Persecution of Doukhobors in South Russia, 1797

by Joseph S. Elkinton

At the turn of the 18th century, the Doukhobors were subjected to bitter persecution by church and state. On account of their faith, members of the sect were harassed, extorted, imprisoned, tortured, exiled and executed in barbarous ways. The following excerpt, reproduced from Joseph S. Elkinton’s book, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: 1903) illustrates the persecutions suffered by Doukhobors in South Russia in the 1790’s.

…It would be too distressing, as well as difficult, to narrate the many persecutions of this people, yet their endurance and heroic fortitude under all the adverse conditions which the Russian Government has imposed upon them for more than a century, can best be appreciated by citing some particular instances on record.

In 1797, Andrei Tolstoev and his wife were tried because of their adherence to the Doukhobor principles, and after being punished with the knout, and having their nostrils cut off (this inhuman punishment was frequently inflicted on dissenters) they were sentenced to hard labour in the Government of Irkutsk. This was about twenty years after the Cossacks of the Don, who had first embraced the same faith, fell under the ban of the ecclesiastical law as heretics.

The renowned Senator Lopukhin (a Tsarist official sympathetic to the Doukhobors’ plight) wrote in 1806: “No sect has, up to this time, been so cruelly persecuted as the Dukhobortsy, and this is certainly not because they are the most harmful. They have been tortured in various ways, and whole families have been sentenced to hard labour and confinement in the most cruel prisons. Some were confined to cells in which one could not stand upright, nor lie down at full length. This was boastingly told me by one of the officers at a place where they were confined. Every procurator and general, on the recommendation of the governor of a province, promulgated a ukase for banishing whole families to various places for settlement or for hard labour; and many families were thus expelled.”

As a sample of such an edict, issued at the end of the eighteenth century, some thirty four Doukhobors, after prolonged sufferings during the investigation made by their accusers, received their sentence in these words:

“As the same prisoners remain inflexible to suggestion and persuasion, in order to guard men from like superstition in the future, and also to retaliate upon them for their renunciation of the Church, her sacraments and saints, they shall receive, each man, thirty strokes of the knout, and each woman forty strokes of the lash publicly. The Doukhobor Yakov Laktev’s daughter, Ekaterina, and Ivan Shalaev’s daughter, Anastasia, as minors, are, in accordance with the ukase of May 2nd, 1765, to be whipped with rods. After all these criminals have been punished they are to be banished to Siberia, their goods are to be confiscated and sold by public auction, and the money sent to the treasury office in Perekop, to be entered to the account of public revenue; the carrying out of which sentence is to devolve upon the police court of Perekop.”

The higher criminal court, to which this case came up from the district court, altered the sentence as follows: “the prisoners convicted of Dukhobortsy heresy are to be put in irons without punishment, and sent to work perpetually in the mines at Ekaterinburg, Siberia, excepting the younger children. The bringing up of the children under ten years of age in the faith of the Orthodox Church is to devolve upon the mayor of the town or of the parish together with the priests.”

Some thirty one Doukhobors from another district were similarly sentenced in 1799, and in 1800 a ukase reads: “Everybody who shall be convicted of belonging to the sect of Dukhobortsy shall be condemned to life-long hard labour.”

Tsar Alexander I, however, was graciously disposed to restore them to their rights, after his minister, Lophukin, had investigated the civil and other disabilities of this sorely persecuted sect, and some of them came back from the places of banishment. They conversed with Lopukhin on friendly terms, and he petitioned the Emperor on their behalf for a place of settlement apart from the Orthodox Russians. This was granted, with permission to emigrate to the “Milky Waters” in the Melitopol district of the Tauride government (near the Crimea).

Skovoroda in Early Doukhobor History – Fact or Myth?

by Victor O. Buyniak

Hryhory Savych Skovoroda (1722-1794) was a poet, philosopher and composer in 18th century Russia. Following a brilliant career teaching at the Kiev, St. Petersburg, Kharkov and Moscow academies, he spent the last thirty years of his life as an itinerant thinker-beggar wandering the Russian Empire and teaching a simple philosophy of withdrawal from the earthly world and the pursuit of happiness and self-knowledge through direct, personal relationship with God. His ideas closely resembled those of the Doukhobors, who emerged as a sect at the same time and in the same regions where Skovoroda lived and taught, leading some scholars of Doukhobor history to view him as a prominent figure in their religious ideology. The following article examines the myths and facts surrounding Skovoroda’s role in early Doukhobor history. Reproduced by permission of the author from “Roots and realities among Eastern and Central Europeans”, edited by Martin Louis Kovacs (Edmonton: Central and East European Studies Association of Canada, 1983); and “Spirit Wrestlers: Centennial Papers in Honour of Canada’s Doukhobor Heritage”, edited by Koozma J. Tarasoff and Robert B. Klymasz. (Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1995).

Some of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century scholars of Doukhobor history believed that the philosopher Hryhory Skovoroda figured prominently as one of the spiritual founders of their religious ideology. Once recorded and published, these opinions were reiterated by subsequent researchers. The purpose of this article is to determine whether there was such an influence, and to trace the historical development of such hypotheses on the part of the various scholars and researchers.

Hryhory (in Ukrainian: Hryhory Savych; in Russian: Grigorii Savvich) Skovoroda was born on 3 December 1722, into a Ukrainian Cossack family of the Poltava region. At that time this area still formed a part of the so-called Sloboda-Ukraine, the left-bank territory of the former Zaporozhian Cossack State. Some important historical changes had occurred in this region during his lifetime. The Russian tsars had conducted a series of wars against the Ottoman Empire using, among their other troops, the Ukrainian Cossack regiments. More and more territory to the south was conquered from the Turks and became open for colonization and settlement. After the successful wars waged by Catherine II between 1768 and 1774, the Ottoman Empire ceded to Russia all the territories north of the Black Sea, including the Crimea. In 1775 Catherine disbanded the Zaporozhian Cossack regiments and their territory was divided into Russian gubernias (administrative units). Catherine encouraged the settlement of these lands by new colonists, among them various religious dissenters, native and foreign.

Portrait of Hryhory Skovoroda (1722-1794)

Skovoroda received the finest education available at the time, including two years at the Mohyla Academy of Kiev, then at the peak of its educational splendour. After a few years in St. Petersburg, where his beautiful voice and musical training earned him a position of musical director in the court choir of the Empress Elizabeth, he returned to his native land and, after 1750, wandered about Central Europe, learning Greek, Latin, German, Hebrew, even Hungarian. After his return, in 1753, he was invited to teach poetry at the Pereyaslav Seminary and, later, in 1759, he was lecturer at the Kharkiv (Russian: Kharkov) Academy. Devoting himself always to the task of knowing himself and his fellow-men, he believed firmly that humanity and human capabilities were as inherent in the peasant as in the lord. Deeply religious, he refused to accept the conventional theology of his time, and approached the pantheistic deism of the West. Although his dialogues and essays on literature were lost, his philosophical dialogues, published after his death, exerted a great influence upon later generations. Skovoroda’s teachings were published in the form of poems, fables and songs. The authorities were not happy with his teaching at the Kharkiv Academy and Skovoroda decided to leave his post there in the late 1760’s. From 1769 until his death, November 9th, 1794, in a village not far from Kharkiv, Skovoroda wandered about Ukraine and parts of Russia as a strannyk, an itinerant philosopher-theologian, living in the homes of the rich and the poor, incessantly teaching his way of life.

The Doukhobors had been known earlier to outsiders as Iconoclasts (Ikonobortsy) and Milk Drinkers (Molokane), and they had already settled in Kharkiv, Katerynoslav (Russian: Yekaterinoslav) and Tambov regions by the middle of the eighteenth century. Those from Tambov region believed they originated in Ukraine. The term dukhobortsy (Spirit-Wrestlers) crystallized in 1785, when the Archbishop of Yekaterinoslav, Ambrosie, derisively coined it to describe the followers of Sylvan Kolesnikov. They coexisted in friendly relations with the Molokane. The rejection of the Holy Script as a written source set the Doukhobors aside from other sectarians. Another feature that distinguished them from a number of religious groups was that the tenets of their philosophy were not written down but were contained in oral tradition – they were enshrined in the memory and the hearts of the faithful. In time, the collection of Doukhobor beliefs became known as the Zhivotnaia kniga dukhobortsev [Doukhobor Book of Life]. Some individuals, both insiders and outsiders, were or might have been very influential upon the formulation of these creeds, and Skovoroda might have been one of them.

As already mentioned, for Skovoroda man was the greatest riddle in life, and self-knowledge the most important means for its solution. His philosophical system embraces three aspects: the ontological, the cognitive, and the ethical. According to him, man is a microcosm reflecting the macrocosm. In order to get to know the universe one must first know oneself. Self-knowledge was for Skovoroda the first aim of philosophy which he approached with the Socratic maxim “Know thyself”. Like Socrates, he travelled on foot and taught his philosophy in market places and among friends and people who would listen to him. His personality may be compared with that of Lev Tolstoy (a great admirer of his), in his common striving for a simple life, in the midst of common folk, as well as in their strong moralizing tendencies. Skovoroda was known to carry all his worldly possessions in a bag, among them a Hebrew Bible and a flute, both of which he was very fond. It was this unorthodox style of preaching and travelling which had a profound impact on peasant masses and which endeared him to them. Since Skovoroda was known to visit a large number of localities not only in Ukraine proper but also in the southern part of Russia, he may have come in contact with dissidents and sectarians in those parts, who would have been exposed to his teachings. Undoubtedly, the significance of Skovoroda’s instruction had a much wider implication than Ukraine proper.

The dearth of documentation regarding the life and precepts of Skovoroda and the origin of the Doukhobors and their philosophical tenets that gave rise to hypotheses concerning his impact on their beliefs. Because Skovoroda disseminated his philosophy mainly by means of discourses, and since the religious tenets of the Doukhobors remained for a long time in oral form, passed from generation to generation, some investigators of Doukhoborism were inclined to see similarities between his teachings and the Doukhobors’ practices and some have postulated that Skovoroda played a leading role in the development of Doukhoborism.

It is significant that Skovoroda’s Katekhyziz [Catechism under the name of “The Chief Gate to Christian Morality”], compiled in 1766 and revised in 1780, outlines some rudimentary principles of Christianity similar to the ones which early Doukhobors held dear. It also may have been significant, or coincidental, that a Russian Senator, Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin, who in 1801 travelled to the Doukhobors in the Kharkiv province on Alexander I’s mission, wrote and published earlier, in 1790, a Katekhyz as well. Both Skovoroda and the Doukhobors believed in a simple pure life and in abstinence – a life characterized by meekness and humility vis-a-vis their neighbours in the biblical sense. They denounced individual property and did not view favourably the amassment of material goods. The Doukhobors were courteous in their dealings with strangers but they did not recognize ranks or offices. This was precisely Skovoroda’s attitude. One could quote the well-known incident when he refused to recognize the Governor Shcherbinin so long as the latter insisted on being addressed by his official title, but accepted him as his equal on the basis of his first name and patronymic.

Thus, in the second half of the 18th century, when Skovoroda was engaged in his wanderings and teaching, the Doukhobors were residing on the same territory where he was preaching. Mutual contacts and interaction of the two are not excluded, although definite proofs of such relations lack written documentation. Nevertheless, the very probability of personal contacts contributed to the spreading of certain myths and suppositions regarding Skovoroda and the Doukhobors. These myths occasionally made their way into the published works of various researchers. Let us consider one such account presented in a book by a Canadian author:

After Kolesnikoffs death, a bearded pilgrim strode into the village holding a Hebrew Bible in one hand and a flute in the other. His name was Gregory S. Skovoroda (1722-94). He was trained for priesthood. He was a wandering philosopher, a Theologian, who had escaped from the famous monastery “Pecherskaja Lavra” in Kiev, pretending he was insane. This stranger lived among the Doukhobors about ten years and vanished as mysteriously as he came.

