekaterinoslav provinces starting in the second half of the 18th century [1].

The definition of the term “Spiritual Christians” to signify this religious movement does not have unanimous agreement among modern researchers. This article utilizes this term in order to signify religious communities of DoukhoborsMolokans (“milk-drinkers”), Khristovery (“Christ-believers”) or Khlysts (“flagellants”) and Skoptsy (“castrates”). Followers of the aforementioned movements communicated with Tolstoy and his associates during second half of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century.

The Doukhobor movement at that time did not leave Tolstoy unmoved. In his articles published in 1895-1896, the writer appealed for help for the Doukhobors, called them “a phenomenon of extraordinary importance” and compared their force of influence with the appearance of Jesus Christ. Of course, such an idealization is not justified in the modern age; however Tolstoy, if we take his life position into account, had some ideological prerequisites for such assumptions.

This article attempts to trace the main stages of Tolstoy’s relations with the Doukhobors based on an analysis of his religious heritage, memoirs of contemporaries, research of late 19th-early 20th century literature, and published critiques.

This area is completely under-researched. However, some materials and books give us an opportunity to reconstruct the relations. First, correspondence between Tolstoy and Spiritual Christians was published by P. Biryukov in his work, “Doukhobors. Collection of articles, memoirs and other materials.” In his monograph “Biography of Tolstoy”, he managed to highlight the issues of Tolstoy’s close cooperation with Spiritual Christians [2]. Some aspects of Tolstoy’s activity in this area and peculiarities of the Tolstoyan movement are described in the articles of K. Grigoriev, I. Kronshtadsky, L. Tikhomirov, including articles published in Orthodox Christian publications in the 19th-20th centuries [3]. Of course, these publications are characterized by the negative attitude towards religious communities separated from the Russian Orthodox Church. Clergy and missionaries of the 19th century demonstrated a biased approach in depicting relations between Tolstoyans and Doukhobors; thus in the brochures of Ye. Bobrov and Father Nikanor, we find rather critical remarks about such cooperation [4]. Their main aim was to contradict the views of Tolstoy and to show his negative influence on the followers of Spiritual Christianity. L. Sulerzhitsky demonstrated a positive attitude toward the Doukhobors in his monographic research, viewing the main problems of resettling the faithful outside of the Empire [5]. This work is valuable in investigating the dynamics of Spiritual Christians starting from the second half of the 18th century, and the main stages of their development. Sulerzhitsky’s research is, in fact, comprised of abstracts from his notebook, where in a descriptive manner main stages of Doukhobors’ life in [North] America are portrayed. The artistic style of the material does not imply any deeper theoretical conclusions, but facilitates the accumulation of a large amount of actual data with interesting details about their life abroad.

Present day researchers do carry out some research in this area. A considerable contribution was made by V. Bonch-Bruevich, who tracked the main stages of Doukhobor immigration to Cyprus and Canada and also gave a positive portrayal of the role of Tolstoy and his associates in these events [6]. O. Yaroslavsky tried to trace the attitude of Tolstoyans towards the changes of the Soviet period, and traditionally, for a representative of Soviet historiography, was highly critical about this religious phenomenon [7].

Among other modern researches the one published by M. Zybarov and P. Planidin might be of particular interest. There is published correspondence between P. Verigin, a leader of the Spiritual Christians, and Tolstoy [8], which for a long time remained unknown to admirers and experts of the writer’s art. Today, 22 original letters from Doukhobors are stored in the department of hand-written funds of the L. Tolstoy State Museum.

Researches in this area are of vital importance considering the history of Spiritual Christians’ development and also as one of Tolstoy’s activities. One of the famous public figures of the Russian Empire was V. G. Chertkov, a close friend of L. Tolstoy. They became acquainted in 1883, but a year later, in 1884, for public speaking in defense of the religious communities Chertkov was exiled out of Russia. Consequently, he lived in Great Britain and not only was engaged in publishing (distributing L. Tolstoy’s essays banned by censorship, the “Svobodnoye slovo” newspaper, and the “Papers of “Svobodnoye slovo” collection), but also helped the Doukhobors resettle to Canada [9]. Another associate and close friend of Tolstoy was P.I. Biryukov, with whom the writer started to collaborate in 1884. P. Biryukov actively participated in preparations for the resettlement of Spiritual Christians to Canada. However, he also paid for that – beginning in 1898, he mainly lived abroad [10].

The faithful at the end of 19th century actually needed help. This is explained, first of all, by the peculiarities of Imperial legislation in the field of religion. According to then-current legal regulations, we can trace the change in state policy toward the aforementioned religious groups. Legal statutes which were published starting in the second quarter of the 19th century involved the eviction of Spiritual Christians to remote parts of the Russian Empire and also abroad [11].

Doukhobor Historical Development

Before we begin analyzing Tolstoy’s correspondence with the Doukhobors, let us dwell upon another related aspect, namely the main stages of the community’s development. It is worth mentioning that the dynamics of their number and peculiarities of development largely depended on external factors, i.e. Imperial legislation, missionary work, and influence from the ROC (Russian Orthodox Church). According to P. Biryukov, 1792 should be considered as the starting point of state-Doukhobor relations. That is the time when Ekaterinoslav governor, in one of his reports to St. Petersburg wrote that nothing connected with iconoclasm deserves any mercy [12]. He was talking about Doukhobors and Molokans who appeared at that time in Ekaterinoslav province. In his monographic work O. Novitsky suggests 1799 to be the time when authorities started paying attention to Spiritual Christians, who for a long time had influenced hearts and minds in Russia [13]. The last third of the 18th century witnessed trials against Doukhobors in Kherson province. Trials of the same kind took place against Mariupol and Ekaterinoslav Doukhobors under Kherson provincial administration. They were accused of spreading their doctrine on the streets and being accompanied by crowds.

The basis of Tsar Alexander I’s religious policy were the attempts to reduce Doukhobor activity, neither by introducing additional penalties, nor by diversifying the struggle against them, but by paying due attention to them and providing them some benefits and concessions. In 1801, Tsar Alexander I issued a royal edict, owing to which many Doukhobors were able to return home (Kharkov, Ekaterinoslav, and Kherson provinces) from Siberia and the Caucasus. A fact proving the aforementioned policy on religious communities was the closing of the Doukhobor case in the Izium court of law, which gained widespread publicity due to its promotion by local authorities.

Immediately afterwards, the Doukhobors submitted a formal request asking for a separate colony. O. Novitsky and P. Biryukov consider this to be a voluntary step, whereas O. Titov points out that they agreed to the resettlement following a lengthy period of negotiations [14]. In 1802, an Imperial Edict was published which allowed Doukhobors to settle along the Molochnaya River in the Melitopol district of Tavria province. Thus, Doukhobors from Kharkov and Ekaterinoslav provinces were exiled to the new colony, i.e. Ukrainian Doukhobors were given the priority, then came their peers from Russian provinces.

