A Story about Our Ancestors

by Mikhail S. Androsov

Mikhail Semenovich Androsov was a prominent Doukhobor organizer and activist in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1901, while in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, he met the Doukhobor elder, Efim Evseyevich Vlasov, who shared his stories of the history of the movement, and the life events of its early leader, Savely Kapustin, as passed down to him through oral tradition from earlier generations.  Androsov carefully documented these stories in a written manuscript, which was subsequently published by the Russian ethnographer Vladimir Dmitrievich Bonch-Bruevich in “Materialy k istorii i izucheniiu religiozno-obshchestvennykh dvizhenii v Rossii. Vypusk 1. Baptisty. Bieguny. Dukhobortsy. L. Tolstoi o skopchestvie. Pavlovtsy. Pomortsy. Staroobriadtsy. Skoptsy. Shtundisty.” (St. Petersburg; B. M. Vol’fa, 1908).  Androsov’s manuscript provides the reader with a rare, detailed and authentic example of the rich oral tradition of the Doukhobors.  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.

On August 10th, 1901 while in the city of Yorkton I met an old man named Efim Vlasov. He recognized me as Androsov and said: “For a long time I have been wanting to have a talk with you, but haven’t had an opportunity.” I replied: “Now we’ll have an opportunity. Tomorrow is Sunday. We can talk all day.”


The next day Vlasov began to ask me about certain events. I told him what I knew, and then Vlasov related to me what Gavriil Sorokin had told him about how he had joined the Doukhobors. Sorokin was very wealthy; he had a lot of money. He himself was a giant – 13 chetverts [an imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 7 inches; 13 chetverts equals seven and a half feet] tall; everybody was fascinated by his size and his wealth.

Doukhobors were beginning to appear in several locations. At that time they were referred to as malovery [“people of little faith”]; they were being persecuted everywhere. Some had been flogged to death, others pilloried and encased in stone cairns; many were exiled to forced labour in silver and gold mines.

‘At that time,’ said Sorokin, Kormilets [“Provider”; a reference to Doukhobor leader Savely Kapustin]2 called in at my place to spend the night. Our conversation turned to the malovery.3

I, Sorokin, began by hurling abuse at these people. Kormilets let me go on, but then interrupted me to show me that what I was saying was not fitting. I will admit and I myself now see that I was off track. In the morning my guest was about to leave. I began to try hard to find out what kind of person he was, and what his beliefs were. He explained it to me. Then I approached him and said “I wish to be your servant, will you let me believe in you?” Kormilets said: “I have important business; it is necessary to go to the Tsar. I want you to go to him.”

Sorokin asked: “What business?”

“Here’s what – you are to tell Tsar Alexander personally about our faith.”

I was terrified and said: “I cannot speak about faith and I am afraid of the Tsar; I will not go alone.”

Kormilets said: “You will have a companion, go together, but only you, Sorokin, will speak to the Tsar.”

I was even more frightened that he was picking me out directly. Then Kormilets said: “Fear not, Sorokin; if you wish to be glorified, go boldly. Go with your companion into the Tsar’s court; just remember, stand on the left side, and your companion on the right side, and I will be with you standing between you. Whatever they ask you, I will tell you how to answer, and you will answer them. Look at me, see what I am like, that is how I will appear there; no one will see me, but you will see me and only you will hear me.”

Then I agreed to go with a companion to visit the Tsar.

For three months we travelled on foot. We arrived at the court of the Tsar, where at the gates the guards were walking back and forth. We told them we had come to tell the Tsar about our faith. Then they let us into the courtyard. When we entered the courtyard, we caught sight of the golden regiment of soldiers who stood at the doors. Sorokin was terrified when he saw all the soldiers dressed in gold uniforms, and became flustered, forgetting why and where he had come.

Then they were led to the Tsar. When they entered the building, Sorokin had to stand on the left side, and his companion on the right. They spoke: “We wish you health, your Imperial Majesty!”

There also was the Pope of Rome, i.e. the senior priest. He was seated, and nearby was an open Bible and New Testament. Sorokin did not know what to do or where to hide; he turned toward his companion and saw that Kormilets was standing between them. Then at once Sorokin remembered all the words that it would be well for him to answer, the words given by Kormilets. “My fear left me, and my heart rejoiced.”