He composed songs for the Doukhobors and made melodies to their psalms. He played them on the flute until they could be memorized. The Doukhobors are still lolling these melodies.

He wrote down “The Confession of Faith of the Doukhobors in the Ekaterinoslaw Province”. This catechism was handed over to Governor Kakhovsky in Ekaterinoslaw in 1791. This was the first written statement that came from a Doukhobor community.

Aylmer Maude (1858-1938), Tolstoy’s friend and translator of his works into English, who was involved in the negotiations with the Canadian authorities concerning the immigration of the Doukhobors into this country in 1899, had the following to say in this regard:

That, under the circumstances of the time, this peasant sect should have been able to formulate such reasonable and coherent views … seems wonderful; but what we know of the life of the philosopher, Gregory Skovoroda, who, reports say, drew up for the Doukhobors the confession of faith they supplied to the Governor of Ekaterinoslav, throws some light on this manner in which such ideas were formulated.

Maude adds that a man of the type of Skovoroda could perform a great service for the peasant masses. Among other things, Skovoroda was a musical composer whose verses and tunes were still popular with the Molokane in the first decade of the 20th century. The fertile period of psalm composition, the late 18th – early 19th century, was the time when the psalms (which were the chief Doukhobor-produced historical sources) originated. They have been garnered from other, non-Doukhobor, sources.

The first researcher on Doukhobors and Doukhoborism was Orest Markovich Novitsky (1806-84), student of the Kiev Academy, who prepared his treatise on the subject to fulfil the requirements for a degree in theology, later professor of philosophy at the University of Kiev until 1850. His work appeared in book form for the first time in 1832. Later, he expanded and published a second edition in 1883. Novitsky does not mention the connection of Skovoroda with the Doukhobors. However, he admits that the above-mentioned “Confession of Faith”, compiled in 1791, indicates an authorship of someone well-educated: the profound knowledge of the Bible, the acquaintance with foreign languages, an elaborate, polished style and some words and expressions totally unfamiliar to illiterate people.

It was Novitsky’s critic, G. Varadinov, who, while reviewing the former’s book, advanced the theory that Skovoroda had a pronounced influence on the Doukhobors. He criticized Novitsky for not mentioning it in his book on the Doukhobors. Varadinov was convinced that Skovoroda contributed greatly to the dissemination of the Doukhobor beliefs in the Kharkov Gubernia, and that the Molokane copied his works, used his verses, and sang the psalms adapted by him.

Later students of Skovoroda’s philosophy and biography, in addition to sharing or refuting the points of view of Novitsky or Varadinov pertaining to this subject, advanced some new hypotheses. For example, V. F. Ern, a Skovoroda biographer, believed that in the person of the philosopher there was the make-up of a potential sectarian, and, moreover, that Skovoroda was the initiator of the Russian Slavophile movement. Another prominent Skovoroda scholar, D. I. Bahalii, admits, like Ern, that the philosopher stood in some form of silent opposition to the official Orthodox Church, without, however, being its enemy in principle. But he was as much against the dogmatism and intolerance of any established Church as he was against the superstitions and the fanatical beliefs of the sectarians. Skovoroda was opposed in general to all sets of philosophical rules which compelled a man to follow a rigid interpretation of faith.

Similarly, nineteenth-century students of Russian sectarianism speculated on the possibilities of Skovoroda’s influence on the spiritual beliefs of the Doukhobors and the Molokane. Thus, F. V. Livanov, a writer and a government official, concluded that in all the archival material which he had used in his research he could not find corroboration that Skovoroda might be, on some basis, considered as the philosopher of one of these sects. Livanov concluded that some attitudes of the sectarians appealed to Skovoroda, as, for example, the contempt for objects made of gold or silver, but there was no general convergence of his views and theirs. What the researcher found was a document (listed as No. 32, Case of 1802, Archives of the Ministry of the Internal Affairs) which mentioned that the Molokane, especially those residing in the south, had been using some of Skovoroda’s adaptations of psalms and melodies, in particular his Vsiakomu horodu [To Every City], on certain festive occasions. According to P.N. Malov, another researcher, A. S. Lebedev, a professor of church history, in his work, Dukhobortsy v slobodskoi Ukrainie [The Doukhobors in Eastern Ukraine], Istorichesko-Filologicheskoe Obshchestvo (The Historico-Philological Society), 1803, mentions an 1801 criminal case against the Doukhobors, where the name of a witness was Skovoroda. Obviously, this must have been another person with the same name, since Hryhory Skovoroda had died in 1794.

Paul N. Miliukov (1859-1943), a historian of Russian culture, says the following on the subject:

It is significant that the ardent and popular preaching of the famous Ukrainian mystic and philosopher, Gregory Skovoroda, dates from that period (between the sixties and nineties of the eighteenth century) in which the sect of the Doukhobors was founded. Gregory Skovoroda, while not a member of any sect, was a Sectarian in spirit; except for the doctrine on reincarnation, his views were identical with those of the Doukhobors, and he frankly called himself an “Abrahamite” (a Bohemian sect similar to the Doukhobors) in his letters to friends. ‘Let everyone else do as he pleases,’ he wrote, ‘I have devoted myself wholly to seeking the divine wisdom. We were born to that end, and I live by it, think of it day and night, and by it I shall die.’ In all Skovoroda’s works, so highly praised by Russian Sectarians, Spiritual Christianity is ardently propagated.

Certainly, such axioms as “compared to faith the ceremonies are as husk to the grain or compliments to true kindness,” could only endear Skovoroda to people like the Doukhobors who rejected the external rituals of religion.

The official confession of faith written by the Yekaterinoslav Doukhobors and presented to Governor Kahovsky during their imprisonment in 1791, bears close similarity to the ideas of Skovoroda, although a direct influence is impossible to prove. The most probable inference is that when the confession was prepared the same ideas had been more or less adopted by all Spiritual Christians. From this confession, however, it is evident that the writers were possessed of natural eloquence and skilful literary expression. In spite of defects in the exposition, the ideas presented make up a complete and harmonious system, possessing a philosophical basis similar to that of ancient Gnosticism.

Statue of Hryhory Skovoroda in Kiev, Ukraine.

From the above exposition it becomes evident that the speculations or suppositions of various Skovoroda biographers, students of Russian philosophy or of Russian sectarianism may have persuaded later scholars that Skovoroda really was a founder or philosopher of this or that religious movement. These scholars included Vladimir Dmitrievich Bonch-Bruevich (1873-1955), the well-known Marxist, writer, historian, ethnographer, and student of Russian sectarianism. Because of his political and scholarly prestige, his theories concerning the role of Skovoroda in the formation of various Russian sects (including that of Doukhoborism) were widespread.

In searching for a prototype of communal living, Bonch-Bruevich became interested in various sects, among them, the Doukhobors. He believed that the Doukhobors lived on the basis of a communal system and as such were the closest, among the Russian peasants, to the tenets of Communism. He came with the Doukhobors to Canada in June 1899, and lived with them in this country until the end of January 1900. He also visited those who remained in the Caucasus in the spring of 1910. His interest, and that of other researchers in the life and the beliefs of the Russian sectarians culminated in a project to publish a number of works dealing with this subject, entitled, Materiaux pour servir a I’histoire des sectes russes. The editor of this series, Bonch-Bruevich, appealed to those interested to send material about the sects either to himself or to Vladimir Chertkov’s Publishing House in England. Unfortunately, owing to adverse circumstances at the time, Bonch-Bruevich was able to publish only a small number of the projected volumes.

One of his books expressed the idea that the philosophical views and opinions of Skovoroda resembled those of the sect known as New-Israel. He wrote:

Already in 1900, when I began to study systematically the Weltanschauung [world-view] of the Russian Spiritual Christians – the Israelitans, I also became acquainted with the works of Skovoroda. His ideas were similar to the socio-religious views widespread at that time in Russia, which were contemptuously called khiystovstvo (flagellatory) by the clergy. We are firmly convinced that Skovoroda was one of the main theoreticians of the Russian “Spiritual Christians”. His works represent a revealing expose of all that was discussed around him clandestinely by the peasant masses. We are convinced that he added to these views and further developed them, thus exerting an enormous influence on the formation of thought which kept circulating among the members of these socio-religious groups, ever growing in strength in spite of all the preventive measures (by the authorities). If anyone wishes to learn and to understand the ancient teachings of the “Spiritual Christians” which have reached our times he should study thoroughly the works of Skovoroda.

Bonch-Bruevich planned to give detailed proofs of Skovoroda’s spiritual relationship with the Russian sectarians in the second volume of his publication which was to be dedicated to an exposition of the thinker’s philosophy. Again, unfortunately, this sequel never appeared in print. A number of later Skovoroda scholars criticized Bonch-Bruevich’s edition of Skovoroda’s works with regard to his subjective attempt to connect him with the world of the Russian sectarians.

M. P. Red’ko, whose work reflects the Soviet evaluation of Skovoroda’s philosophy, denies any possibility of the philosopher’s having been a founder or spiritual mentor of any Russian or Ukrainian religious sect. He considers as groundless the attempts by Miliukov and Bonch-Bruevich to mould Skovoroda into a latent sectarian. He rejects Bonch-Bruevich’s endeavours to equate the philosopher with the Russian Spiritual Christians – especially in considering him one of the chief theoreticians of the New-Israel sect. According to Red’ko, Bonch-Bruevich exaggerated the importance of sectarians in peasant movements before the Revolution of 1905. However, Red’ko assures the reader that toward the end of his life Bonch-Bruevich had already changed his previous opinions and did not insist on Skovoroda being the theoretician of the Doukhobor sect.

Red’ko discounts also as inconclusive the opinion that some of Skovoroda’s works were current among the Doukhobors and the Molokane during the 19th century, as attested by Varadinov and Livanov. This did not prove in itself that their author belonged to these sects or was consciously involved in shaping their philosophical tenets. Another contemporary Soviet Russian scholar, Aleksandr Ilich Klibanov, devotes considerable space in his work arguing that Skovoroda was connected spiritually with the Doukhobors and that the “Confession of Faith” of 1791 was written by him.

Thus, the extant written evidence so far does not provide a conclusive proof of Skovoroda’s involvement with the Doukhobors. In his own opinion, he viewed sectarianism with skepticism. He always objected strongly when anyone tried to accuse him of belonging to any sectarian movement. He would say: “The love of one’s neighbour is non-denominational and non-sectarian”. The philosopher, in his long and fruitful life, did show at times some unorthodox tendencies and beliefs with regard to the official Church of the day. Nevertheless, he never severed relations with this Church. Any influence that his works or teachings might have exerted on the religious philosophy of the Doukhobors or other similar sects were coincidental and, apparently, non-intentional. Nowhere in the documents can one find any direct indications of his being consciously involved in establishing or actively supporting such sects. Nor is there any sound indication of his being indebted in the formulation of his own Weltanschauung to any ideas or beliefs of the Doukhobors or other Spiritual Christians of the time.

Additional Information on Doukhobor History

by Vladimir Ivanovich Savva

The Russian province of Sloboda-Ukraine (Kharkov) is widely considered the birthplace of the Doukhobor faith. However, in the late 18th century, Doukhobors in that province lived in difficult times. During the reigns of Catherine the Great (1762-1796) and Tsar Paul (1796-1802), hundreds of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors were subjected to surveillance, arrest, interrogation, extortion, imprisonment, torture and exile on account of their faith, which was considered ‘heretical’ by church and state authorities. The following manuscript offers a remarkably rare, detailed and authentic glimpse into the lives of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors, and their fate as victims of religious persecution.  It also contains a wealth of personal information about individual Doukhobors that is of tremendous genealogical value to family researchers.  Reproduced from Vladimir Ivanovich Savva’s “Iz slobodskoi-ukrainskoi stariny kontsa XVIII v. (zametki i materialy)” published as part of “Izvestiya Istoriko-Filologicheskogo Instituta Knyazya Bezborodko v Nezhine” (tom XXIII, 1907), it is made available for the first time in English translation in this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive. Translation and editorial notes by Jack McIntosh. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Preface by the Author

Thanks to the kindness of E. M. Ivanov, archivist of the Kharkov Historical-Philological Society, I have had the opportunity to acquaint myself with several files on the Doukhobors that have been transferred to the archives of that society from the archive of the Kharkov Provincial Administration.