It is worth mentioning that mass relocations to Tavria province continued until 1817. In 1820, official permission to allocate an additional 5,236 acres of land to the Melitopol colonists was passed. That year, a ban was passed on further resettling, lasting, in fact, until 1824. The exact number of people exiled to Molochnye Vody is unknown. There is some information attesting that around 800 families amounting to 3,985 people lived in the Molochnaya River area in 1827 [15]. There is no evidence of Doukhobors being evicted by Alexander I to the Caucasus; however in 1821, 2,300 people already lived in Akhalkalak district of Tiflis province [16]. The percentage of Ukrainian Doukhobors among them is unknown. Nevertheless, we know that they were the first ones to be evicted. Thereupon, we can conclude that Ukrainian Doukhobors comprised the largest part of Molochnye Vody residents. Later on, Doukhobors from Voronezh, Tambov and Saratov provinces as well as from Azov, Ekaterinburg, Siberia and even Finland were settled there too.

Representatives of other Spiritual Christian branches, mainly the Molokans, also settled in the Molochnaya River area. This is due to a number of legal statutes aimed at regulating relations with other communities opposed to the Orthodox Church. After the eviction, only 59 Molokans were left in Ekaterinoslav region. However, according to an additional decree issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, they were also exiled to Molochnye Vody.

Thus, in the first quarter of the 19th century, the Molochnaya River area became a center of Spiritual Christians in Ukraine. Doukhobors who lived there were exiled in 1802-20 of their own will. The total number of Doukhobors amounted to 5,000 people; amongst whom 3,000 were from Ukraine. Along with them, Molokans also lived in this area founding their own colonies in Tavria province. Another center of Spiritual Christians from Ukraine became the Caucasus. Beginning in 1819, a considerable number of Molokans from Ekaterinoslav region was exiled there.

A characteristic feature of Doukhobors in the first quarter of the 19th century was their active engagement in dealings with the authorities. This is evidenced by the considerable number of petitions and appeals to the Emperor relating to the improvement of their socio-economic conditions. These kinds of appeals had been addressed by representatives of Spiritual Christians to Alexander I throughout the whole first quarter of the 19th century. Each appeal was thoroughly considered and properly by Alexander I, and he satisfied most of the requests. However, these concessions were of small importance.

Innovations in Russian imperial religious policy started with Nicholas I’s rule. He launched an authoritarian relationship model, and his policy towards Spiritual Christians was characterized as much tougher, compared to that of Alexander I. For instance, the faithful were limited in their rights; Doukhobors and Molokans were deprived of some of the privileges they used to have. Spiritual censorial committees and special commissions were created by the initiative of the Emperor to consider the crimes of Spiritual Christians.

The reason for such a “cooling” of relations was a sudden change in the domestic policy of the Russian Empire, which was reflected in the religious sphere of life. Thus, the monarch began to consider Spiritual Christians as particularly dangerous for the nation’s peace. The main examples of such an attitude are: the introduction of censorship surveillance, publishing guidelines for Doukhobors, a cruel attitude towards the faithful during legal investigations, an expansion of the possible exile territories (with extremely unfavourable living conditions), and prohibition of voluntary resettlement. Thus, the first years of Nicholas’ I rule witnessed moderate opposition to some religious communities; the following years witnessed an open struggle against them and the development of a corresponding legal framework [17].

In the second quarter of the 19th century, several anti-religious legal acts were passed, whereas representatives of Spiritual Christians lost a whole range of privileges gained during previous periods. However, this time was important for the development of the aforementioned religious congregations, since it facilitated the intensification of their activity, increase in number, cautiousness and moderation in their attitude toward authorities, and greater influence of Spiritual Christians in the social and political life of the Russian Empire in the 19th century. As a consequence, people were persecuted by authorities for their participation in the religious communities; and their rights were restricted as well. The policy of the Russian Emperor was completely supported by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church had a strong influence in the territory of Ukraine and significantly affected people’s life in the Russian Empire.

The Imperial Decree of October 20, 1830 was important for the further development of Spiritual Christians. Doukhobors were proclaimed to be one of the most dangerous groups, and their preaching was prosecuted by order of the court. Exile to Transcaucasia was the main punishment, and for adult males it was call-in to the Caucasian military corps [18]. According to this decree, resettlement to Tavria province was prohibited, and Doukhobors were not allowed to hold any public office. Thus, the gradual process of the liquidation of privileges of Spiritual Christians obtained during previous times began, and Nicholas I made his first steps toward declaring their practice to be illegal [19]. The next decree in the same period was the adoption of guidelines in 1830, the main provisions of which reinforced the focus of previous legal statutes and offered no improvement in the attitude of the state toward the faithful.

Consequently, the state policy toward Spiritual Christians during Nicholas’ I rule in the second quarter of the 19th century became unfavourable for those Christian communities. In 1835, a special commission for the investigation of crimes committed by Doukhobors was created. On February 17, 1835, the “Highest Rescript” was adopted, according to which Spiritual Christians from the Molochnaya River territory were to be resettled to the Caucasus, the only exception were those who admitted their mistakes and returned to Orthodoxy. In 1835, the decision to evict Doukhobors from the Melitopol district was made, but in 1839, subsequent legal statutes prescribed definite conditions of their resettlement. First of all, in the Caucasus, Spiritual Christians obtained the same-sized plot of arable land as they had in Molochnye Vody. Second, no adult male was granted exemption from military service. Third, Doukhobors had the right to sell movables (or to take with them) and receive compensation for real estate as assessed by the special commission [20]. Sources in historic literature give information about three main waves of resettling from Ukraine and what is more important – the numbers of evicted people: 1841 – 800; 1842 – 800; 1843 – 900 [21] [Note: there were in fact five waves of Doukhobor exile from 1841-1845].

The locality known as “Doukhobor’ie” received its name after the Spiritual Christians exiled to the Caucasus. It is situated in the southern part of Akhalkalak district, Tiflis province which is bordering with Turkey. Doukhobors founded 8 villages there, namely Gorelovka, Bogdanovka, Orlovka, Efremovka, Spasovka, Troitskoye, Rodionovka, and Tambovka. Apparently, Ukrainian [Doukhobor] settlers lived together with the Russian ones. According to F. Putyntsev, the main evidences are the names of villages and the population number – 5 thousand, among which, around 3 thousand were from Ukraine. The “Wet Mountains”, the other name of this territory, was given because of its changeable climate, and much worse, if compared to Tavria province, living conditions. The only advantage was the non-interference of the state in Spiritual Christians’ affairs. According to another “Highest Rescript” issued in 1842, Doukhobors and Molokans were forbidden to buy peasants. If they had any, they were to remit the peasants to the state and receive remuneration for them afterwards. An interesting term of the document allowed all the faithful, except the most dangerous groups in the state’s view, to resettle to provinces with better living conditions. In the 19th century the most dangerous religious groups were considered those of the Khristovery, Skoptsy, Doukhobor, and Molokan communities. Thus, Spiritual Christians could not take advantage of this privilege.