Then the Pope of Rome began to question us: “What people are you, of what faith, what is the name of your sect?”4 and waited.

Kormilets said to me: “Answer him this way: ‘We are named Doukhobors…’” and so from beginning to end I answered from the lips of Kormilets. After that he asked: “With whom did the Lord create the heavens?” to which I gave answer. Then he asked: “What manner of person are you?”5 and I answered him.

After these three questions and answers, Alexander asked: “And can you sing?”

Sorokin replied: “We can!”

However, he himself was a new convert to this faith and was by no means a singer. But his companion was. He (Alexander, that is) spoke: “Your answers to all the questions were good. I would like to hear you sing….”

Then my companion began to sing: “Vnemlite, lyudi moi, zakonu Bozh’emu…” [“Hear, my people, the law of God”]. Kormilets turned toward him and also began to sing; and so two voices sang out, and it was terrifying to stand near them. I, Sorokin, stood openmouthed looking at them. They sang that entire psalm.

Then Alexander came up to Sorokin and said: “You are Doukhobors; you have come to know God in the spirit of your true faith. May you enjoy the benefits of this faith.”  Then they thanked him and asked that they be given a copy of the questions and answers, as everything had been written down in their presence. Then Alexander ordered that they be given copies of the long questions and answers, which they received, were taken back to the Doukhobors and have been preserved up to this day.

In all probability, I suppose, they are kept by some Russian organization that keeps information of concern to the priesthood or the government.

Within a short time a decree was issued ordering that the Doukhobors be resettled in the Molochnye Vody [“Milky Waters”] area in Tavria province. Many were still in exile in various places in Siberia. At that time Kormilets wrote a petition to Alexander. This petition began: “Thus saith the Lord, the Holy God of Israel…” You have this in the psalm book6 and we have accepted it as a proper psalm.

When they delivered the petition to Alexander, he summoned the Senate, but they were unable to understand the petition. Then they passed it on to the priests; of course those churchmen understood it better. They then responded to Alexander: “This petition must be the work of God himself; we cannot make any decision about it.”

Then Alexander issued a decree that Doukhobors be sought out in all the cities and villages where they are to be found; they are to be permitted, without any compulsion, to go out to Molochnye Vody in Tavria province. If any are in prison or in exile in Siberia, they are to be be freed and sent at state expense to Molochnye Vody, Tavria province. His decree was put into effect.7


At one place in Siberia there were 100 Doukhobors. They were serving hard labour, dragging sacks of ore from under ground. At the same place another 100 men joined them who had been exiled for murder and robbery. Seeing many men in bonds, they felt a wish to be brothers in misfortune. When the Tsar’s decree was received, the warden summoned all the convicts and asked: “Who is a Doukhobor?” They all answered in turn, and their names were written down – 200 of them.

Then he said: “Whoever identified himself as a Doukhobor, step out from the rest.”

Those two hundred men stepped out.

Then the warden said to them: “You are Doukhobors, here from the Tsar is a manifesto for Doukhobors, but only on condition that those who will go to the holy church will be set free and transported at state expense to their home locations.

The Doukhobors asked: “But where is it, this holy church?”

He pointed out where it stood – we called it a “den” – i.e. a wood-worshiping church.

Those 100 newly joined Doukhobors immediately agreed to go to it, but those who had suffered for the truth replied: “That is not a holy church, but a den of thieves.”

He asked: “Explain – why do you regard it as a den of thieves?’

They replied: “Because it is full of ox manure, and built by bandits. Criminals and robbers stay there: they clean people out. They steal when a baby is born; when people get married, they rob them again, and when you die, they tear the last shirt off your back.”

Then the warden said: “In that case, take your sacks and go back underground; you’ll be hauling dirt forever.”

They took their sacks and crawled into their burrow, while the other hundred men set out walking to the church. When they had gone a little way, he shouted: ‘Come back, all of you.’ Both groups turned around, i.e. all 200 men.