The data taken by me from the archival documents supplement to some extent published information about Doukhobors in Sloboda Ukraine, which is considered to be their land of origin (Orest Novitsky, Dukhobortsy, 2nd ed., page 21; Professor A. S. Lebedev, Dukhobortsy v Slobodskoi Ukraine, page 1).


The case of the Doukhobor Roman Skripnichenkov and his wife Evdokia opens with the report from P. F. Saburov, City Governor of Kharkov, to the Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine.

On July 27, 1799, the City Governor informed the provincial governor in this “secret” report as follows:

“When I was present in the jail where Doukhobors were being riveted into fetters, the wife of a soldier in General Glazenap’s regiment, Evdokia Skripnichenkova, came to the jail accompanied by her three minor children and, when asked why she had come, she declared herself as belonging to the Doukhobor heresy, and for this reason I subjected her to interrogation. Herewith to the consideration of Your Excellency I have the honour hereby to report that the said soldier’s wife Skripnichenkova, along with her children, are being held in the jail under special secret and secure guard.”

What it was that prompted Evdokia Skripnichenkova voluntarily to admit her adherence to Doukhobor beliefs is revealed by the results of her interrogation. While living in Kharkov, she had travelled to visit Doukhobors in the village of Prokhody. At the time that these Doukhobors were confined in the Kharkov jail, she came to bring them alms [i.e. money or food given freely to relieve the needy]. When she was not admitted to see her “brethren”, as she called them during interrogation, she referred to herself as a Doukhobor, supposing that in that case they would allow her to visit the imprisoned Doukhobors.

About herself Evdokia testified as follows:

“I am 27 years old. As to where I was born, I do not know. I grew up in the city of Sumy. I am in my second marriage. I can read but do not know how to write. At first I upheld the faith of my parents, the Greco-Russian faith. Soon after I married for the first time I moved with my mother and the whole family into Prusovka sloboda (“free village”), belonging to Prince Prozorov, in Pavlograd uezd (“district”), Novorossiysk province, where, taught by Doukhobors, I secretly adopted their doctrine from my husband. When he died I moved to the sloboda of Troitskaya, belonging to the same Prince Prozorov, and there married, for the second time, to Prince Prozorov’s subject, the Doukhobor Roman Skripnichenkov, to whom I was married in church by the priest.”

While following Doukhobor teachings, she and her husband attended Confession and the Eucharist once a year, not voluntarily, but under pressure from neighbours of the Greco-Russian [i.e. Orthodox] faith. In 1798, for his confession of Doukhobor beliefs, her husband, at the insistence of the priest in Troitskaya sloboda, was sent by the landowner to the recruiting station in the city of Pavlograd. When he was dispatched to the dragoons regiment in Kharkov, his wife went there also, moving into army quarters. From Kharkov, Evdokia travelled to join Doukhobors in Prokhody sloboda.

When asked why she had visited Kharkov Jail, where the Doukhobors were being held, and why she had declared herself as belonging to the Doukhobor faith, she replied that “at the jail I had a small trade selling provisions and often brought alms to the Doukhobors, and when one day they would not let me into the jail to see my brethren, that is, the Doukhobors, then for being a Doukhobor woman, they put me under guard.”

To the question of whether there were Doukhobors in the city of Sumy and in the settlements of Prusovka and Troitskaya in Novorossiysk Province, where Evdokia had been living, she answered that she did not know if there are Doukhobors in Sumy and vicinity, but in Novorossiysk Province there are Doukhobors living in Bogdanovka and Mikol’skaya [i.e. Nikolskoye] slobodas, where there are over fifty Doukhobor households, several in Prusovka sloboda, three households in the village of Aleksandrovka and two in the village of Tokmats.

On July 28th of that year, 1799, after Evdokia Skripnichenkova’s interrogation, she was sent along with the evidence taken from her to Major-General Glazenap, in whose regiment her husband was serving.

The documents do not indicate how Evdokia supported herself and her three minor children while living in Kharkov. There is no information to support the contention that Evdokia’s husband, a soldier, was giving her money or that her parents, who were living in Novorossiya, were helping her. It is possible that Evdokia obtained means for feeding herself and her children by her “small trade selling provisions” that she conducted at the jail, and from this money she managed to provide alms to her “brethren”, as she referred to the Doukhobors confined in the Kharkov jail.

During questioning, Roman Skripnichenkov, Evdokia’s husband, testified as follows:

“I am thirty-seven years old, but I do not remember where I came from originally, except that at the age of about nine I left my father and mother; I have heard that I was born in the village of Gushchin, Kurochinskii okrug (“administrative district”), in Kursk Province, and was transported by some sort of merchant whose name I do not know to the territory now called Novorossiysk Province, where I lived for over twenty-seven years in various places, up to the time this year, 1799, when I was sent as a recruit for assignment to military service in the Glazenap Dragoons Regiment. I do not know how to read or write, apart from some divine prayers and psalms from the psalter taught me by my wife Evdokia, who lives with me in the regiment; I attended Confession and the Holy Eucharist once a year conducted by Greco-Russian priests, voluntarily, not by compulsion, only now in the year, 1799, because I was turned over to the army as a recruit, I have no desire for that.”

Evdokia Skripnichenkova testified that she and her husband attended Confession and the Eucharist under compulsion, whereas her husband gave evidence that he had done so voluntarily, losing his desire only upon being conscripted into the army. Is it not the case that he lost his desire because it was at the priest’s insistence that he was conscripted for upholding Doukhobor beliefs?

To the question “How do you understand the Most High and true Lord God, and His holy saints, and likewise also icons and the image of the cross of our Lord?” Roman answered: “I understand the Most High God, that God exists and I worship Him, but I do not believe in holy saints, and do not at all revere their icons and images of the cross.”

To the question “Have you for a long time set yourself in this stance of belief which is damaging to the Greco-Russian faith” and “How do you regard the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God,” Roman testified as follows: “On my own I have been convinced from my youth in this blossoming of faith from divine books read to me by various people; I do not revere the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, but understand her to be just a being who is less than God.”

Roman’s interrogation ends with his testimony in response to questions as to whether he believes in serving the Sovereign and whether he knows of Doukhobors in the regiment in which he was serving. To the second question Roman answered in the negative, remarking that in Novorossiysk Province there are “quite a few” Doukhobors “in several villages, especially in Bogdanovka and Mikol’skaya,” and in answer to the first question he testified:

“As to my belief in military service, although I took the oath, I kissed the cross and the Bible not believing them to be true, but considering myself under compulsion, and also my military service I am enduring without zeal or enthusiasm, but under orders, and have been kept in isolation because of my intention to run away.”

Upon the completion of Roman Skripnichenkov’s interrogation (the transcript of it is marked “July 1799” without giving the exact date), Major-General Glazenap informed the Novorossiysk provincial governor of the places where, according to Skripnichenkov’s testimony, Doukhobors were living, sent a report on him to General Field-Marshal Count Saltykov, and proposed to the Kharkov governor that the Skripnichenkovs be held in jail. Here they were kept apart from other prisoners.

The Skripnichenkovs’ fate was soon decided. Count Saltykov sent a report about them to Tsar Paul I, from whom he received an order from Gatchina [the imperial palace] dated August 22, 1799: “I order that the dragoon Skripnichenkov and his wife Evdokia, on account of their self-confession that they uphold the Doukhobor heresy be punished with the knout and, after having their nostrils slit, that they be exiled to hard labour in Ekaterinburg.”[1]


In this file from 1798 on the Doukhobors in the archives of the Kharkov Provincial Administration, there are documents relating to the fate of two Kharkov Doukhobors, Aleksey Golovin and Stepan Golishchev, which were published in Professor A. S. Lebedev’s book Dukhobortsy v Slobodskoi-Ukraine [1890].[2]

Aleksey Golovin, who was living in the village of Ternovoye, Kharkov okrug, first appeared in court in 1793, while yet a minor, accused of deviation from Orthodoxy. At that time the Kharkov Conscience Court, taking into consideration the age of the accused, directed that he be turned over to the custody of the Kharkov Public School in the hope that after being taught and instructed there, he would turn away from his heretical views. But Golovin, as Professor Lebedev put it, did not live up to the hopes of the Conscience Court that he would convert to Orthodoxy through education.[3] In 1798 his guilt was established, as is evident from the memorandum of Feoktist, Bishop of Belgorod, to Teplov, Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine, not only of deviation from Orthodoxy, but also of propagating his heresy. On February 27, 1798, the bishop wrote to the governor concerning Golovin:

“The Doukhobor heresy detected among the odnodvortsy (“smallholders”) in the villages of Saltovskoye Ternovoye and Bolshiye Prokhody last year, 1797, would have come to an end, but now the smallholders Aleksey Golovin and Stepan Golishchev from Ternovoye, having come to Belgorod, have been spreading the aforementioned Doukhobor heresy, in particular: about making the sign of the cross, they have been saying that crossing oneself with the hand is not true prayer; about the Honourable Cross they have been saying that the living cross shines within us; as for icons, they have been affirming that an icon is what the Son of Nazareth taught about God, and they have been spreading other absurdities about Orthodox Church dogmas and rituals; such audacious behavior is all the more dangerous in that one of them, Aleksey Golovin, according to his own testimony, attended classes in Kharkov in mathematics and other sciences; I admonished both of them privately in their cells and also in the Consistory to abandon their ridiculous delusions; but they rejected all my exhortations, and after leaving the Consistory they have not appeared before me again, and I do not know where they are now; by decree of the Most Holy Governing Synod it was ordered on March 2, 1773 that those deluded persons who upon exhortation will not return to Orthodoxy be dispatched to temporal teams for proper investigation so as to protect simple folk against the false Doukhobor beliefs of the aforementioned odnodvortsy Golovin and Golishchev; I hereby report for Your Excellency’s consideration.”

Further, the high church official brought to the attention of the governor that the parish priest did not admit Golovin and Golishchev to the Eucharist “on account of their unrepentant heretical delusion,” for which they submitted a complaint; he reports that he has instructed the Kharkov Archpriest Andrey Prokopovich to set Golovin and Golishchev on the true path and requests the governor that if Golovin and Golishchev “repent and return to Orthodoxy, he should order that they be obliged by a signed pledge never to depart from the true faith and not to influence anyone to adopt their present delusion.”

The bishop was hoping that the archpriest would succeed where he had failed.[4] The archpriest was successful, but he admonished the deluded individuals after they had been treated in an insane asylum.

After receiving the memorandum from the bishop, the governor on March 2nd sent a secret instruction to the Kharkov Lower Land Court to dispatch to him without delay the odnodvortsy Golovin and Golishchev of the village of Ternovoye. The bishop replied in his memorandum that Golovin and Golishchev were to be dispatched to Kharkov and presented before Archpriest Prokopovich; if those presented, wrote the governor, remain in their delusion after admonition, measures will be undertaken “to bring to an end the frenzy they have caused.” On March 10th, the Kharkov Lower Land Court reported to the governor, that Golovin and Golishchev were being escorted to him “with respect to the requirements pertaining to them.” That same day, March 10th, the governor prepared the proposal to Archpriest Prokopovich “to set on the true path” Golovin and Golishchev who were being sent to him, and if they “from their delusion return to Orthodoxy, and of their delusion make due repentance,” that they be sent back.