In 1842, a special document was published aiming to regulate relations between state and religious congregations. First of all, the most dangerous religious groups were named: Skoptsy, Zhidovstvuyushchiye, Doukhobors, Molokans, i.e. Spiritual Christians. Zhidovstvuyushchiye was the name of one of the Molokans subgroups, namely the Subbotniks (“Sabbatarians”). According to the “Rules of resettlement of dissenters of harmful heresies”, the main type of prosecution, as in the previous period, was resettlement to the Caucasus after each case was considered in court [22]. As a result of this decree, a new one was worked out – “Rules of primary education of colonists’ children, especially of dissenters’” [23]. Parish clergy was assigned to supervise the education process. Those who completed the course passed an examination held by local priest. A special class register was used to document the examination procedure with signatures of all present. Then the results were referred to a diocesan bishop. However, it was noted that the document should be enforced soberly and carefully. According to the corresponding act of 1843, Doukhobors were forbidden to accept orthodox children to their families. Even in this way, authorities tried to avoid the growth in their population numbers [24].

Therefore, by the end of the 19th century, Transcaucasia remained the main center of Spiritual Christians. However, the events of the last decade [of that century] rapidly changed the history of the community. In 1895, P. Verigin called for the burning weapons in all Doukhobor settlements. It is possible that such views were formed as a result of his communication with Tolstoy. At the same time, those Doukhobors who were forced to carry out military duty refused to continue their service and to bear arms. The Doukhobors’ campaign of destroying weapons and anti-war protest did not pass unnoticed. About 5,000 of Doukhobors were dispersed across a large territory of the Caucasus without any land or property. The result of such measures was a high death rate among Doukhobors (about 2,000 of people died either during or after the resettlement). Doukhobor soldiers were transferred to disciplinary battalions, and P. Verigin was exiled to Obodorsk. In 1897 P. Tregubov and P.Biryukov, after their trip to Georgia, described this situation to Tolstoy. Such a difficult period in Doukhobor life was certainly linked to financial problems. Economic issues, lack of basic resources for living, and the slow process of resettlement all caused financial difficulties. According to various sources, in the second half of the 19th century, a significant number of Doukhobor migrations in the Russian Empire took place. Furthermore, more than 20,000 of the faithful went abroad (3,000-8,000 of them were from the territory of contemporary Ukraine) [25].

Tolstoy’s Correspondence with the Doukhobors

In the 1890s, Tolstoy, his friends and adherents systematically corresponded with P. Verigin, the [main] leader of the Doukhobors, and other Spiritual Christians. It is worthwhile to analyze those letters in detail to determine the level of mutual influence between the writer and Spiritual Christians. Letters sent by P. Verigin in late 1896 contain his thoughts about good and evil. He called Tolstoy “a good man”. Sincere dialogue with the writer, according to P. Verigin, was possible only by treating Tolstoy with a good spirit. “If you believe in the power of education and paper, you might be wrong” – said the Doukhobor [26]. As we can see the key concept of spirit in the Doukhobors’ doctrine finds a further interpretation in the works of their leader. In his next letters, P. Verigin develops this viewpoint and states that only one thing necessary – to keep one’s heart from evil, regardless of where one is – in church or plowing the land – this is the sole condition [27].

There are also letters of other Spiritual Christians to L. Tolstoy and P. Biryukov. As a rule, the main topics of those letters were the everyday problems and living conditions of the colonists. Furthermore, they contained sufficient information about the leaders of congregations, milestones of their biographies, based on which, and also by direct communication with the settlers, it became possible to publish a number of materials on this phenomenon of religious life of the Russian Empire [28].

For Doukhobors living in the territory of the Russian Empire, the issues of performing duties, especially the military one, were of great importance. This issue became a key point in their letters. Moreover, P. Verigin provided quite interesting explanations in defense of Spiritual Christians. First, he wrote about the well-known idea of non-violence, which was promoted by Doukhobors, but then developed the viewpoint of the equal righte of everyone to choose, and the impossibility of coercion against one’s will. He wrote that the main standpoint of their conviction was not disobedience, but a refusal to acknowledge the usage of people in any form – especially when one has to use violence [29]. At that time many Doukhobors refused to work in local administrations. The reason is the following: according to P. Verigin officers and officials refused to carry out their responsibilities because they didn’t want to rule in districts, i.e. to rule the same people as they are, and to not obey elders. According to Doukhobor belief, one must obey elders, but cannot be an “elder” himself [30]. It is important to note that Tolstoy called on the Doukhobors to not abandon public service, nor to neglect their duties. He addressed Spiritual Christians with an appeal to not oppose authorities, because their (Doukhobors’) wives and children would be the first to suffer [31]. This information refutes a wide-spread idea in the literature of the end of the 19th – and beginning of the 20th century about the crucial influence of the writer on the Doukhobors’ refusal to carry out military duties.

After P. Biryukov and P.Tregubov returned from the Caucasus, they received letters from Tolstoy. Thus, in 1897 he addressed the settlers as “My dear brothers who suffer for Christ’s teaching”, called them pioneers in spiritual struggle, thanked them for their spiritual support and help “because you are the first to follow Christ’s example, the ones who follow you will have an easier way. You are the first of many people to appreciate that. [32]” The Doukhobors responded, stating that many of their associates were being resettled to Siberia, Elizavetpol, Baku and Erevan provinces. Their letters also contain information about the appalling living conditions, unfavourable climate, and financial problems. These documents revealed a new idea that was appearing – that the faithful need to be resettled outside of the Russian Empire. Eventually, the critical situation made P. Verigin appeal to Empress Alexandra Fedorovna with a request to allow new resettlement [33]. He provided various reasons to convince the Empress. First of all, P. Verigin pointed out the misleading explanation of their name, which was falsified by the officials and clergy. Thus, “doukhobor” meant that they spiritually believe in God, he also cited evangelical texts to demonstrate that. Second, he explained the urgent need to be resettled by the significant problems of the community: “women and children are suffering there (in exile); hundreds of husbands and fathers are imprisoned; thousands of families are resettled in mountain villages, where authorities encourage local people to treat them badly”. P. Verigin also noted that more and more Doukhobor women were imprisoned, justified vegetarianism, and also explained that they carry out all the state duties except the military one, as it contradicted their belief system. He considered it possible for the Doukhobors to be resettled to one of the European countries, e.g. Great Britain, though pointed out that probably, the most favourable living conditions were those in America, where many of their associates [i.e. ethnic Russians and Ukrainians] lived already [34].

These requests were not left unnoticed by the Emperor, and resulted in the Doukhobors obtaining permission to leave the Russian Empire. First, negotiations were planned with Great Britain. An official delegation, including V. Chertkov, [and Doukhobors] I. Ivin and P. Makhortov was sent there. V. Chertkov was the one to unite those who sympathized with Doukhobors and began the resettlement preparations. However, despite calling on the public, the money raised was not enough. The Spiritual Christians appealed to the Quakers, who established the Committee of Friends organization to raise money. First, 3,200 Doukhobors were planned to be resettled outside of the Empire, but the situation had become worse. The British suggested Cyprus for this purpose. Such haste is explained by the Spiritual Christians’ desire to leave Russia as soon as possible. Therefore, the first group of Doukhobors, amounting to 1,128 people, was resettled to Cyprus. There, with the help of Quakers, they were given some land. The smaller than expected size of the group is explained by the fact that the British demanded payment of 250 rubles per each adult settler. Owing to V. Chertkov’s efforts and Quakers financial support, the funds raised were sufficient enough only to resettle 1,128 persons. They went to Larnaca (Cyprus) in August, 1898. However, climatic conditions, malaria, fever and other diseases influenced their decision to immigrate to Canada in spring 1899.