He then said: “So, I see that the Sovereign has mixed wheat with tares [i.e. weeds; a reference to Christ’s Parable of the Wheat and Tares in Matthew 13:24-30]. These 100 men who have not changed their beliefs are sufferers for Christ, they are ready to die for the truth, while you 100 have only just decided you wish to be called Doukhobors, but you do not have enough inner faith to deserve to be let free; however, that is not my affair: the Emperor has allowed you all to be released.”

Then they set out on foot, all together. They went by road, but as people generally tend to be weak, they began to reproach one another, causing a split: one group of 100 men separated from the other 100. The two groups walked along together, but ate dinner and supper separately. Then as the route from Siberia was a long one, they walked for a very long time. As they began to draw nearer to Tavria province, people began to speak derisively about how things were going at that time when Doukhobors were living in Tavria province along the Molochnye Vody: “their faith is different; they have no love for people; if anybody acts counter to their opinion, such a person is expelled from their commune.” They listened to those stories and said: “There are more than a few of us, and we are going to one place.”

Then the 100 men who had agreed to go to church began to heed the warnings and they began stopping at settlements along the way, ten in one settlement, two in another, and thus 100 men stayed put, not daring to proceed. However, the other 100 walked on bravely, even full of hope that the Doukhobors would accept them back. When they arrived at the Doukhobor settlements, they were told: “Go to Terpeniye [village] to see Kormilets, and he will tell you where to settle.”

That is what they did. They went to Kormilets and said that they had arrived from Siberia and wish to see him. He asked them:

“How many of you came?”

“One hundred!” they replied.

He went on to ask them: “As many of you as there were back there, or were there others?”

They answered: “There were 200, but 100 betrayed their faith when the warden announced that there was a manifesto from the Tsar for those who would go to the church. They agreed, and after everybody had been released, we parted from them. They walked along with us for a long time, but then began to stay behind, and all of them remain along the route.”

Then Kormilets said: “In that case I shall not meet with you, because you have not loved your lesser brethren; you lost them along the road and did not bring one of them with you. If you had felt sorry for them and loved them, you would have all arrived together. Then I would have met with you, and been very glad to do so, but now you go and make peace with them.”

Then they sadly returned to their brethren; they found them all, begged and wept before them. Those men agreed to their plea to come with them.

When they arrived together, Kormilets met with them and told them: “Now you are all here, but not all of you are equal. Half of you are those who have suffered for the faith of Christ, while the other half were exiled for being criminals. According to the Tsar’s manifesto he has been pleased to grant you the right to call yourselves Doukhobors; you were all released, and I accept you all equally, but the Lord will grant to each according to his deeds: those who suffered for the truth the Lord will receive into his abode, but those who were exiled for robbery, received a Doukhobor name and were released, and now will do good, repent of past sins and will ask God – the Lord is merciful. He accepts all who come to him in faith. But you who have suffered for the truth! God has seen your suffering and been merciful to you, and granted freedom to you, and your children and grandchildren, even to the seventh generation. You will live and prosper, and then there will be new service for you, you will again be tortured for the faith of Christ,8 then each will get what he deserves. Whoever will serve God will receive a reward from Him, while whoever will serve evil will perish in evil.”

And then he said: “Now live as you choose.”

Nevertheless, they lived well and in harmony along the Molochnye Vody. Some time passed. Tsar Alexander Pavlovich remembered these people. He invited his wife and generals from the Senate to visit the Doukhobors. They came to see Doukhobors in the village of Terpeniye in Tavria province. The Doukhobors gave them a good reception. After greetings had been exchanged, Alexander asked our elders to conduct a prayer ceremony.

“I want to observe how you pray to God.”

“We would be pleased to do so.”

Our folk began to pray. He watched eagerly and listened to the recitation and singing of psalms and all our religious ritual.

When the prayer ceremony was over, he said: “Now I see that you are people of God’s law; all of you pray to God well and fervently. I think so because you have with great labour worked out God’s way; all of you are suffering martyrs; although there are bad ones among you, they are few – one out of ten and he is not visible. But see here – suppose you live on several years and it turns out that there are ten bad ones among you and one good. What should the good one do?”

To this our elders responded: “The good one must endure all.”