It is not clear from the file on Golovin and Golishchev whether they were dispatched on March 10th to Archpriest Prokopovich; however, it is evident from the report of the governor to the procurator general, quoted below, that Golovin and Golishchev spent time in the Ecclesiastical Administration, which “having heard from those two persons principles contrary to the foundation of the church, was occasioned no little trouble.” When he found out about the difficulty the Ecclesiastical Administration was having, the governor, as he put it, advised that “they be declared as having lost their mind and their faculties,” after which it was ordered that Golovin and Golishchev be put in an insane asylum. These deluded persons remained in the asylum until about June 23rd, when the asylum director, Dr. Keppen[5], reported to the governor that Golovin and Golishchev “have been in the insane asylum on account of insanity, and in my opinion are now restored to health.” When the governor received this opinion from the Doctor as to the condition of Golovin and his friend, he proposed to Archpriest Prokopovich that Golovin and Golishchev be given needed admonition to make sure “that they in fact are in their right minds,” and to release them to go home, having instructed the priest in the village of Ternovoye “to keep the indicated odnodvortsy Golishchev and Golovin under observation in accordance with the duties incumbent upon him.”

This time admonition was not without effect. On July 9th Archpriest Prokopovich reported to the governor: “the odnodvortsy Stefan Golishchev and Aleksey Golovin from the village of Ternovoye who were sent under escort from Your Excellency to me for admonition in the Ecclesiastical Administration have been admonished by me in accordance with the report sent to me by the Right Reverend Feoktist, Bishop of Belgorod and Kursk; during exhortation they promised to abandon their delusion and fulfill all that the Holy Church requires, as to which they, in accordance with the Decree of July 16, 1722 were obliged to sign pledges, and in accordance with Your Excellency’s instruction they were released to go home, and of this it is my duty to inform His Grace and also Your Excellency as I hereby most respectfully report.”[6]

As a result of this report, the governor proposed to the Kharkov Lower Land Court that Golovin and Golishchev be restored to their place of residence.

Golovin and Golishchev’s later fate is not indicated in their files. From the governor’s report to the procurator general, which is preserved in handwritten form and dated January 8th, 1799, it is clear that the governor did not believe in their sincerity, and that during 1798 a considerable number of Doukhobors had been exposed in Sloboda Ukraine province.

“It is already known to the Secret Expedition,” reported the governor to the procurator general, “all that took place before 1797 with respect to cases concerning the schismatics known as Doukhobors living in many villages in this province. During 1797 with respect to discovered occurrences, I was obliged to submit reports dated October 20th and November 10th of that year, enclosing notes on the principles they observe and everything that in accordance with my duty followed, without leaving anything out. According to those two reports of mine, in response to which I received two secret memoranda from Your Excellency’s predecessor, His Excellency Prince Aleksey Borisovich Kurakin, with the said true copies to Your Majesty herewith I have the honour to deliver.  In the course of the year just past, 1798, in neighbouring Kursk Province, the smallholders Golishchev and Golovin from the village of Ternovoye in this province were apprehended and after being delivered to the Belgorod Ecclesiastical Consistory, were escorted from there to the Ecclesiastical Administration here, which caused no little difficulty when from those two men principles were heard that are contrary to the establishment of the Church; when I found out about this I advised that they be declared insane, as they appear to be, as having lost their minds and reason. After that, as soon as the aforementioned persons had been brought under escort from the Ecclesiastical Administration to me, I ordered[7] that they be taken to the insane asylum, where, after being there less than three months, although I think they pretended to repent, answering when dispatched to the Ecclesiastical Administration in a manner approximating what was required, they were dispatched in peace to their own homes, in conformity with Your Highness’s will as made known to me in the injunction.”

Later on the governor asked for instructions as to the conduct of the case that arose in the Kharkov District Court, which, in the governor’s opinion, “came about because of the incompetence shown by the village priest[8] in summoning a large number of these dissidents to church and demanding of them assent to those points which he should have known beforehand they would stubbornly resist, not having been prepared individually and privately by exhortation.[9]” In conclusion the governor cites his two reports presented in 1797 (October 20th and November 10th) to Procurator-General Prince A. B. Kurakin. A draft of one of these reports, dated 1797, is preserved in the file on the Doukhobors. As it is of interest, I am presenting it as it has been preserved (Appendix 1).


As is evident from the reports of the Izium and Akhtyr district police chiefs to A. G. Teplov, Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine Province, they had made inquiries, in fulfillment of the governor’s secret order [i.e. the “Secret Expedition”] of November 4th, 1797 “to gather intelligence as secretly as possible around the settlements, especially through the village priests, as to whether there are among the inhabitants persons who have strayed into the so-called Doukhobor schism.”

Unfortunately, the archive does not contain reports from other police chiefs of Sloboda-Ukraine Province; only the reports of the Izium and Akhtyr police chiefs have been preserved. Reporting on the inquiries about Doukhobors they had carried out, both police chiefs presented the governor the results of these investigations in the uezds (“districts”) entrusted to them.

The Izium police chief, Fesenko, reported on January 7, 1798 that Doukhobors had been found in the villages of Shandrigolova and Novokrasnyanka, and he presented a list of Doukhobors “with an explanation of the activities uncovered by the priests as evidence of their prodigality.” In this list it was indicated that in the khutor (“farmstead”) of Kuzminskiy, one and a half versts [an imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 1.07 kilometers] from the sloboda of Shandrigolova in Izium uezd, a “nest of the schismatic sect” was to be found on the property of the landowner Vasily Filip’ev consisting of “Mavra Kuzminichna, a teacher of the heresy, the said Filip’ev’s unmarried aunt, and her helper in teaching heresy, Vasily Prokofiev,” rumoured to be a runaway soldier, who was living not far from the landowner’s homestead in his pasture. Belonging to the sect was Mavra Kuzminichna’s nephew, who lived with his family in Kuzminsky khutor, and several other persons who had moved there from the city of Chiguev, among whom a widow is named.

According to the police chief’s report, thirteen odnodvortsy (Russians, judging by their surnames), had arrived on foot or by conveyance “to practice and be taught in the heresy,” of which the majority came with their families, and two women (one of them a widow with children) from Derilovsky, Vipolzov, Kolodyazey and Osvyanikov khutors. According to the chief’s report, the sectarians “shun churches, do not attend Confession and the Holy Sacraments, and bury their own by themselves; moreover, rumour has it that they quietly send their newborns to the priests to be baptized, but then, not satisfied with that, they re-baptize not only their babies, but also the old men and women who join the sect.”

In the settlement of Novokrasnyanskoye there proved to be persons deviating from the Orthodox Church, according to the police chief’s report: eight men (mostly with families), six widows, two married women and one spinster. The chief noted the following information about them:

“These people have not been to Confession or the Holy Eucharist for four years, and when the priest carrying out his duties comes to their homes with the cross and prayer, they not only do not pay due respect to the Honourable and Life-giving Cross, but they even hide from the priest; moreover many of the residents have assured us that all the above-listed persons gather at various times in the home of one of the villagers, Ivan son of Petr Roldugin [Ivan Petrovich Roldugin], and perform some sort of prayers, from which his, (that is, Roldugin’s) neighbour the Bakhmut meshchanin (“small trader”) Nikita son of Ivan Suravtsov [Nikita Ivanovich Suravtsov] is able to conclude that the above-mentioned are schismatics or Doukhobors, chief among them being the said Ivan Roldugin. That is all he [Nikita] can testify about the sect; he cannot explain more about their activities, as they are carried on in the greatest secrecy.”

The Akhtyr district police chief, Captain Boyarsky, reported to the governor on April 16, 1798 that he, carrying out the governor’s order, “in all the villages of Akhtyr uezd through the parish priests had carried out a secret investigation, and that in their parishes there is nobody who has strayed into schisms, and signed statements have been taken from them.” Only from the village of Dernovaya the priest reported that Lieutenant-Colonel R. S. Efim’ev does not attend church, “does not attend Confession in the Holy Lenten period or partake of the Holy Sacraments, and does not observe other sacraments of the church; however, it is impossible to know what religious belief he adheres to, as he has not declared it to the priest.” The police chief reported to the governor that Efim’ev has given him neither a verbal nor a written explanation of the reasons for not attending church.


Preserved in the file on the Doukhobors in the archive of the Kharkov Provincial Administration is an “Inventory of the economic condition of the Doukhobors who by Royal Injunction were returned to their own locations in 1801 in the districts of Kharkov, Izium and Zmiev in Sloboda-Ukraine Province.”

This inventory, signed by Sloboda-Ukraine Governor Zilbergarnish, was compiled by decree of Alexander I; the Tsar wrote about this, his order to the Sloboda-Ukraine governor on November 27, 1801 in a rescript to his senators Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy, who at that time had been inspecting Sloboda-Ukraine Province: “I am instructing him (the Sloboda-Ukraine governor) to look into their [the Doukhobors returned from exile in the Baltic and Siberia] condition and having described their needs, to report to me as to whether they have homes, and if they do not, how much will be needed for their construction, so that it will be possible to provide them soon with the needed assistance.”[10]

When he received the governor’s report on the needs of the Doukhobors – “Opis’ khozyaistvennomu sostoyaniyu dukhobortsev” (“Inventory of the economic condition of the Doukhobors”), Alexander I on February 13, 1802 directed Sloboda Ukraine Governor Artakov, Zilbergarnish’s successor:

“With respect to the report of your predecessor on the needs of the Doukhobors residing in the province entrusted to you who have been brought to ruin by being exiled, I decree that one thousand five hundred fifty rubles be released to you from the cabinet, which I assign you to distribute in accordance with the list enclosed herewith in such a manner that this money will in all probability reach the hands of everyone. At the same time inform them that this assistance is given to them without need to repay, and is not to be counted within the amounts designated for them in my decree of last January 25th which were given you on the occasion of their resettlement.”

Accompanying this order is a copy of the “Inventory of the economic condition of the Doukhobors” presented by Governor Zilbergarnish to Alexander I.

Brought to ruin by their exile, many Doukhobors, as indicated in the inventory, “had nothing” when they returned to their previous places of residence. Having arrived at their previous locations around the middle of summer, when planting time was already past, and most of them not having cattle, the Doukhobors had to be concerned first and foremost with building habitation for themselves. The returned Doukhobors were eking out provisions for themselves, as the inventory expresses it, “by hand-made wares and labour”, but some of them had to resort to obtaining bread from rural stores on credit.

The “Inventory of the economic condition of the Doukhobors,” which gives a picture of their material circumstances upon their return from exile, is presented in full in Appendix 2.


Appendix 1

“It has come to my attention that in two villages of Kharkov District in the province entrusted to me, the villages of Saltovoye Ternovoye and Prokhody, there are several families of schismatics of a particular kind of delusion, called by the name Doukhobors, of the kind which back in the rule of the then-governor here, Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin, were subjected to various investigations, to the extent of a secret expedition; several of the ones who were older and had fallen farther from the true path were transported here, of which two persons were sent away and their present whereabouts is unknown; many were put into the army, and the others released to their homes after many admonitions from the clergy and it having been reported that they had returned again to the truth.

I ordered the elders in these not insignificant settlements to keep a watch on these persons who had already been exposed; several days ago the village headman of the village of Saltovskoye Ternovoye appeared along with other village leaders, announcing that apparently several of those called Doukhobors are again meeting together, again inviting other peasants into their homes, and that they [i.e. Doukhobors], having shown themselves to be acting suspiciously, they [i.e. the village leaders], in accordance with the order issued to them, are doing their duty by informing the authorities; the Provincial magistrate has also notified me of this.