Tolstoy reacted to these events by appealing to the public. In his letter of March 3, 1898, he offerred to be a mediator between the Doukhobors and those who wanted to negotiate with them [35]. The writer diplomatically avoided the issue of who was right in the situation. He wrote “authorities, who recognize the incompatibility of Christianity with prisons, executions, and most importantly with waging wars or preparing for them or Doukhobors who consider the rule of Christianity, which denies any violence, murder, among the foremost for them, and therefore they deny military service – you cannot help seeing that this contradiction cannot be resolved. [36]”

Tolstoy cited gruesome information about state abuse in relation to Spiritual Christians. He managed to categorize main methods of interaction on the faithful. He stated that the first type of punishment was alternative ways to carry out military service, which turned out to be violent, but didn’t contradict Doukhobors’ religious doctrine. Another, more radical method, was to imprison Spiritual Christians for the period of their military service. As the writer pointed out these measures were characteristic of any country in its attitude towards unacceptable religious communities. However, there was another type of punishment in the Russian Empire: the authorities would persecute parents, wives and children of those men who denied military service in order to influence their decision. The number of families taken apart by resettlement of its members to the Caucasus and other parts of the Russian Empire made this situation quite tragic. However, we cannot agree with the writer on his viewpoint that Doukhobors still living in Ukraine experienced the same attitude. According to archival information, some of them were allowed to resettle with their families, however, in practice, positive decisions usually were made in favour of families with children.

The conditions in which the resettled Doukhobors had to live were even more terrible. Tolstoy was extremely distressed by this situation. In his letters, he mentions prohibitions on leaving their place of residence, imprisonment for not complying with the requirements of local authorities, starting from penalties for using the name of their community and ending with meeting with the family, trips to the mill, gathering firewood in the forest, etc. The writer’s diplomatic skills also deserve praise. Thus, he endeavored to justify authorities by their ignorance of these issues; however he also noted that the reason might be their unwillingness to know. Tolstoy also cited the grim statistics of high mortality rate among Doukhobors exiled in Caucasus, where about a quarter of 400 families died within 3 years after resettlement. One cannot help noticing the ironic style of interpretation of official information about resettlement abroad. Conditions for Doukhobors’ resettlement abroad included: obtaining passports according to the local laws, traveling solely on their own expense, and providing signed statements on their non-return to the Russian Empire.

Tolstoy wrote that, by chance, he was familiar with the details of persecution and suffering of the Doukhobors and, therefore, he had kept in touch with them. He also appealed to people both from Russia and Europe to support the Doukhobors in such trouble [37]. Moreover, he called upon them to help, not only by donating money, but actually contributing to the process of resettlement, since Spiritual Christians had no knowledge of foreign languages, nor had they any experience traveling abroad.

While preparing the resettlement of the first group of Doukhobors, some measures were taken for the following group too. Although they needed 88,780 rubles, the committee was able to raise only 45,000. This became known to the writer. He wrote to V. Chertkov about an option he found. Tolstoy suggested selling some of his novels, including Voskresenie, to English and American newspapers on the most favourable conditions and transferring the money to the Committee for the Doukhobors’ resettlement [38]. According to V. Bonch-Bruevich, the writer gave 32,360 rubles to the committee.

There were 2,200 Spiritual Christians in the second group. They resettled in October, 1898. The third group was accompanied by Tolstoy’s son, Sergey Lvovich, in winter 1898-1899. Another 1,700 settlers joined the first two groups. Simultaneously, 1,020 Spiritual Christians emigrated from Cyprus, accompanied by L. Sulerzhitsky. The fourth wave amounted to 2,318 Doukhobors and was accompanied by V. Bonch-Bruevich. The total number of Doukhobors living in Canada by August 1899 was 7,160 persons. Later on, a few more families decided to immigrate as well. 5,800 Doukhobors settled in the area between Yorkton (Saskatchewan) and Swan River (Manitoba); a smaller part (about 1,400) settled near Prince Albert. Thus, there were two big centres of Doukhobor localization – Saskatchewan and [after 1908,] British Columbia.

At this difficult period, P. Verigin wrote a psalm, “Declaration of Brotherhood Life”, which is considered to be one of the main and most respected Doukhobor works. The psalm’s main statements are: members of the [Doukhobor] community respect and love God, because they consider him to be the beginning of everything; they respect the dignity of every person, both among themselves and among others; members of the community perceive all life with love and admiration and try to bring up their children in the same spirit; under the word “God” they understand the power of love and life which is the core of existence; the world is constantly moving, everything strives to perfection, and everything in the world is in transition; one cannot destroy anything; every single being has life; to deprive a person of his or her life is unacceptable; members of the community believe in full freedom; any order established by force is considered illegal; the core of a person’s existence is energy, thoughts and mind; its base is water, fruits and vegetables; life in a commune is acceptable when it is based on moral principle: I would not wish for another what I do not want for myself [39].

The main ideas, set out by Verigin in this psalm, were aimed at raising the faithfull’s spirit and moral support. It essentially became popular during the period of resettlement. Moreover, its ideas were the main topic of his correspondence with Tolstoy.

During their life in Canada, the Doukhobors have managed to retain their culture. However, the community faced changes. In 1902, P. Verigin came to Canada after his exile. However, he never abandoned the hope to return to the homeland. His visit to Russia and meeting with P. Stolypin in 1906 concerning this issue wasn’t successful. In 1924, P.Verigin was killed in a train explosion. A radical party called the “Sons of freedom”, which was established after Verigin’s death, in the second half of the 20th century had about 3,000 members in Canada, those who did not want to become assimilated by the local population and lose their peculiarities. Such attitudes contributed to the emergence of ideas about a possible resettlement to USSR. In 1939, Canadian Doukhobors sent a letter to Y. Stalin with such a request. The reasons for its refusal are still unknown. Starting in 1943, the Doukhobor magazine Iskra (the Spark) had been published in Canada [40], its articles dedicated to issues of community development. Thus, many faithful were concerned with mixed marriages, losing ties with motherland, etc.

The total number of spiritual Christians in Canada at the end of the 20th century amounted to about 100,000. In 1991, Georgian Doukhobors began a resettlement to the Tula region. An interesting fact is that even today, it’s not common to lock a house in their community. Those who stayed in Javakheti (Gorelovka village) live in difficult conditions. In 1991, Russian Spiritual Christians gathered in the town of Tselina, Rostov region, where they established an organization called “The Union of Doukhobors of Russia”. Part of the faithful resettled to Bryansk region in 1999. Now they have a loyal attitude toward the Russian Orthodox Church. For instance, in Georgia they helped St. Olga Monastery and sent provision to the Orthodox Christians in Tbilisi. In 2001, Vytoki Centre released 2 CDs of Doukhobor ensemble music. In 2002, Spiritual Christians and the Vytoki ensemble participated in the international festival, “Baltic-2002” in Vilnius, Lithuania. At the beginning of the 21st century, the Doukhobor movement is popular in many regions of Russia (Rostov, Tula, Bryansk regions), Azerbaijan, Georgia, Middle East, Ukraine, Canada and USA.