Then Alexander thanked them and said: “You understand God’s law well. From now on I would like to be a Doukhobor.”

The Doukhobors answered him: “A Tsar cannot be a Doukhobor, because Doukhobors feed themselves from their own labours – they plough, they sow grain.”

Alexander spoke to his wife: “Do you wish to be a Doukhobor and live off your own labours?” “No, I do not,” she replied. But he nevertheless remained a true Christian, living among the Doukhobors for the rest of his life, a blessed and good man.9

A short time later an order came from the Tavria governor. He strictly commanded the Doukhobors not to hire people of another faith: “…lest a person of some other faith falls into your company, lives for a while among you, and becomes a Doukhobor.”

Our men told the governor: “But we need workers.”

Then he announced that a heavy fine would be imposed on anyone who hires a worker of any other faith, and he put a guard in place. But no matter what orders he gave and how much he had the area guarded, nevertheless, poor folk came to earn wages, and our people would hire them, dress them in Doukhobor apparel so that the guards would not find out (although there were instances when they were caught, albeit few); and the people came for work from all sides to us, because we had a lot of jobs available. They worked in the fields and at cattle-raising.

In that time of prosperity people soon began to depart from God’s law. They began to go back and forth into the cities and the markets, and around places where people were living in luxury. Then they were exiled to the Transcaucasus. Here also they were not living for God especially well, but only it seems were striving after wealth; there were some among us who were trying to live according to God’s law, but very few. But when this persecution began against us, our elders began to reflect and recall Kormilets’ words, and began to come back to the faith of Christ. Just as we had taken a step forward, the Russian government came down on us; however, the Lord saw the step we had taken, and began to grant us his strength, and so we were in agreement for the sake of faith in Christ to endure all suffering; we were even prepared to face execution for the sake of faith in Christ.

Now when we moved to Canada, here some of us weakened, but there are many who staunchly hold to the law of God. We can fully expect that whatever persecution comes, they will never depart from the law and faith of Christ. Yes, a true Christian will never retreat. As far as Doukhobors are concerned, they already know well enough that God is above kings and princes. God is able to protect his servant everywhere, in whatever out-of-the-way place he may be; if he has taken into himself a burning faith to serve God, then God will help such a servant in all matters (to us this is very well evident).


Listen, our Kormilets, Savely Kapustin, was called up for military service. He only served for a very short time. At that time the required term of service was 25 years, but he was freed after 6 years, because he began to live in accordance with God’s law.’

‘How did this come about?’

‘I shall tell you what I heard from our elders. He was serving in one company as a Sergeant Major, but that was at such a time when brass were giving orders and themselves getting aggressive and saying “kill nine of them, and teach the tenth one military discipline.” That is what they were doing – beating up and flogging the poor soldiers.

Kapustin was also dealing cruelly with his company. The regiment in which Kapustin was serving was in an encampment: Kapustin took his company out for military drill and was trying to carry out the will of his Company Commander. Of all the companies in the regiment, theirs was the best trained. It carried out more exercises than the others.

His father10 saw that his son was not acting according to God’s law. One fine day he came to the place where Kapustin was drilling his company of soldiers, unharnessed his horse and let it out to graze, while he raised the shafts [of the wagon], set up a cool place and rested under the wagon.

While Kapustin was taking his soldiers out for military drill, he saw that a wagon was standing at a deserted spot. He was surprised and said: “What’s going on? Where did that wagon come from?” And he pointed to one soldier: “Go find out who is there.” The soldier, as afraid of the sergeant major as of a blazing hot fire, ran as fast as he could to the wagon, trying to catch his breath to speak.

The old man sitting there asked: “So, soldier, are you so worn out?”

“You see, the sergeant major sent me to find out about you – who are you?”

The old man replied: “I am Radost [“Joy”; a reference to Doukhobor leader Ilarion Pobirokhin].11 I wish to see your Sergeant. Go tell him to come here now.”

Then the soldier took off and ran up to the Sergeant Major, took off his cap and said:

“Some sort of very old man is asking that you come to him now. His name is Radost.”

Then the Sergeant Major gave a command: “Stack your rifles,” and he walked toward the old man.