As a consequence, I detached, having submitted a secret proposal to the Kharkov Land Court, the aforementioned Captain of Police and Assessor to ascertain as imperceptibly as possible the truth and to submit detailed lists of the number of souls of both sexes, and as to whether these schismatics are again inviting into their ceremonial gatherings any of their fellow-villagers and whether they are trying to influence such persons to think in accordance with their principles, which they however maintain in secret; also that they ascertain whether there are any who have left for Kursk Province or closer by, what their names are and of which families, and as to the externalities of the schism.

The Kharkov Land Court informed me in their report number 2524-m of the 13th of this October that pursuant to my order, all possible investigations have been carried out in the villages of Saltovskoye Ternovoye and Prokhody, but the inhabitants and priests there declared unanimously that those referred to among them as Doukhobors are those who previously were called that, but now those same persons go to church and this year during Lent were at Confession and the Holy Eucharist, and that there is no clear proof that they now have been acting against the Christian faith openly; as for surveillance of their actions, as before, so now, it has been confirmed in the most stringent manner by the elected Land Court there to whose members several peasants seemed suspicious, but they were [merely] found conversing with persons named as Doukhobors. In other settlements, as well as those in Kursk Province adjacent to Kharkov Province, nobody has reported the presence of Doukhobors in their district.

Fulfilling my duty to keep an unwavering watch on all that is going on around the Province, I have deemed it necessary to report to Your Excellency what has been happening, appending a copy of the list submitted to me by the Kharkov police captain with the report from the Land Court on the number and names of persons in the two settlements who are included in the designation Doukhobors, at the same time reporting also that the former Ekaterinoslav Province, now Novorossiysk Province, is full of people of this schism, of which the authorities there should be aware, who, as they say, were infected from certain stanitsas (“Cossack villages”) in the Don area, and settlements here by one sentenced convict, who has been sent to hard labour, and who due to illness lay for days in the village of Prokhody.

With those Doukhobors of the previous number who sat in prisons, with those four persons I privately spoke with and questioned, having summoned them to see me on various other grounds: I noted from their outer demeanor much inclination to peaceful and orderly communal life, strict attention to their farming and their families, as well as in their actions, their abhorrence of amusements, of drunkenness, and in their behaviour toward other villagers; I know also that they pay their taxes meticulously, are not manifestly disobedient to the authorities, but, it seems, in a large group are extremely inclined to rebellion and to unconstrained performance of their secret ways, as to which I hereby, having thoroughly investigated them, I enclose for consideration of reproof.

It is my opinion that among these people, as in all sects carried on in secret, there are usually the deceivers and the deceived; the former are clever, whereas the latter are either of immature years or are stupid. Among the Doukhobors of the aforementioned two settlements of Prokhody and Saltovskoy Ternovoy there are some who apparently support in their families this foul sect in their nonworking hours; they are persons of limited intelligence who evidently affirm a certain number of questions and answers and, knowing how to read and write a little, they secretly read to their families many words that none of them understands; however, not having any law or firm rules, they are stubbornly accustomed to believe only what they have memorized, understanding not the essential meaning, but merely the sound of the words. Be that as it may, these people can be of no use to society and given a troublemaker and large numbers can be extremely dangerous. Their families and young children in any case deserve sympathy and are innocent. Good and enlightened priests, which they apparently do not have, may finally return the deceived and the young ones to the true path; at the least suspicion, the deceivers and the instigators should be removed without fail, but as there are very many of them in Novorossiysk Province, and especially in this province, as everyone here knows, so by reporting this to Your Excellency, as far as I have been able to determine in this matter, I shall await instruction as to how to deal with this sort of people by Your Excellency’s guidance and what in such a case I will be ordered to do, and especially if such persons are discovered in areas formerly parts of Voronezh and Novorossiysk Provinces transferred to the province entrusted to me.

In Kharkov there is one retired corporal who was previously among the Doukhobor leaders who converted to that sect several years ago; should it not be ordered [that he be transported to St. Petersburg, now that he, being already a person on in years, is to be found mostly around churches and lives humbly].[11] Results of the most detailed investigations of the Doukhobors should be known from records of the Secret Expedition. I have found no files on these people here, and none have been submitted to me.

Sloboda Ukraine and, to the best of my knowledge, Novorossiysk Province are now full of people of various titles without a post who enjoy the right of nobility by rank. These people without estates are in every possible way striving to take advantage of the misunderstandings of the peasants who not infrequently get into trouble as named agents: such highly dangerous troublemakers, when detected, need to be exiled without fail, so as to prevent the harm they are causing, especially when leading Doukhobors. Will it not be decreed that those idlers of rank be kept under more strict surveillance and restrained at every opportunity?”

(Teplov, Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine to Procurator-General Prince A. B. Kurakin, 1797)

Appendix 2

Inventory of the economic condition of the Doukhobors who in 1801 returned by decree of His Royal Highness to their places of origin in the uezdy (“districts”) of Kharkov, Izium and Zmiev.

Kharkov Uezd

Ternovaya Sloboda:

  • Fedor Shchekin with his brother Prokofiy. The family consists of the female sex, living at home with their grandmother; they have no horses or cattle; for purchase of same and for other economic needs, granted: 60 rubles.
  • Fedor Posnikov with his bride and minor nephew Zakhar.  The family consisting of the female sex has a hut and one horse; assistance granted: 80 rubles.
  • Andrey Posnikov. Family of two souls of the male sex, no property of any kind, lives with the above-mentioned Fedor Posnikov; to set up a household and buy a horse and cattle granted: 60 rubles.
  • Larion Golenishchev. No family, lives with his father, who remains Orthodox and does not belong to the Doukhobor heresy; assistance granted: 15 rubles.
  • Foma Gremyakin, also housed with his father, but at present hired out as a city worker in Kharkov, assistance granted: 15 rubles.
  • Matvey Poznyakov. Family consists of 3 male souls, lives in a ramshackle hut, has no horses or other cattle; for purchase of same granted: 40 rubles.
  • Timofey Malakhov. Apart from females, family consists of 4 male souls, lives in a ramshackle hut, has no horses or other cattle; for assistance and purchase of horses and cattle granted: 50 rubles. 
  • Ivan Repin with his brothers Danil and Ignat. Apart from females, family consists of 6 male souls, has a farmstead with a building and one horse; for assistance and purchase of horses and cattle granted: 60 rubles.
  • Yakov Luk’yanov. Family consists of 3 male souls, has a finished peasant farmstead, but no horses or cattle of any kind; for purchase of same and for assistance granted: 50 rubles.
  • Ermol Lezhebokov. No family, his father remains Orthodox, from this sloboda a considerable area of land has been transferred to Izium District, leaving the son with farmstead and hut, but no cattle whatsoever; assistance granted: 25 rubles.
  • Pavel Makhonin with his brother Emel’yan. The former lives with his father, who remains Orthodox, while the other lives in the city of Kharkov, hired out as a labourer; they are granted: 50 rubles.
  • Ivan Vlasov. Apart from females, family consists of 2 male souls, has a farmstead, hut and one horse; assistance granted: 25 rubles.
  • Vasily Vlasov. Family consists of 2 male souls, has a farmstead and hut, [but] no cattle whatsoever; assistance granted: 40 rubles.
  • Login Golishchev. Family consists of 2 male souls, has a farmstead and hut, [but] no horse or cattle of any kind; for purchase of same granted: 40 rubles.
  • Stepan Golishchev. Apart from females, family consists of 3 male souls; has nothing, lives with friends; to establish a farmstead and purchase domestic cattle, granted: 60 rubles.
  • Efim Gritchin. Lives with his father, who remains Orthodox; assistance granted: 15 rubles.
  • Fedor Gritchin. Family consists of 2 male souls, has a farmstead, hut and one horse, but nothing else; assistance granted: 25 rubles.
  • Petr Kuznetsov. Family consists of 2 male souls, has a farmstead, hut and one horse; assistance granted: 25 rubles.
  • Trofim Golishchev with his wife; has a farmstead and hut, nothing else; assistance granted: 30 rubles.
  • Maksim Ulasov, Pavel Makhonin and Aleksey Golovin, no families, have nothing and live with friends; for getting them set up, granted 25 rubles each: 75 rubles.

Bol’shiye Prokhody Sloboda:

  • Ivan Goncharov with his sisters and wife, has a farmstead, hut and one horse; assistance granted: 25 rubles.
  • Grigory Goncharov. Family consists of the female sex, has a farmstead, hut and two horses; assistance granted: 15 rubles.
  • Platon Goncharov. Family consists of five souls of the male sex, has a farmstead, hut and two horses; assistance granted: 20 rubles.
  • Sergey Sukharev with his wife. Family consists of the female sex, has neither farmstead nor property of any kind, lives with the aforementioned Goncharovs; to establish a farmstead and purchase a horse and cattle granted: 60 rubles.
  • Avram Pentsov. Has a son who remains Orthodox, has a farmstead, hut, three horses and one cow; assistance granted: 10 rubles.
  • Vasily Sukharev, Mina Kuskov, Grigory Bludov and Stepan Sukharev, no families, have nothing and live with friends; to get them set up, granted 25 rubles each: 100 rubles.

In these slobodas all the inhabitants own land in accordance with certificates, deeds of purchase or by other transactions from long ago, and so the aforesaid Doukhobors, upon their return, resumed ownership of the land belonging to them. However, in the six months that have already gone by, owing to privation and their having to put their dwellings in order, they have still not started farming, but are making their living from handicrafts and labour, while some have obtained bread on credit from rural community stores.

Izium Uezd

Petrovskaya Sloboda:

  • Sergey Popov. Family consists of four souls of the male sex, not counting females, has a farmstead, two huts and the necessary peasant buildings, horses, horned and other domestic cattle, as well as tillable land and hay fields, because his family remained in place in this sloboda and kept all their economic enterprises in operation, and so do not need assistance.
  • Yakov Peregudov. Family consists of two male souls, has only one ramshackle hut, and no other buildings, cattle or other peasant farming requirements; assistance granted: 40 rubles.
  • Ivan Sukrutov. Has nothing with him, lives in a hut with the aforementioned Yakov Peregudov; to set himself up with a farmstead and needed cattle granted: 60 rubles.

Zmiev Uezd

Okhochaya Sloboda:

  • Fedor Kukhtin. Family consists of two souls of the male sex, not counting females, has a farmstead and a hut, of domestic cattle has only one horse; to assist him purchase cattle and other needs to get established, granted: 25 rubles.
  • for his relatives Ivan and Prokofy Kukhtin, who are living in the same hut with him, for purchase of horses granted 25 rubles each: 50 rubles.
  • Anisim Kukhtin and his brother Andrey. Family consists of three souls of the male sex, not counting females, living in one wattled hut, only one horse, otherwise nothing; for purchase of a second horse, domestic cattle and other necessities to get established, granted: 60 rubles.

Verkhovaya Bereka Sloboda:

  • Sergei Stroev. Family consists of two souls of the male sex, has a farmstead, hut, and an adequate building structure, of domestic cattle has only one horse; granted: 20 rubles.          
  • and, living in the same hut, his brother Mikhail, for construction of a hut, purchase of cattle, etc. granted: 60 rubles.
  • Isay Zbitnev and Trofim Boev with brothers Ivan and Efim. Without families, no property of any kind, but work with friends at laboring jobs; to get them set up, granted 25 rubles each: 100 rubles.
  • Arkhip Baev. Family consists of three souls of the male sex, has a farmstead, hut, and an adequate building structure, of domestic cattle has only one horse; granted: 20 rubles.
  • Ivan Barbin. Lives at a farmstead with his father, who remains Orthodox and is not a Doukhobor; assistance granted: 15 rubles.
  • Fedor Sidorov. Family consists of two souls of the male sex, has neither hut nor property of any kind, but lives with friends; for getting construction and farming started granted: 60 rubles.
  • Fedor Zbitnev. Family consists of two souls of the male sex, has an adequately built up farmstead, of domestic cattle has only one horse; for assistance granted: 20 rubles.