As to Canadian Doukhobors, general number of their descendants is more than to 30,000. However, a long period of living abroad, mixed marriages, interactions with representatives of other religions have influenced their culture. Nevertheless, descendants of Spiritual Christians are not only interested in the peculiarities of their community, its history, but also in the ties with the motherland. It’s a well-known fact that they cooperate with the faithful from Tula region in Russia. All of that became possible owing to the help of Russian intelligentsia at the end of the 19th century. Due to its contribution, the phenomenon of Doukhobors was saved.

Another aspect is the issue of interrelations between the Doukhobor and Tolstoyan movements. Thus, it is hard to deny a considerable number of common traits in both doctrines. Missionaries and the clergy viewed the existence of different subdivisions of the Doukhobor movement as a result of Tolstoyan doctrinal influence [41], for instance the postniki (“fasters”), who did not recognized Tsar authority. The peculiarity of further contacts was the appearance of Tolstoyan adherents in Ukraine. For example, in village of Balky in Kharkov province, a religious movement based on Tolstoyan ideas became popular. The same information is known about the Sumy district of Kharkov province, where in the 1880s similar teachings were also wide-spread [42]. The main reasons to think that adherents of the Tolstoyan movement borrowed their ideas from Doukhobors and not vice-versa are the following: first of all the time of the Doukhobor movement appearing (second half of the 18th century, whereas Tolstoyan movement appeared only in the second half of the 19th century); secondly, the high interest of Tolstoy in Doukhobor ideas about the priority of human values, non-violence, respect for a person, etc. and transferring them to the Tolstoyan movement. However, this issue is a subject of further researches.

Hence, the relation between Tolstoy and Spiritual Christians began at the time of their migration within the country and continued after resettlement abroad in the second half of the 19th century. The initial stage of relations with L. Tolstoy and his associates (P. Biryukov, L. Sulerzhitsky, V. Chertkov) was characterized by a great interest in the peculiarities of the Doukhobor doctrine, their social practices, community organization, interrelation within the community, etc. The next period (1890s) was characterized by attracting public attention to the faithful’s problems, supplying them with moral and especially financial support at the time of resettlement. The third stage (beginning of the 20th century) is described by correspondence and publication of several Doukhobor-related monographs [43]. Special attention was given to the development of the community in Cyprus and Canada. The main reason lays in the fact that materials discrediting Doukhobor life abroad were published in Orthodox newspapers at the turn of the 20th century. In reaction, several works on the diasporal way of life were published. Of course, Tolstoy’s publications played an important role, especially his afterword articles for P. Biryukov’s works – “Persecution of Christians” and “Help!” published in 1895-1896. After his refusal to become a Nobel Prize Nominee, Tolstoy addressed an open letter to the Swedish newspaper Stockholm Tagblatt, with suggestion to give the prize to Doukhobors. Despite the fact the letter was published, they never received it [44]. There is information about another open letter of Tolstoy’s called “On Nobel’s Testament” in the Swedish press. In this letter, he offered to use all the money left by this entrepreneur for resettling the Doukhobors to any country of the world [45].

Public reaction was sluggish and no practical suggestions were made on how to resolve this issue.

Thereby Tolstoy and his associates’ help became important for the further development of the [Doukhobor] community. As only owing to the resettlement outside of the Russian Empire, a unique culture was retained. Despite significant financial difficulties and appalling living conditions, Doukhobors continued to promote their ideas, based on human values, brought up their children with the best human qualities in spirit of respect for elders, good, non-violence, etc.

Promising directions for further research are: analyzing the Doukhobor movement as a social phenomenon on Ukrainian lands in the period of the New Age; studying the modern stage of Doukhobor diaspora development, its number, way of life, customs and traditions, system of education, etc.; characteristics of the main aspects of cooperation between modern Doukhobors on one side, and Russians and Ukrainians on the other, in cultural, educational and other fields.