The soldiers were watching, and saw the Sergeant Major approach the wagon; the old man stood up and they greeted one another; then the old man sat down, while Kapustin remained standing.

The soldiers looked on in wonderment and carried on a quiet conversation among themselves: “What kind of old man is that sitting there while the Sergeant is standing, and they are conversing together?”

After a little time, Kapustin still standing, he then fell to his knees and began to beg forgiveness from the old man. The old man came up to him and, it seems, gave him his blessing to receive the spirit of goodness.

By this time all the other companies had finished their drilling session and headed for the encampment. Our Sergeant Major and the old man said their farewells.

The Sergeant returned to the soldiers and spoke: “Take your rifles, brothers, and let’s go back to camp.”

The soldiers were amazed that there were no exercises and that the Sergeant was not angry but was addressing them very politely.

The next day they went out for military drill and saw that the wagon was gone. Kapustin said: “Let’s go, lads, to the spot where the wagon was standing yesterday.”

He approached with the soldiers, and gave an order: “Pile up your rifles, my brothers, and sit down and have a rest.”

He sat down and the soldiers all did the same.

Kapustin began to talk with the soldiers as brother to brother and began to apologize to them for having abused many of them. The soldiers were amazed and did not know what to say. And so this continued for all the hours during which they were supposed to be drilling. When this time was up, they went back to the tents. The soldiers talked among themselves, realizing that the Sergeant had experienced a change of heart.

From that time on Kapustin did not say a bad word to any of the soldiers, and acted respectfully toward them.

The Company Commander soon caught wind of this. He began to notice that Kapustin was no long drilling the soldiers in military discipline, but he did not feel sufficiently mature to reproach Kapustin about it. But when the officers got together to go out somewhere, they spoke of Kapustin not drilling his soldiers. This reached the ears of the Colonel of the regiment. He summoned the Company Commander and began to talk about Kapustin, saying that he had to be removed from his rank, and be replaced by another capable man. This caused the Company Commander great displeasure.

He said to the Colonel: “I do not have a single officer in the whole regiment as good as Kapustin, to say nothing of the rank and file soldiers; it matters little that he is not drilling the soldiers, as he has already got them well trained; they are more knowledgeable about military service than all the other companies.”

At that time there was a Detachment Commander who was on trial. He had made great efforts, submitted appeals, but all his appeals had been rejected. The court had sentenced him to loss of his rank and noble status, and he very much wanted to avoid this. He appealed to various individuals who he thought might help him in this matter.

He spoke to the Colonel: “My case is falling apart; no matter how many representations I have made, I have still not been vindicated, and now the final session is coming, and they say they are going to sign their decision. Now where can I turn or what shall I do?”

The Colonel thought a while, and suddenly said: “Go to [such and such a] company to their Sergeant Major; maybe he can help you; I had his Company Commander here and he said that he is the cleverest officer in the whole regiment.”

The Detachment Commander was in such a fright that whatever anyone suggested, he would do it – anything to help him out of trouble. Immediately he ran to see Kapustin and pleaded with him for assistance in his court case.

Kapustin asked: “What for, that is, what did you do to be put on trial?”

The Detachment Commander told him everything as it had happened and said: “I did that thing in order to distinguish myself and receive a decoration, but my action turned out to be a mistake and I ended up on trial.”

Then Kapustin said: “That mistake can be set right. Sit down and write a petition. I will tell you what to write.”

The Detachment Commander began to write, and Kapustin dictated just as the man had related, that he had been mistaken in his thinking, and that he had acted in that way for praise and rewards. The petition they composed was very brief, but described his thoughts and manner of behaviour. Then he submitted this petition.

At the sitting to decide his case, they read through this newly submitted petition and changed their previous verdict, replacing it with a second one. By this verdict they decided in favour of his courage and for his desperate action promoted him to higher rank: they made him a Corps Commander. That is the verdict they signed. And so the Detachment Commander became a Corps Commander.

He summoned Kapustin and said: “Well, Kapustin, your petition helped me! I am very pleased. I have obtained a high position; for what you have done for me, I want to make you an officer too.”

Kapustin replied: “I do not want to be an officer.”