The aforesaid slobodas – Petrovskaya in Izium uezd, and Okhochaya and Verkhovaya Bereka in Zmiev uezd – previously were part of Novorossiysk Province, and plots of land were staked out to them according to the number of souls, but then in each settlement within a certain period of time the inhabitants have been equalizing landholding among themselves by families, taking into account the increase or decrease in the number of souls; in the case of such equalization in the coming spring, the Doukhobors also will receive their plots in proportion to the number of souls; but upon their return, although those parts of the land that remained unplanted have been allotted to them, however, considering that it is late summer, and also because of privation and the need to occupy themselves with building habitation, they have not begun to till the soil, but are feeding themselves by doing handicrafts and laboring jobs, and in addition it has been ordered that bread be released to the needy on credit from the rural community stores.

The sum of amounts listed in this inventory for assisting them, 1550 rubles, has been distributed according to local prices and the needs of each family, in consideration of sufficiency, number of workers and other interests balanced one against another.

Original signed by: Civil Governor Zilbergarnish.

Checked against the original by: Collegiate Councillor Mikhailov

Editor’s Notes (From the Original 1907 Russian Publication)

[1] For the Russian government’s attitude toward the Doukhobors in the 1790s, see O. Novitsky’s Dukhobortsy, 2nd ed., pp. 50 and ff.

[2] Pp. 6 and ff.

[3] Ibid., p. 7.

[4] The bishop’s proposal to Archpriest Prokopovich as to admonishing Golovin and Golishchev was published in the previously mentioned work by Professor A. S. Lebedev, pp. 7-8. Professor Lebedev drew attention to the bishop’s recognition of Golovin as dangerous because he had studied “mathematics and other sciences” at the Kharkov Public School.

[5]  Ivan Keppen. This inhabitant of Kassel who has received degree of the doctor at the Magdebourg university, was invited in 1786 to Russia and appointed the manager of the Kharkov hospital and all medical institutions of the Kharkov province.

[6] Lebedev, A. S., op. cit., p. 9.

[7] Apparently added in the hand of the governor: “having informed the doctor.

[8] Added in the same handwriting: “who has now been replaced by another.”

[9] Added in the same handwriting: “led to a proper understanding and to conform to the requirements set by the priest.”

[10] Lopukhin’s “Zapiski…” [Notes…], Chteniia v Obshchestvie istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh (Moscow), no. 3, 1860, p.104. The decree of Tsar Alexander I of November 27, 1801 to the Sloboda-Ukraine governor (to report on the needs of the Doukhobors so as to issue them assistance) is published in O. Novitsky’s study Dukhobortsy, 2nd ed., pp. 60-61.

[11] Words enclosed in brackets have been crossed out.


Vladimir Ivanovich Savva’s 1907 manuscript, Iz slobodskoi-ukrainskoi stariny kontsa XVIII v. (zametki i materialy), contains a wealth of information, drawn from Imperial Russian archival records no longer available today, on the Doukhobors of Sloboda-Ukraine at the turn of the 18th century. It describes, in detail, the somewhat complicated chain of events that led to the surveillance, arrest, interrogation, extortion, imprisonment, torture and exile of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors under the reign of Tsar Paul (1796-1801) and their subsequent amnesty, release and patronage under his successor, Tsar Alexander (1801-1825). These events can best be summarized as follows.

According to the manuscript, Doukhoborism was brought to Sloboda-Ukraine earlier in the 18th century by a katorzhnik, a convict sentenced to hard labour (katorga) in the mines of Siberia. While en route to his place of exile, he lay for days, due to illness, in the village of Prokhody in the Kharkov district. During his stay, the convict made a number of converts among the local Orthodox peasants, who carried on the Doukhobor faith after his departure.

The reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796) was a time of prolific growth for Doukhoborism in Sloboda-Ukraine. By 1792, the sect had become numerous enough to attract the attention of the authorities. In that year, a deputation of three Doukhobors from Prokhody village in the Kharkov district petitioned the Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine for protection from harassment by local officials and their Orthodox neighbours. They were summarily arrested and sent to the Alexander Nevsky Seminary in St. Petersburg, where they were admonished.  See the Conversation Between the Rector of Alexander Nevsky Seminary and Three Kharkov Dukhobortsy to read about their interrogation. 

Following the deputation, an official investigation was launched in 1793, resulting in mass arrests of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors.  Part II of the manuscript makes reference to these events. Many Doukhobors were put in the army, some were exiled to parts unknown, while others were admonished, then recanted and were released. Consequently, Doukhoborism was officially thought to be eradicated from the province.

However, by mid-1797, the Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine, Aleksei Grigor’evich Teplov, began receiving reports from village elders about renewed sectarian activity in the villages of Prokhody and Ternovoye, where once again, recanted Doukhobors were meeting together, inviting peasants into their homes and acting ‘suspiciously’. In response, the Governor ordered police surveillance of the suspects and a compilation of their names. By October 1797, Kharkov district police reported back that all possible investigations had been carried out; however, there was no clear proof that the recanted Doukhobors in those villages had lapsed back into their heresy.

The Governor was not convinced, and in November 1797, ordered a ‘Secret Expedition’ to be carried out by district police across the province “to gather intelligence as secretly as possible around the settlements, especially through the village priests, as to whether there were among the inhabitants persons who had strayed into the so-called Doukhobor schism”.

The Secret Expedition, conducted through mid-1798, exposed a considerable number of Doukhobors in Sloboda-Ukraine province. In this regard, Part III of the manuscript contains the reports of two district police chiefs presenting the results of their investigations. The January 1798 report of the Izium district police chief identified 26 persons in the villages of Shandrigolova and Novokrasnyanka who practiced and taught the Doukhobor heresy. The April 1798 report of the Akhtyr district police chief did not identify any Doukhobors per se, but noted as ‘suspect’ one retired lieutenant-colonel who refused to attend church and partake in the sacraments.

Unfortunately, the reports of other district police chiefs in Sloboda-Ukraine were not preserved. However, it is known that the Secret Expedition revealed more than 220 Doukhobors living in the villages of Ternovoye and Prokhody in the Kharkov district; the village of Petrovskaya in the Izium district; and the villages of Okhochaya and Verkhovaya Bereka in the Zmiev district.

Part II of the manuscript provides an interesting case study of two Doukhobors revealed by the Secret Expedition. In February 1798, Feoktist, Bishop of Belgorod wrote Governor Teplov about Alexei Golovin and Stepan Golishchev, who had been arrested for proselytizing among the peasants of Ternovoye and Prokhody. The Bishop advised that, having personally admonished them without success, he had committed them to further admonishment by the Kharkov Archpriest Prokopovich. When the Governor found out about the difficulty the clergy was having with the recalcitrant Doukhobors, he had them committed to an insane asylum. By June 1798, however, Golovin and Golishchev were discharged from the asylum, having been deemed “restored to health”. They were then sent to the Kharkov Archpriest and after admonishment, recanted their heresy and were released. The Governor, however, did not believe the sincerity of their repentance and had them placed under continued surveillance.

Having interviewed several Doukhobors imprisoned during the Secret Expedition, Governor Teplov observed that they were inclined to “peaceful and orderly communal life, strict attention to their farming and families” as well as their “abhorrence of amusements and drunkenness”. He also noted that they paid their taxes meticulously and were not manifestly disobedient to the authorities. At the same time, he found the Doukhobors to be “extremely inclined to rebellion and to unconstrained performance of their secret ways”. In his opinion, many members of the sect were peasants “of limited intelligence” and education who did not understand the beliefs they professed and who were led by “troublemakers” who deceived and exploited them.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Secret Expedition resulted in the mass arrest and deportation of hundreds of Doukhobors from Sloboda-Ukraine. In mid-1798, Governor Teplov exiled 203 members of the sect to the island of Ezel and the Fortress of Dünamünde in the Baltic region. Another 19 were condemned to penal labour (katorga) in the Ekaterinburg mines in Siberia. In exile, the Doukhobors endured much hardship, privation and suffering, and many of their number perished from mistreatment, exhaustion, disease, exposure and malnutrition.

Despite the suppressions, Tsarist authorities continued to uncover new cases of conversion to the sect. For example, Part I of the manuscript gives an account of the Doukhobors Roman and Evdokia Skripnichenkov. Roman, an estate peasant from Troitskaya village in Novorossiysk province, was put in the army by his landowner in 1798 after confessing to be a Doukhobor. He was stationed in Kharkov, where his family joined him. In July 1799, his wife Evdokia visited Kharkov prison to bring alms to the Doukhobors jailed there; when she was refused entry, she declared herself to be a Doukhobor and was summarily arrested, along with her husband. They were interrogated by the regiment commander, Major-General Glazenap, who sent a report on them to his superior, General Field-Marshal Saltykov. Saltykov, in turn, forwarded the report to Tsar Paul, who in August 1799, ordered the couple to be punished with the knout, have their nostrils slit, and be exiled to hard labour (katorga) in the Ekaterinburg mines.

Salvation for the Doukhobors finally came in March 1801, with the accession of Tsar Alexander I to the Russian throne. Within five days of his accession, the liberal-minded monarch issued a decree releasing all of the exiled Doukhobors from Ezel, Dünamünde and Ekaterinburg and permitted them to return to their previous residences in the Kharkov, Izium and Zmiev districts of Sloboda-Ukraine.

Brought to ruin by their exile, many of the Doukhobors had literally “nothing” when they returned to Sloboda-Ukraine. As noted in Part IV of the manuscript, the Doukhobors, having arrived in the middle of summer when planting time was already past, and not having cattle, had to concern themselves, first and foremost, with building habitations for themselves. Some eked out provisions for themselves by selling handicrafts and hiring themselves out as labourers; however, many were left destitute.

When word of the Doukhobors’ situation reached Tsar Alexander in November 1801, he ordered the new Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine, Gustav Karlovich Zilbergarnish, to compile an inventory on the economic condition of the returned Doukhobor exiles, describing their needs, whether they had homes, and if not, how much would be needed for their construction, in order to provide them with much-needed assistance. The resulting inventory, attached as Appendix 2 to the manuscript, contains a tremendous wealth of genealogical information about 39 households of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors, including their village of origin, household members, and economic condition. Upon receiving the inventory in February 1802, the Tsar directed Andrei Kondrat’evich Artakov, Zilbergarnish’s successor as Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine, to distribute 1,550 rubles from the Crown treasury to the returned Doukhobor exiles, in accordance with the inventory, without the need to repay it.

This act of benevolence and generosity proved inadequate, however, as the Doukhobors who returned to Sloboda-Ukraine from exile were almost immediately persecuted anew by local authorities and their Orthodox neighbours. When Orthodox clergy attempted to ‘admonish’ the newly-returned exiles in late 1801, rebellion ensued. See Vladimir Ivanovich Savva’s 1893 manuscript, K istorii dukhobortsev Khar’kovskoi gubernii (“More about the History of the Dukhobortsy of Kharkov Province“) to learn about the role played by Russian Senator Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin (1756-1816), who intervened on behalf of the Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors, helped ease their sufferings, and facilitated their resettlement to the Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”) region in Tavria.