  1. State Archive of Dnipropetrovsk Region – Ф.134. – Оп.1. – Спр.521. – Арк.19; Ф.6465. – Оп.2. – Спр.4. – Арк.266; State Archive of Kharkiv Region – Ф.3. – Оп.10. – Спр.78. – Арк.6,12-13.
  2. Biryukov, P. Sbonik statej, vspominanii, picem i drugikh dokumentov. M., 1908 – 268 pp.
  3. Grigoriev, K. Otnoshenie khristianstva k gosudarstvu po vozzreniyam grafa L. N. Tolstogo // Missionerskoye obozrenie. (MO hereafter), 1906 – №1-6. – p. 33-39; Ioann Kronshdatskii (Serhiev). O grafe Tolstom i tolstovtsakh // Yekaterinoslavskie yeparkhialnye vedomosti. – 1897. – №3. – p. 61-62; Pruhavin A. Predpolahavsheiesia zatochenie L.N. Tolstoho v monastyr. – M., 1908. – 22 pp.; Tikhomirov L. Novyie plody uchenia grafa L. Tolstoho // MO. – 1897. – №1-3. – Кн.I – p. 46-60.
  4. Bobrov Ye. Eticheskie vozzrenia grafa L.N. Tolstogo i ikh kritika. – Yuriev, 1897. – 100 p.; Tserkov i gosudarstvo. Protiv grafa L. Tolstogo. Beseda preosviashchennogo Nikonora, arkhiepiskopa khersonskogo i odesskogo. – Odessa, 1902. – 40 p.
  5. Sulerzhitsky L. V Ameriku s dukhoborami (Ocherki iz zapisnoj knizhki). – M., 1905. – 332 p.
  6. Bonch-Bruevich V. Dukhobortsy v kanadskikh prerijah. – Part I. – M.,1913. – 256 p.
  7. Yaroslavskii Ye. L. N. Tolstoy i tolstovtsy. – M., 1938 – 38 p.
  8. Zybarov N., Planidin P. Lev Tolstoy – Petr Verigin. Perepiska. – M., 2004. – 237 p.
  9. Muratov M. Tolstoy i V. Chertkov po ikh perepiske. – M., 1934; GSE. – V.29. – M., 1973. – p. 114.
  10. Tolstoy L. Polnoje sobranije sochinenii. – V.63. – M.; L., 1934. – p. 227-230; GSE. – V.3. – M., 1970. – p. 114.
  11. Zakony o razkolnikakh i sektantakh. Vyp. 2. – M., 1903. – 228 p.
  12. Biryukov P. Ukaz. soch. – p. 46.
  13. Novitsky O. Dukhobortsy. Ikh istorija i verouchenie. – K., 1882. – p. 24.
  14. Titov O. Sekta dukhobortsev // MO. – 1897. – №2. – p. 247.
  15. Bohoraz V. (Tan). Dukhobortsy v Kanade: Ocherki. – M., 1906. – p. 75.
  16. Putintsev F. Ukaz. soch. – p. 45.
  17. Nagorna T. Pomirkovane protystojannja chy vidkryta borotba: pro polituku Mykoly I shchodo dukhovnykh khrystyjan v Ukrajini (druha chvert XIX st.) // Istorychna pamjat. – 2004. – №1. – p. 118-127; Pravovi zasady dijalnosti pravoslavnykh sekt u XIX st. // Naukovi zapysky Ternopilskoho derzhavnoho pedahohichnoho universytetu imeni Volodymyra Hnatjuka. Serija: Istorija. – Ternopol, 2002. – Vyp. 2. – p. 12-16.
  18. Central State Historic Archive of Ukraine in Kyiv (CSHAUK hereafter). – Ф.442. – Оп.1. – Спр.1802 б. – Арк.85.
  19. Polnoie sobranie zakonov Rosiiskoi Imperii. – V. VI, VII, IX. – Sobranie 2, otdelenie 2. 1830-1834. – StP., 1835; Sobranie postanovlenii po chaste razkola. – StP, 1858 – 274 p.
  20. Bohoraz V. (Tan). Ukaz. soch. – p. 75.
  21. Ib. – p. 76.
  22. Pravila o pereselenii raskol’nikov vrednykh eresi v Zakavkazskii kray. Vysochaishchee utverzhdenie 14 dekabria 1842 goda // Trudy poltavskoi uchenoi arkhivnoi komissii. – Vyp.7. – p. 170-171.
  23. O shkolakh dlia raskol’nich’ikh detei // Ib. – p. 172-174.
  24. CSHAUK. – Ф.442. – Оп.1. – Спр.1802 б. – Арк.31.
  25. Bohoraz V. (Tan). Ukaz. soch. – p. 78.
  26. Zybarov N., Planidin P. Ukaz. soch. – p.6.
  27. Ib. – p. 29.
  28. Iz pis’ma dukhobortsa Vasi Obiedkova // Biryukov P. Ukaz. soch. – 84-86 p.; Pis’mo dukhobora V.A. Potapova // Biryukov P. Ukaz. soch. – 83-84 p.; Pis’mo dukhobortsa Vasilia Potapova k P.I. Biryukovu // Meterialy k izucheniju russkogo sektanstva i razkola. – Edd.1. – StP., 1908. – p. 158-159.
  29. Ib. – p.18.
  30. Ib. – p.20.
  31. Pis’ma L.N. Tolstogo k kavkazskim dukhobortsam v 1897 g. // Biryukov P. Ukaz. soch. – p. 66.
  32. Ib. – p.67.
  33. Proshenie Petra Verigina na imja imperatritsy Aleksandry Fiedorovny // Biryukov P. Ukaz. soch. – p. 74.
  34. Ib. – p.75.
  35. Ib. – p. 82.
  36. Ib. – p. 76.
  37. Ib.
  38. Bonch-Bruevich V. Ukaz. soch. – p. 11-12.
  39. Biryukov P. Ukaz. soch. – p. 79.
  40. Chernyshov V. Mech obojudoostryi. – K., 1998. – p. 48.
  41. Dukhobory i tolstovtsy // Terletskii V. Ochierki,issledovania i statii po sektanstvu. – Edd. I. – Poltava, 1913. – p. 33.
  42. Tikhomirov L. Novyie plody uchenia grafa L. Tolstogo // MO. – 1897. – №1-3. – Book I. – p. 25. Sulerzhitskii L. Ukaz. soch.
  43. Zybarov N., Planidin P. Ukaz. soch. – p.4.
  44. Chernyshov V. Ukaz. soch. – p.49.

Queen Lukeria of Gorelovka

by Henry F.B. Lynch

Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch (1862-1916) was born in London of Irish parentage. His family ran Lynch Brothers, a firm that traded with, and ran shipping lines in, Persia and Mesopotamia. He had already travelled widely in these regions before their geographical closeness to the Caucasus, together with the persecution of the Doukhobors, attracted him to the Akhalkalak district of Tiflis province, Russia in September 1893. His observations were published in his article “Queen Lukeria of Gorelovka” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 93, Issue 553 (June, 1896), reproduced below. Lynch depicts the architecture and landscape of Gorelovka in exceptional detail and outlines the events that followed the death of Doukhobor leader Lukeria Vasilievna Kalmykova (1841-1886) from the viewpoint of the “Small Party” of Doukhobors, with whom he clearly sympathized.

The account published by Count Leo Tolstoy in the Times of the 23rd October, of the persecution of Russian sectaries in the Caucasus, comes as an interesting sequel to the story which I told in the Contemporary Review of June 1894, when dealing with the Russian element of the population inhabiting the Russian provinces of the Armenian table-land. That story centres in the figure of a remarkable woman, whose name, indeed, Count Tolstoy mentions, but of whose personality and influence among her co-religionists his informants appear to have presented him with an insufficient idea. I was travelling through the villages of these Russian peasants in September 1893, and with your permission I will tell you what I learnt about the circumstances out of which the thrilling incidents related by Count Tolstoy arose.

At Akhalkalaki, on the lofty uplands of Russian Armenia, from which the headwaters of the Kur descent, I first heard mention of the troubles which were still agitating the Russian settlers who live around. I was told that in the course of my journey southward I should pass through a country which had within recent years been the scene of many stirring events. The accounts I received of what had happened, and of the peculiar form of religion which the people were said to profess, were vague and uncertain, but at the same time sufficient to make me wish to learn more. 

I knew that these Russian sectaries of the Caucasus represented the flower of the Russian peasantry, that their standard of life was higher than that of their class in Russia, and that it would be scarcely just to estimate the merits of Russian colonists by the high example offered by them. “Go to Gorelovka,” said Colonel Tarasov, the governor of the town and district of Akhalkalaki, “if you wish to see what our colonists can do.” To examine into an interesting colonial experiment, and to make the acquaintance of a sect about whose beliefs and actions such strange rumors were current in the country – what could any traveller desire more?

H.F.B. Lynch (1862-1916)

Among my acquaintance in the town was a young Armenian who was likely, from the nature of his calling, to have some knowledge of the truth of these stories. The man had been an itinerant preacher of the evangelical persuasion – a body founded some sixty years ago in Shusha by a missionary from Basle. The Russian government detest these Protestant preachers, and they had cut short the wanderings of the young clergyman by refusing him permission to go beyond the limits of this remote and lonely town. About two years had now elapsed since the ban had been placed upon him; his subsistence he earned by serving as clerk to a merchant of woolen stuffs. From him I gathered that considerable mystery surrounded the religion of these peasants, but that he himself had not sufficient knowledge to clear it up. He told me that pagan practices were imputed to them, and that they were said to worship images of birds and beasts. Whether they worshipped them or only regarded them as symbols, it was certain that they made such images, and I could judge for myself of the purposes which they served.

And then he related to me a portion of the story of Lukeria, and spoke of the superstitious reverence in which they held her – half goddess and half queen.