The [former] Detachment Commander thought it little enough to make him an officer and said: “But you see, I will try, and meanwhile I will place you in my former post as Detachment Commander, but it’s impossible to do that right away.”

Kapustin answered: “I do not wish that at all. I am now a Sergeant; soldiers come by and take off their caps before me, and that makes me feel uncomfortable.”

At that the Detachment Commander rose and said: “Do you wish to be discharged from the service? That would be a very simple matter!”

Kapustin replied: “I wish to be free.”

Then the Detachment Commander gave the order freeing Kapustin from military service, and they released him. He was set at liberty and began to gather Doukhobors together; even many of the soldiers in whose company he had served came over to the Doukhobors. However, that whole business stretched over [the] two centuries.12

Perhaps some words have been lost [in the retelling], but I am writing as I heard it.

Mikhail Androsov.
P. V., M. A.13

Editor’s Notes (From the Original 1908 Russian Publication)

1  There is very little information in the historical literature about the Doukhobors’ ancestors. Doukhobors themselves usually do not like to talk about the “previous times” of their commune. That is why we deem it essential to publish any information touching upon the history of the Doukhobors, especially when it comes from Doukhobors themselves, as by doing so it may be possible to gather sufficient material for a comprehensive history of this interesting sect. The “Story of Our Ancestors” by the Doukhobor M. S. Androsov, printed here, although containing a number of entirely legendary pieces of information, is nonetheless of undoubted interest generally. Androsov’s manuscript comes from the collection of sectarian manuscripts assembled by V. D. Bonch-Bruevich, currently preserved in the Manuscripts Department of the Library of the Imperial Academy of Sciences; it is listed in the inventory as Sekt. 66.

2  Doukhobors frequently refer to their leaders by various affectionate nicknames. For example, Pobirokhin and his wife are called Radost’ s Radost’iu [Joy with Joy]. Savely Kapustin, the Pobirokhins’ son, they call Kormilets, and his wife, Kormilushka.

3  i.e. the Doukhobors.

4  These exact words begin the famous Doukhobor question-and-answer psalm that was composed as a statement of faith, in response to questions posed by His Eminence Evgeny to two Doukhobors in 1802 who had been sent for admonition to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg.

5  These words introduce two other fundamental question-and-answer psalms of the Doukhobors that set forth their religious and societal world view.

6  Here Androsov is calling to mind the Doukhobor psalms noted down by V. D. Bonch-Bruevich in Canada. These psalms form the so-called Zhivotnaya Kniga (“Living Book”) of the Doukhobors, which we hope to publish in the second issue of our Materialy. The petition referred to here, which the Doukhobors have elevated to the status of a psalm, reads as follows:

“Thus saith the Lord, the Holy God of Israel. I made him, I created him; in days to come ask me about my sons and daughters. By the work of my hands I commanded; I created the earth, and humans thereon; with my hands I established the heavens, and commanded all the stars. I have raised up a tsar in righteousness, all his paths are righteous; he shall build my city; he will release my captives, not for price or reward, saith the Lord of Hosts. Thus saith the Lord, cause trouble for Egypt, all their people, trouble for their big man. They shall come to thee and bow down to thee, for God is in thee, not in the likeness of God, but the hidden God. You saved Israel; they shall be ashamed and confounded. The islands of Israel are being renewed; all who believe in Him shall neither be ashamed nor confounded, even to the end of the age. Thus saith the Lord, the Holy God of Israel. Glory to our God.” (See Zhivotnaya Kniga, Psalm 225 [sic, i.e. 226].

7  In one of the forthcoming issues of our Materialy we are printing, in chronological order, all the decrees and other government instructions of the epoch of Alexander I pertaining to sectarianism and the Schism.

8  Among the Doukhobors to this very day there is a conviction that “for cleansing of God’s people,” i.e. their commune, various kinds of persecution must recur from time to time. Whoever withstands all these persecutions will remain a “true” Doukhobor, a true servant of God “in spirit and in truth.”