More About the History of the Dukhobortsy of Kharkov Province

by Vladimir Ivanovich Savva

In 1798, hundreds of Doukhobors from Sloboda-Ukraine (Kharkov) were arrested and deported to the frontier regions of the Russian Empire. Their salvation came in 1801, with the ascension of Tsar Alexander I to the Russian throne, who released the exiled Doukhobors and permitted them to return to their former homes in Sloboda-Ukraine. This measure proved inadequate, however, as the returning Doukhobors were immediately persecuted anew by local authorities and Orthodox neighbours. When Orthodox clergy attempted to ‘admonish’ the newly-returned exiles, a rebellion ensued. When word of the Doukhobors’ situation reached Tsar Alexander, he ordered a senatorial investigation.  The following manuscript depicts the investigation by Russian Senator Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin (1756-1816), who in 1801, met with the Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors, gathered information about them, intervened on their behalf with the authorities, and helped ease their sufferings. Reproduced from Vladimir Ivanovich Savva’s article, “K istorii dukhobortsev Khar’kovskoi gubernii” (Kharkov, Kharkov Historical-Philological Society, 1893) as republished in P.N. Malov, Dukhobortsy, ikh istoriia, zhizn’ i bor’ba, it highlights Lopukhin’s role in the resettlement of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors to the Molochnye Vody region of Tavria. Translated by Vera Kanigan, with additional translation and editing by Jack McIntosh, for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Foreword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.


The Russian province of Sloboda-Ukraine (Kharkov) is widely considered to be the birthplace of the Doukhobor faith, arising there in the early eighteenth century.  During the second half of the eighteenth century, Doukhoborism spread widely amongst the peasantry of that province, particularly in the districts of Kharkov, Izium and Zmiev. 

By the end of the eighteenth century, the sect had grown numerous enough to attract the attention of Orthodox church and Tsarist state authorities.  In 1793 and again in 1797, the Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine ordered ‘secret expeditions’ to be carried out across the province to gather intelligence about those professing to be Doukhobors.  As a result of these investigations, hundreds of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors were subjected to surveillance, arrest, interrogation, extortion, imprisonment, torture and exile. Consequently, 203 members of the sect were exiled to the island of Ezel and the Fortress of Dünamünde in the Baltic region in 1798. Another 19 were condemned to penal labour (katorga) in the Ekaterinburg mines in Siberia. In exile, the Doukhobors endured much hardship, privation and suffering, and many of their number perished from mistreatment, exhaustion, disease, exposure and malnutrition.

Salvation for the Doukhobors finally came in 1801, with the accession of Tsar Alexander I to the Russian throne. Within five days of his accession, the liberal-minded monarch issued a decree releasing all of the exiled Doukhobors from Ezel, Dünamünde and Ekaterinburg and permitted them to return to their previous residences in the Kharkov, Izium and Zmiev districts of Sloboda-Ukraine.

For more information about the surveillance, arrest, interrogation, extortion, imprisonment, torture and exile of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors under the reign of Tsar Paul (1796-1801) and their subsequent amnesty and release under his successor, Tsar Alexander (1801-1825), see Vladimir Ivanovich Savva’s 1907 manuscript, Iz slobodskoi-ukrainskoi stariny kontsa XVIII v. (zametki i materialy)(“Additional Information on Doukhobor History“).

Ultimately, the release of the exiled Doukhobors in 1801, while a godsend, proved to be inadequate. Brought to ruin by their exile, many of the Doukhobors had literally “nothing” when they returned to Sloboda-Ukraine and were destitute. To make matters worse, the returning Doukhobors were almost immediately persecuted anew by local authorities and their Orthodox neighbours. When Orthodox clergy attempted to ‘admonish’ the newly-returned exiles in late 1801, a rebellion ensued. 

When word of the Doukhobors’ situation reached Tsar Alexander I, he ordered an official investigation to be conducted by Russian Senators Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy, who visited the returned exiles, gathered information about them, interceded on their behalf with the authorities, and helped ease their sufferings. The following manuscript outlines the senatorial investigation in detail, and its role in the resettlement of the Doukhobors to the Molochnye Vody region of Tavria province.   

Preface by the Author

The article presented here contains information on the history of the Dukhobortsy (Doukhobors – ed.) of Kharkov province found in materials preserved in the Kharkov Historical Archives of the Historical-Philological Society (“Delo o vypushchennykh Dukhobortsakh Slobodsko-ukrainskoi gub. po Vysochaishemu poveleniyu 1801 g.“, No. 56 [File on Doukhobors from Sloboda Ukraine province released by Imperial Command in 1801], No. 56). These materials were not covered in Professor A. S. Lebedev’s study entitled “Dukhobortsy v Slobodskoy Ukraine” [Doukhobors in Sloboda Ukraine].

These archival materials are supplemented by Senator Lopukhin’s interesting notes which he revised in 1801 with the assistance of the other senator from Sloboda-Ukraine Province. Imbued with Tsar Alexander I’s spirit of tolerance, and interested in the fate of the Dukhobortsy who at that time had only just been resettled from exile to their former places of residence, Lopukhin, while in Belgorod on the way to Kharkov, was already gathering information about them.

Within five days of his accession to the throne, on March 17, 1801, Tsar Alexander I issued a royal command releasing all of the exiled Dukhobortsy from Dünamünde (present-day Daugavgriva, Latvia – ed.) in the Baltic, a total of 203 persons of both sexes from Sloboda Ukraine and the provinces of Novorossiya (“New Russia”, the historic name of Southern Ukraine – ed.). As well, from Ekaterinburg (in Siberia – ed.), nineteen persons of both sexes were sent back to the village of Bereky, Zmiev district, Sloboda Ukraine. A large number of the Sloboda Dukhobortsy had been imprisoned in Dünamünde Fortress – 148 persons, transferred there in 1799 from Ezel Island (present-day Saaremaa, Estonia – ed.). The surnames of the Dukhobortsy point to their Great Russian origin, for example: Shchekin, Golishchev, Gremyakin, Poznyakov, Malakhov, Makhonin and so forth.

The released exiles were given funds gained from the sale of their confiscated property. However, from the archival documents it is evident that only odnodvortsy (a class of peasant smallholders – ed.) from the village of Bereky, Zmiev district received such funds: Mikhail Stroev – 283 rubles, 18 1/2 kopecks, Trofim Baev – 64 rubles, 97 kopecks, Onisim Kukhtin – 34 rubles, 65 3/4 kopecks, and Kukhtina – 122 rubles, 63 3/4 kopecks.

All of the returning Dukhobortsy returned in groups, first to the city of Kharkov, from which they were sent out to their previous places of residence. The first group appeared in Kharkov in May 1801. Their fellow villagers did not give the returning Dukhobortsy a warm welcome. When they arrived at the village of Saltovo-Ternovo, the Dukhobortsy were not permitted by the villagers to enter their dwellings and so were forced to stand in a field for over 24 hours. In their complaint submitted to the Vice-Governor over such treatment by the people of Saltovo-Ternovo, the Dukhobortsy requested that they be moved to another location, because the anger directed to them by the villagers was great, and already the latter had submitted a petition alleging that the newcomers were enticing members of the Orthodox Church into their heresy.

Early 19th century lithograph of the Island of Ezel (present-day Saaremaa, Estonia) in the Baltic where over two

hundred Dukhobortsy from Sloboda-Ukraine were exiled in the 1790’s.  By F.S. Stern.

When several Dukhobortsy rented space in a coach house from a landlord in the village of Liptsy, the volost (rural sub district – ed.) administration appealed to the Kharkov land court requesting that the Dukhobortsy be forbidden to live in the coach house because they would spread their heresy among Liptsy inhabitants. The relationship with the villagers became more aggravated because the Dukhobortsy desired once again to occupy their original property, which had subsequently already changed hands three times. The Dukhobortsy proposed to the new plot owners that they would pay the same price for their property as that for which it had been sold; however the latest owners did not agree, because they had spent money improving the farms.

On account of the complaints of the Dukhobortsy, to the effect that they were ruined and could not restore their original dwellings, and that given the hostile treatment by their neighbours they would have to provide for all their own farming needs, the Governor of Sloboda Ukraine ordered, through the lower land court, that the authorities be charged with making sure that there was no ill-treatment or oppression against the Dukhobortsy either on the part of the local residents or the nearby population. However, the local authorities had not given the Dukhobortsy satisfaction, and so the latter subsequently appealed to Senators Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy while they were in Kharkov.

At almost the same time as the Dukhobortsy complained about their ill treatment by the villagers, the villagers rejoined with complaints against the Dukhobortsy, saying that they were openly practicing their heresy, were trying to entice Orthodox people into it, and were uttering abuse against Russian Orthodoxy. The provincial authorities were assigned to investigate the problem; the accused Dukhobortsy were taken into custody and found guilty of rebellion (see Dukhobortsy v Slobodskoy Ukraine [Doukhobors in Sloboda Ukraine] by Professor A. S. Lebedev, Kharkov 1890, pg. 12 & ff.). Governor Zilbergarnish appeared before Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy, who were then in Kharkov, with news about the revolt of the Dukhobortsy.

Previously, when Lopukhin found out about the dispatch of church luminaries and the lay judge of the Izium lower land court, along with a team of dignitaries, to “admonish” (literally “to give friendly earnest advice or encouragement” but in Tsarist Russia, tantamount to summary incarceration, interrogation and in some cases, torture – ed.) the Dukhobortsy of Petrovskiy village to abandon their heresy, he had told the Governor that such actions might provoke a revolt, because the Dukhobortsy had just returned from exile and as yet had not had an opportunity to catch their breath. The Governor, however, made the excuse that the instructions to admonish the Dukhobortsy had been made in his absence by the Vice-Governor while he (Zilbergarnish) was on leave. Lopukhin then ordered him to recall the dispatched team, along with the church officials who had been sent, and to have a word with the bishop about the return of the latter group, as it was not yet time to admonish the Dukhobortsy, who had not succeeded in recovering after their exile. He blamed the revolt itself on the admonishments, supposing that when the Dukhobortsy had been asked whether they would pay taxes, they refused because they had been brought to ruin and were themselves in need of assistance (see “Zapiska niekotorykh obstoiatel’stv zhizni i sluzhby dieistvitel’nago Tainago Sovietnika, senatora I. V. Lopukhina” [A note on some circumstances in the life and career of Acting Privy Councillor, Senator I. V. Lopukhin], Chteniia v Obshchestvie istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh (Moscow), no. 2, 1860: 1-82; no. 3, 1860: 83-193; Book 3, page 93 and ff.).

After a discussion with Lopukhin, the Governor directed the Izium lower land court not to exert even the slightest amount of pressure on the Dukhobortsy, not to place any under guard, to release those that were under arrest without delay, and in general to treat them gently and with patience, not to constrain them, give them freedom and cease all investigation of them. In reply to the Governor’s directive, the Izium land court sent him the statements taken in evidence from the Dukhobortsy who had been in custody, which had been the basis for their arrest.

One of those arrested, Sergei Ivanovich Popov, 67 years of age, testified as follows: “[I was] born in Belgorod province of a father and mother who made profession and took the holy sacraments in worldly (Orthodox) churches; about 40 years ago [I] moved with them to live in the sloboda (free village – ed.) of Petrovskiy, where in the Petrovskiy church [I] married Praskoviya, the daughter of a villager, Andrei Dergachev”. Popov’s wife and three sons supported all of his testimony, the former testifying as to her husband, the latter as to their father, adding that, although during the time the father was serving in the military and in exile, they went to church and took the sacraments yearly, they did so at the insistence of the priest and under coercion from the village heads, whereas now they rejected that, and in the future intended to abide permanently in the Dukhobor faith.

The other Dukhobor who was interrogated, Ivan Abramovich Sukrutov, gave testimony similar to Popov’s; in response to a question about how old he was, he said that he was “12 years old in spirit (that is, from the time that he had entered into the Dukhobor heresy), but as to how old in the flesh, [I] do not know.”

One of the Dukhobortsy who had returned to Orthodoxy after being admonished testified that he had been seduced into the Dukhobor faith during the time that he was serving with the Ekaterinoslav Cossack troops, in the small town of Kaushany, at the time of the seizure of the town of Bender (from the Turks in 1770 – ed.). After he became a member of the Dukhobortsy, he continued in all matters to follow Christian rituals because he did not wish to reveal his apostasy.