We struck our tents on the afternoon of the 5th of September, and proceeded on our journey towards Ararat, still more than a hundred miles away. We were passing over the surface of a lofty table-land, 5500 feet above the sea. On our left hand rose the volcanic mass of Abdul, a mountain some 11,000 feet high, while on our right, towards the west, the prospect was open, and the ground stretched in long drawn undulations and convexities to the dim outlines of distant ranges encircling the wide expanse. Not a tree, no vegetation, relieved the loneliness of the scene; the beauty and interest of these Armenian landscapes lie in their rich variety of forms and in the play of light and shade. Man’s imprint upon nature is scarcely visible – some vague tracks winding over the plain, and the volcanic soil exposed by the plough in black checkers by the side of the yellow stubble fields. Banks of grey and white cloud hung over the mountains. But the zenith was blue; a bright sun tempered the keen and searching air.

In the space of two hours we reached a straggling settlement which we found to consist of two villages – the one Armenian, the other inhabited by Russian peasants of the Doukhoborian sect. The first bears the name of Khojabek; the second is called Bogdanovka. Bogdanovka is a poor example of a Doukhoborian colony. I confess that I did not notice any appreciable contrast in methods and standard of life between the Russian and the Armenian village. The level of the plain is always rising the further you progress towards the south. After we had passed through the small Russian settlement of Orlovka it became clear that the wave of reclamation was reaching its limit, and that we should soon leave all cultivation behind.

The crops were still standing in the fields, and we noticed that where the soil was exposed it was filled with the fibre of turf and roots. As the day closed we were travelling over an upland country which bore the character of lofty downs, and it is in a landscape of this nature that is situated Gorelovka, the township to which the governor had called my attention, and in which he had kindly prepared a house for our reception and a ready welcome from the villagers. My barometers place the elevation of Gorelovka at about 7000 feet above the sea. We were here about at the water-parting from which the streams diverge, some to enter the basin of the Araxes, and others to flow northwards to the Kur.

Sketch of Gorelovka village, Tiflis province, Russia, 1893 by H. F.B. Lynch.

Gorelovka is the largest village in the district, and contains 150 houses, with a population of some 1500 souls. In conversation with the villagers I learnt that it was fifty-two years since they had come there from Russia and had been allotted lands. Each house pays 15 roubles (about 30 shillings) a year to the state for the rent of their lands. Snow lies on the ground for about eight months in the year, and, like the Armenians, they heat their houses with tezek fuel, or cakes of dried manure. Their markets are Alexandropol and Akhalkalaki. I admired their ploughs and spacious wagons; they make them in the village themselves. You do not see such ploughs and wagons among their neighbours – Armenians, Tatars, and Turks. On the other hand, they have not improved upon the usual threshing implements, the flat beams encrusted with sharp stones. They said they had found these methods in use in the country, and were satisfied with them. 

A Doukhoborian village is not built into the earth like the burrows of the Armenians and the Kurds; the Russians cheat the climate by the additional thickness which they put into their solid stone walls. Their dwellings are low one-storied houses of most substantial construction; the masonry is completely covered with plaster, which receives several coats of whitewash. A long street traverses the village in a regular straight line; the white-faced houses are for the most part isolated, and align it at intervals. The roofs are only slightly sloped, and consist of stout beams supporting a superstructure of earth and sods of turf. The chimneys are mere apertures in the roof, protected by small wooden caps. I found the interiors clean and comfortable; the wooden ceilings are neatly mitered, and the walls distempered white. The deep embrasures of the windows testify to the stoutness of the walls. In some of these Russian settlements you admire the elaborate fret-work of shutters and ornaments of wood; in Gorelovka no work of fancy adorns the dwellings of the peasants, and they have lavished all their skill in wood-carving upon the residence of their Queen.

The inhabitants are tall and powerfully built, and although they are bronzed in complexion almost beyond recognition, the fair hair bears witness to their origin as sons of the North. Their limbs are loosely put together, and apart from the difference of their dress and demeanor they present a strong contrast to the neatly made natives of the country by reason of their lofty stature and the unbuckled slouch of their walk. The features are irregular, the eyes small, and the countenance is wanting in animation both in the case of women and men. The dress of the men consists of dark blue trousers and jacket and a peaked military cap; this costume gives them the appearance of old soldiers, and all seem to shave the beard. The women wear very clean cotton dresses of showy patterns and bright hues. It is a sturdy race of simple people, and the elements of order are strong among them.

Next morning, according to arrangement, we were to visit, in company with our host Alexei Zubkov, the venerable starshina or head of the village, the residence and garden of the Queen. The brother of the Queen joined our party – Mikhail Vasilyevich Gubanov, the same of whom Count Tolstoy speaks. 

We passed down the long straight street of the village, the spacious intervals between the white houses opening to the breezy downs. Entering an enclosure, we found ourselves in a delightful flower garden, among trees and thick rose bushes allowed to twine and spread in freedom, and only saved from rankness and riot by the loving hand of man. How strange, after our long wanderings over mountain and arid plain, among peoples whose material standards hover on the extreme margin where life is just possible and no more, appeared to us the sight of these garden flowers and the scent of the double rose!

A low one-storied building aligns the garden on two sides: the one wing contains the chapel and reception room; the other, the private apartments in which the Queen lived. Passing within the doorway, we stood in a little hall from which rooms opened, one on either side. Both apartments are spacious, and their size was enhanced by the complete absence of furniture. Large stone stoves are built into the rooms, and form the most prominent feature of them; these stoves are usual in all the houses, but in this house they are decorated with a scroll of stone carving, which is not the case elsewhere. The ceilings are low, and the walls are so thick that the windows have the appearance of fortress embrasures with their deep cavernous sills. The two large rooms on either side of the hall were formerly used, the one for prayer meetings and the other for social gatherings; but it was evident that they were not in use at the time of my visit, and I was told that assemblies in this house had been interdicted by the government on accounts of the fresh outbreak of fanaticism which was apprehended should the people come together beneath the roof of their former Queen.

The general arrangement and appearance of the chapel or apartment in which they used to meet for prayer is this: The low ceiling is composed of narrow pine planks, the surface being relieved by delicate wood beadings along the seams where plank meets plank. The large pier of the stove projects boldly into it from the side of the door. The walls of the rooms are in general covered with a neat paper of common Russian pattern, and the floors are either painted a reddish colour or the boards are left natural, and stopped, and scrubbed daily like the deck of a yacht. Round this particular apartment there runs a low bench; this is the only sitting place. Large pots of flowers, carefully pruned and tended, bloomed in the deep embrasures of the windows, and broke the light diffused about the sober apartment in a warm and regular glow. In that part of the building where the Queen used to live, the rooms, although smaller, presented a similar appearance and were maintained in the same state of scrupulous cleanliness and neatness, although uninhabited now. The furniture had all been removed from them, but in addition to the pots of beautiful flowers there was in each a dish of Easter-eggs.