9  I had occasion to hear a story from the late Doukhobor elder Grisha Bokovoy, who told me with certitude that Tsar Alexander I did not die in Taganrog [in 1825], but went into hiding from the premises where he had been staying, fled to the Doukhobors at Molochnye Vody in Tavria province, and for a long time lived among them; he was in continual contact with the Quakers, through whom, when the Doukhobors were resettled in the Transcaucasus, he was transported first to England, and then to “Old America” [i.e. the original thirteen colonies]. The widespread legend about the last years of Alexander I’s life thus also found its place in Doukhobor tradition.

10  Pobirokhin, the Doukhobor leader.

11  As already mentioned, Pobirokhin was called Radost by the Doukhobors.

12  This is an error. Kapustin served in the military at the end of the 17th [sic, i.e. 18th] century.

13  The signature has the same meaning as in the previous story by M. Androsov. We believe that the initials “P. V.” denote the Doukhobor Pavel Vasil’evich Planidin, and “M. A.” – Mikhail Androsov.


Mikhail Semenovich Androsov (1854-c.1920), the writer of A Story about Our Ancestors, was born in Novo-Troitskoye village in the Kedabek district of Elizavetpol province and resettled to Gorelovka village in the Shuragel district of Kars province in 1879. From 1887 onward, he was a trusted associate and supporter of Petr Vasil’evich Verigin, and assisted in disseminating his teachings among his followers. In 1895, he undertook a harrowing journey to Siberia to bring the exiled Doukhobor leader news about the persecutions that followed the Burning of Arms. Upon immigrating to Canada in 1899, Androsov settled in Blagoveshcheniye village in the Canora district of Saskatchewan, where he continued to play a prominent role in Doukhobor affairs.

Androsov regularly travelled to the city of Yorkton, Saskatchewan to conduct business on behalf of the Doukhobor Community. On one such trip, in August of 1901, he met the Doukhobor elder Efim Evseyevich Vlasov (1851-1909). Vlasov originally hailed from the village of Bashkichet in the Borchalo district of Tiflis province, Russia. After immigrating to Canada in 1899, he settled in Rodionovka village in the Kamsack district of Saskatchewan. A highly articulate and expressive man, Vlasov possessed a wealth of Doukhobor historical knowledge, rooted in oral tradition, for which he was greatly respected. It was this oral tradition, in the form of A Story about Our Ancestors, which Vlasov shared with Androsov when they met.

Vlasov, in turn, had received this oral tradition as a youth from Gavriil Andreyevich Sorokin (1779-c.1860), an early Doukhobor elder. In the late eighteenth century, Sorokin was a prosperous merchant from the village of Vysotskovo in the Alexandrovsk district of Astrakhan province, Russia. After converting to Doukhoborism, he relocated to Efremovka village in the Melitopol district of Tavria province in 1803. He was a loyal and trusted disciple of Doukhobor leader Savely Kapustin. As a representative of the Tavria colony, Sorokin met with visiting dignitaries, including Tsar Alexander I in 1818 and Quaker missionaries William Allen and Stephen Grellet in 1819. In 1841, following the Doukhobor exile to the Caucasus, Sorokin settled in Karaklis village in the Borchalo district of Tiflis province, where he spent his remaining years.

The tradition passed down orally from Sorokin to Vlasov, and from Vlasov to Androsov, provides the reader with intimate access to the rich, authentic nineteenth century Doukhobor-centred version of the history of the movement and its leaders. It is, in fact, a collection of stories, and can be divided into three main parts based upon subject matter and theme.

Part one is an autobiographical first-person account of Gavriil Sorokin’s conversion to the Doukhobor faith. As the story goes, Savely Kapustin, while travelling through Astrakhan, sought lodging at the home of Sorokin for the night. An intense spiritual discussion ensued between the two men, during which Kapustin dispelled Sorokin’s prejudices and misconceptions about the Doukhobors (or malovery as they were then known) and persuaded him to embrace the “true Christian faith” as his own. This event would have taken place in the 1790’s, when Kapustin is known to have actively proselytized amongst the Russian peasantry.