18th century lithograph of the Fortress of Dünamünde (present-day Daugavgriva, Latvia) in the Baltic where

over two hundred Dukhobortsy from Sloboda-Ukraine were exiled from 1799 to 1801. 

Having insisted on a halt to the admonitions meted out to the Dukhobortsy and their release from custody, Lopukhin and his colleague Senator Neledinskiy-Meletskiy sent their report to the Tsar about the Dukhobor affair (on November 12, 1801). With this report, Lopukhin appended an extract about the Dukhobortsy in which he laid out a history of the emergence of the sect and the essence of their teaching. (“Vypuska o dukhobortsakh…” [Extract on the Doukhobors], by Senator Lopukhin, Chteniia v Obshchestvie istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh, 1864, Book 4, page 47.).  Lopukhin characterized the way of life of the Dukhobortsy as abstemious and respectable, supposing that their fanaticism had been provoked by harsh measures directed towards them.

In their report to the Tsar (November 12, 1801), Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy, the latter playing a secondary role in all of Lopukhin’s arrangements regarding the Dukhobortsy, explained their intervention in the Dukhobor situation as resulting from the Tsar’s injunction to be “attentive to all that was noteworthy in Sloboda Ukraine”, the province they were inspecting.

“Before our arrival here in Kharkov,” the Senators reported, “the local authorities, by virtue of their excessive zeal, of course, but without having penetrated into the exact essence of Your Majesty’s orders concerning the aforementioned Dukhobortsy, undertook to admonish and convert them, although they had only just been freed from their heavy bonds and permitted the mercy and wise tolerance enthroned in the Holy Personage of Your Imperial Highness. During this formal admonishment, the questions, which were not, of course, skillfully crafted, wrested from those admonished, as the exhorters reported, responses contrary to the duties of a loyal subject. But it is highly probable that the newly aroused fanaticism of those who responded, oppressed and brought to ruin by their former misfortunes, wrapped their words with a brutality not present in their hearts; or possibly their insufficiently enlightened interrogators wrongly understood them, and prejudice already engendered against those speaking caused their interrogators to apprehend their utterances in darker colours than their words intrinsically deserved” (Chteniia v Obshchestvie istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh [Readings at the Society of Russian History and Antiquities], Book 3, 1860, page 95: “Zapiski … Lopukhina” [Lopukhin’s Notes]).

Explaining the irritation of the Dukhobortsy as due to the incompetence of the advisors, the Senators reported to the Tsar that from their discussions with the Dukhobortsy they detected in them feelings of special gratitude to the Tsar who had liberated them, and a willingness to submit to the ruling monarch and fulfill all duties and responsibilities required of loyal subjects. As a result, the Senators ordered that all investigation of the Dukhobortsy be halted and those who had been arrested released.

To the district authorities, they explained His Royal Highness’s will concerning treatment of the Dukhobortsy thusly: “[you are] enjoined to call upon ecclesiastical personages to instruct the Dukhobortsy on the path of truth without any compulsion on their part, meaning they should not by untimely and unduly elegant means, as in a court of law, confuse and inspire fear of those in power who are carrying out the admonitions, but to do this at opportune moments, being attentive to the situation, striving in their own places of settlement to engage at the churches clergy who are not so much distinguished by the brilliance of their schooling and their artistic eloquence, as they are by their genuine piety and zealous love for the law of God and Gospel teaching, by their lives bearing witness to their sensitivity and principles. Such pastors will naturally inculcate a good opinion of themselves and therefore will attract trust; they will find time, occasions and places for their conversations and with the most simple methods will discover ways to influence their hearts and minds, minds that desire enlightenment and have inner zeal towards God’s law, but are confused as to ways and means. As for the duties and responsibilities of a loyal subject, then in harmony with Your Imperial Majesty’s wisdom and pleasure, by treating them with gentleness and patience, they should, just like everyone else, be required to abide by the obligations prescribed by the decrees of Your Imperial Majesty and the laws of the state, both general civil and rural land law. As for those who do not fulfill the above, they should be punished in accordance with the same laws, and without entering into the ideas or reasons behind non-fulfillment, if someone in actual fact proves to be in direct revolt against the authorities and the common order, he should be dealt with to the full extent and the letter of the law” (Chteniia…page 97).

At the same time as this dispatch from Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy, the Governor of Sloboda Ukraine also sent his “humble report” to the Tsar with his explanation of the affair, influenced by Lopukhin, who did not regard the words and actions of the Dukhobortsy as a revolt (“Doukhobors” – Professor A. S. Lebedev, page 18.) .

The Dukhobortsy who had gathered at Kharkov, encouraged by the mild attitude of the Senators, started to present different requests. Two of them, Cossacks from Okhochei sloboda (Baev and Sidorov), requested of Lopukhin that the houses acquired by them (while in exile) on Ezel Island, for which one of them (the former) had been offered 325 rubles, and the other (the latter) 158 rubles, be sold and the proceeds from the sale be given to them. In their directions to the governor to see to satisfying these requests, the Senators again expressed the desire that the governor take care to protect the Dukhobortsy “from the oppressive consequences of prejudice and misconceptions on the part of the district authorities,” who had not understood or interpreted correctly the testimony of the Dukhobortsy. The Senators and the Governor himself had had occasion to be convinced of this when the Dukhobortsy testified to them in contradiction to what the authorities had reported about them.

When the Dukhobortsy were in Kharkov, Lopukhin had daily conversations with them. They took a liking to him and talked openly with him. “Apart from their boundless – one might say fanatical – prejudice against everything exterior, their skeptical aloofness and preference for themselves, I found their concept of Christianity to be most radical and correct,” wrote Lopukhin in his Zapiski (page 98).  He paid particular attention to the circumstance that although amongst the Dukhobortsy there were hardly any who knew how to read and write, and that of those whom he met, only one of them could write, and very poorly at that, nevertheless each one spoke “like a book”.

18th century lithograph of Kharkov, the provincial capital of Sloboda-Ukraine.  The Dukhobortsy returned here from

exile in 1801 before dispersing to their home villages throughout the province.

After repeated discussions with the Senators, the Dukhobortsy delivered to them a formal petition that expressed their loyalty and zealousness to the Tsar, requesting that they try to obtain from him permission to resettle in another area. Then Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy dispatched a second message to the Tsar (December 3, 1801), explaining the way of thinking of the Dukhobortsy, passed on their request to settle in a special place, and recommended that the Tsar not permit them to establish their own volost administrations independently, but to establish over them an administration made up of honest and unprejudiced officials of high moral character, and to locate their settlements near cities and settlements where the priests, by the good example of their lives and persuasive preaching, would attract the Dukhobortsy to themselves. In this humble petition the Senators attested to the extreme poverty of those who had returned from exile. Although they had indeed been given money from the sale of their property, it had been sold after their exile for a very low price.

On the eve of their departure from Kharkov, Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy received an official royal reply (rescript) in which the Tsar, expressing his appreciation for all of their dispositions in the matter of the Dukhobortsy, directed them to make sure that all of them would be enforced. At the same time, the Tsar commanded the Sloboda Ukraine Governor to follow the Senators’ example in his treatment of the Dukhobortsy, to involve himself with the needs of the Dukhobortsy and report to him as to the status of their farming economy, whether they have housing, whether they have commenced tilling the soil, whether they have money to pay duties; whether indeed they have means for building homes; then, having determined how much they need in total for that purpose, to report back right away, thereby demonstrating that the government was concerned about them.

The idea of relocating the Dukhobortsy was approved by the Tsar. The purpose of this resettlement was the desire to protect the Dukhobortsy from people’s hostility while distancing Orthodox believers from the Dukhobortsy’s corrupting influence. The places chosen for Dukhobor settlements were located along the Molochnaya River (Melitopol district, Tavria province – ed.), where they were settled by the Imperial Decree dated January 25, 1802, under the following favourable conditions: that relocated persons receive 15 desyatinas (imperial land measure equivalent to 2.7 acres – ed.) of land per head, and that for five years, all resettled persons would be excused from paying any state taxes. At the time of the relocation itself, 100 rubles were issued from the treasury to each family as a loan, with the understanding that after ten years this sum would then be collectable from the settlers within twenty years, such that annually each family would have to pay no more than five rubles (Polnoe sobranie zakonov [Compete compendium of laws], volume XXVII, No. 20.123).

The first 296 settlers along the banks of the Molochnaya River were Dukhobortsy from Sloboda Ukraine and Ekaterinoslav provinces, who established the village of Bogdanovka and took up farming (For information about the Doukhobors after their relocation to the banks of the Molochnaya, see Dukhobortsy: ikh istoriya i vierouchenie [Doukhobors, their history and beliefs], O. Novitskiy, 2nd edition; Skalkovskiy, Kievskaia starina, April 1887, page 777; and Yuzov, Russkie dissidenty [Russian Dissidents]. To join them there, with the permission of the government (starting early in 1805), Dukhobortsy from Tambov and Voronezh provinces, 494 in number, began to arrive there, followed by Dukhobortsy from other parts of Russia (the Don Cossack lands, and Kherson, Tavria, Astrakhan, and Penza provinces). By the end of 1808 they already had nine villages: Bogdanovka, Spasskoye, Troitskoye, Terpeniye and Tambovka on the banks of the Molochnaya River, and Rodionovka, Efremovka, Goreloye, and Kirilovka near the estuary of the same river where it flows into the Sea of Azov (Dukhobortsy… – Novitskiy, 2nd edition, pages 63–85).  

In the latter years of Alexander I’s reign, the attitude of the government towards the Dukhobortsy changed, for which the Dukhobortsy themselves were to blame, and during the reign of Tsar Nicholas I, in 1830, a decree was issued according to which heretics – Dukhobortsy, Ikonobortsy, Molokans, and Judaizers – accused of spreading their heresies, riotous conduct and insolence against the Church, clergy and faith, had to be brought to trial; that those found guilty were to be subject to military conscription. By this same decree the resettlement of the Dukhobortsy to Novorossiya was stopped, but migration to the Transcaucasus of those wishing to do so was allowed. In 1839 an Imperial Decree followed, ordering all the Dukhobortsy to be moved from the banks of the Molochnaya River to the Transcaucasus. The reason for this, in the words of the inquiry that was conducted, were actions of the Dukhobortsy themselves: they had been harbouring evildoers and criminals, and had been subjecting their own people suspected of defecting from their heresy to cruel torture and death. The forced migration of the Dukhobortsy from Novorossiya to the Transcaucasus took place from 1841 (when there were 9 settlements and as many as 4505 residents – see Skalkovskiy’s study in Kievskaya starina) until 1845. Altogether there were over 4000 migrants (in Novitskiy, page 154).


Senator Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin’s (1756-1816) involvement in the “Dukhobortsy Affair” would determine the fate of the sect throughout Russia for the next forty years. For the first time, the Dukhobortsy had in Lopukhin a sympathetic high official who spoke up for the sectarians and stressed their virtues as well as their faults.  He acted as a conduit between the Dukhobortsy and the highest circles of Russian society, transmitting their beliefs using the language and metaphors of the Imperial Court, and in doing so, helped lay the basis for Tsar Alexander’s policy on the Dukhobortsy.  But for his intervention, the Dukhobortsy of Sloboda-Ukraine and elsewhere would have remained isolated, dispersed, voiceless and oppressed.  It is through his efforts that the Dukhobortsy owed a great measure of release from persecution, and also an opportunity to exist and develop as a self-contained community on the Molochnaya.  Sadly, his role and influence in the history of the Dukhobortsy remains largely unappreciated and forgotten. To find out more about this important benefactor and sympathizer see: Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin: His Life and Role in Doukhobor History