In the centre of the garden, among the rose-bushes, stands the summer pavilion of the Queen. The kernel of the structure may be described as consisting of two square boxes placed one above the other, and serving as living rooms. Each side of the upper room is broken by a large window, so that the view from within embraces the whole settlement and all the landscape around. The lower room contains a bed and a row of pegs, on which, behind a light covering, hang the dresses of the Queen; that above it is bare of all furniture, and was used as a sitting room. A broad wooden balcony with staircase runs round this inner kernel, supported on pillars of wood; they have lavished all their skill upon the decoration of this balcony, enriching it with the delicate traceries of fret-work and with figures placed at the angles of the roof. At each corner sits a dove with wings outspread, while on the summit of the roof a dove is just alighting, the wings just closing, the legs outstretched. In front of the pavilion and on the side of the house there is a large standard lantern, a work of curious design and fancy, surmounted by an image of St. George and the dragon carved with much life and vigour in wood.

By my side stood the man who had made these images, and I asked him whether they had any religious meaning peculiar to their creed.

Sketch of Lukeria’s Besedka (Summer Pavilion) at Gorelovka by H. F.B. Lynch.

I was loath to put the question, so obvious was their purpose, so universal the symbolism implied. He answered good-humouredly that they were pure ornaments, and that he was flattered by my appreciation of his skill.

In a room removed from the part of the village in which the Queen lived they showed us her furniture and effects, her personal ornaments, and every detail of her attire. Everything that belonged to her had been carefully kept and cherished, like the relics of a saint. Her possessions had been those of a simple peasant woman verging on the middle class, a velvet chair or two, some statuettes in plaster, a few chromo-lithographs. Many trays of coloured Easter-eggs were collected here – the offerings, I suppose, of many happy Easters when she had led their congregations of prayer.

At the time of my visit it was seven years ago that they had lost their beloved Lukeria Vasilyevna (Kalmykova), their leader both in spiritual and in temporal matters; they honoured and obeyed her like a Queen. Her influence was supreme among the settlers on the highlands south of Akhalkalaki, and, from Count Tolstoy’s account, it appears to have extended to all the colonists in Transcaucasia of the Doukhoborian sect. That Lukeria was nothing more to them than a successor to others in an office which had been the outcome of their religious and material needs it would, I think, be no less fallacious to suppose than to credit the rumours current in the country that it had been in the character of a divine personage her people had submitted themselves to her will. A childlike nature, at once the product of the religious temperament and its peculiar pride, may find it difficult to discriminate between the emotions of worship and of love.

When I questioned them they strongly disclaimed for Lukeria all pretension to supernatural gifts, and they rejected as a fable the imputation that they had paid her divine honours. They told me that they both acknowledged and worshipped Christ as God; in Lukeria they had loved and revered a good woman who raised their lives, relieved their sorrows, and led their aspirations towards the higher life. The evidence of her work and example is written in the appearance of this model village and in the demeanour of its inhabitants. All are well clothed and clean and well nourished, and it is a pleasure to see them go about their business in their quiet earnest way. I saw no poor people in Gorelovka, not a sign of the habitual squalor of the East. Provision had been made for the orphans and the destitute, and I understood that all the colonists of the neighbourhood contributed to the funds. But what impressed me most besides the evidence of their affection in these dwellings and this enclosure, maintained in neatest order, as though in spirit she inhabited them still, was the love of flowers, which the Queen appears to have developed in her people and brought them to share with her. In the decline of wealth and of the arts the sight of garden flowers becomes more and more rare in the East, and at best they are little more than the ornaments of luxury and the setting of sensual delights. At Gorelovka one cannot doubt that these geraniums and roses are cultivated for their own sake alone.

The Doukhoborians abhor all ikons and religious pictures, and the traveller is struck by the absence of these emblems in the houses of Russian colonists. They share in the aversion of other extreme Protestants for priests and priestly rule, and the people themselves conduct whatever simple ceremonies may be necessary upon birth, at marriage, and after death. 

That from such peaceful surroundings there should issue fierce dissension, that a people trained to mutual love and forbearance should be inflamed by the worst passions of an opposite nature, and turn the hand which they had been unwilling to lift against others upon the brothers of their own creed, is a melancholy example of the failure of purely emotional methods to elevate permanently the nature of man. It seems there are no shortcuts to virtue, and the standards attained under the impulse of religious enthusiasm have but an ephemeral life. With the death of Lukeria was removed the personality and visible example for which simple natures crave, and the exaggeration of sentiment of which she had been the object brought with it its own revenge. Although cut off at the early age of forty-three hears, the Queen was already a widow when she died. Her marriage had been childless, and even had she possessed a natural successor, the place which she occupied in the imagination of her people would perhaps have been impossible to fill. Yet scarcely a year had elapsed from the time of her death when a pretended successor arose (ie. Peter Vasilievich Verigin), a boy, who, I believe, claimed relationship with her, and who assumed to be worthy to wear the mantle which had hitherto descended on on none.

The inhabitants of Gorelovka, whose version of the story I am giving, were empathetic in their statement that this youth was an impostor. “He told lies,” was the expression which they used. His authority had never been acknowledged by them, and he had stirred up their own brethren against them. I gathered that they had not stopped short of actual violence in the ardor of religious and partisan zeal. Gorelovka, it appears, had been solid against the usurper; but opinion had been divided in the neighbouring villages and throughout the community settled in Transcaucasia of the Doukhoborian sect. The Russian government, as was natural, surveyed the situation from the standpoint of hard-headed prudence; they were not anxious to see installed a successor to Lukeria and a revival of the old religious flame. The weight of their authority was thrown in the scale against the pretender; he was suppressed without delay, and banished from the country to a remote exile in the north.

But the ground on which the seeds of dissension had fallen was more favourable to the growth and development of the feud than the familiar methods of the Russian authorities were calculated to extirpate it. At the time of my visit the symptoms were slumbering. Count Tolstoy tells us in vivid language of the recrudescence of the old trouble, of the revival among the peasants of the old spirit in scenes of bloodshed under the heavy hand of the Russian officials, and in mutual recriminations among themselves.

Reflecting upon this story after reading these accounts, the mind travels back to the dawn of Christianity and the annals of the early Church. The famous letter of Pliny appears fresh and modern, while the grave language of the Times in the leading article which it publishes mingles naturally with the spirit of a remote age. “The first principles of their creed lead straight to social anarchy, tempered only by the whims of the “sons of God”. They are doubtless sincere fanatics, and as such must be looked upon with a measure of pity and respect.” It is interesting to place by the side of this paragraph in a modern newspaper the words of the great historian of the Roman world:

The Christians were not less averse to the business than to the pleasures of this world. The defence of our persons and property they knew not how to reconcile with the patient doctrine which enjoined an unlimited forgiveness of past injuries and commanded them to invite the repetition of fresh insults. Their simplicity was offended by the use of oaths, by the pomp of magistracy, and by the active contention of public life; nor could their humane ignorance be convinced that it was lawful on any occasion to shed the blood of our fellow creatures, either by the sword of justice of by that of war, even though their criminal or hostile attempts should threaten the peace and safety of the whole community; … while they inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defence of the empire. … This indolent, or even criminal, disregard to the public welfare exposed them to the contempt and reproaches of the pagans, who very frequently asked, what must be the fate of the empire, attacked on every side by the barbarians, if all mankind should adopt the pusillanimous sentiments of the new sect?”

Pliny the Younger, AD 110

Have the Christians of the present day become pagans, or did the pagans only change their name?