The story goes on to relate how, as a test of his faith, Kapustin selected Sorokin and an unnamed companion to deliver a petition on behalf of the Doukhobors to Tsar Alexander I. The journey took the delegates three months, travelling on foot. When they reached the Tsar’s court, they were granted an audience with Alexander, who inquired about their faith, what manner of people they were, and the name of their sect. Sorokin at first hesitated to respond. Then, visualizing his esteemed leader, Kapustin, standing by his side, his fear left him, and Sorokin answered the Tsar, fully and fittingly. After listening to their singing, Alexander commended the Doukhobors for “having come to know God in the spirit of their true faith”. Soon after the delegates departed, in 1801, the Tsar issued a decree permitting Doukhobors to settle together in Tavria province.

Part two is a third person narrative of how, when the Doukhobors were in the process of being moved to Tavria from their various places of exile, there were non-believers who claimed to be of their faith in order to join them. According to the story, at one place in Siberia, there were 100 Doukhobors, true sufferers for the faith, who had been sentenced to penal labour in the state mines. Upon their release, they were joined by another 100 men who had criminal backgrounds and were not really in exile for religious reasons. The two groups travelled by foot together on the long journey from Siberia to Tavria. However, those only claiming to be Doukhobors began to lose faith and, one by one, deserted the group along the way. When the remaining, true believers eventually reached Tavria, they were reproached by Kapustin for having abandoned their “lesser brethren”. He urged the newcomers to seek out and make peace with the others, to welcome them into the colony as their brothers, and to reform them by example.

The story goes on to tell how Tsar Alexander I visited the Doukhobors living in Tavria; an event that is known to have occurred in 1818. After observing their prayer ceremony, Alexander noted that the Doukhobors “understood God’s law well” and declared that he wished to become one of them. His hosts, however, advised him that a Tsar “could not be a Doukhobor because Doukhobors fed themselves from their own labours”. Yet, in the times of prosperity that followed, the Doukhobors began to depart from God’s law. They weakened spiritually and began striving after wealth; they travelled to the cities and markets where people were living in luxury; and hired workers of other faiths to till their fields and raise their livestock. It was only in times of persecution and suffering that they began to reflect and, once again, live according to God’s law.

Part three is a third-person biographical account of Savely Kapustin’s spiritual rebirth as a Doukhobor. At the outset of the story, Kapustin was serving as a Sergeant-Major in the Russian army and was notorious for dealing cruelly with his company. His father, the Doukhobor leader Ilarion Pobirokhin, saw that his son had departed from God’s law. One day, while Kapustin was carrying out military drills with his company, Pobirokhin drew near and asked to speak to the Sergeant Major. Kapustin approached him and the two began conversing. The details of this exchange are not preserved; however, it clearly had a profound effect upon Kapustin. Kapustin, who had remained standing while the old man sat down, fell to his knees and began to beg forgiveness. The old man gave him his blessing to receive the spirit of goodness. Thereafter, Kapustin returned to his company a changed man. He no longer made them carry out drills, began to talk to the soldiers as brother to brother and apologized for having abused them. The company commander soon caught wind that Kapustin was no longer drilling the soldiers, but defended him to his superiors, arguing that he did not have a single officer in the whole regiment as good as Kapustin, whose company was already better trained than all the other companies.

The story goes on to relate how a certain Detachment Commander was under court-marshal for misconduct and was facing a loss of his rank and noble status. Despite all of his efforts, his appeals were rejected and his case was falling apart. In desperation, he approached Kapustin and pleaded with him for assistance in his case. Kapustin proceeded to dictate a petition on behalf of the Detachment Commander to the court, which explained the honourable intent behind the officer’s conduct. Upon reading the petition, the court changed its previous verdict and, instead, promoted the Detachment Commander to the rank of Corps Commander for his courage. Out of deep gratitude, the former Detachment Commander offered to promote Kapustin to the rank of officer. However, Kapustin declined, asking instead to be discharged from military service. His request was granted, and Kapustin began to gather Doukhobors from across Russia, including many of the soldiers in whose company he had served. These events took place during Kapustin’s sixth year of military service, which if he had entered service at the age of twenty, as was customary in Tsarist Russia at that time, would place them in the year 1769 (given that he was born in 1743).

After receiving the oral tradition described above from the Doukhobor elder Efim Vlasov, Mikhail Androsov wrote it down as A Story About our Ancestors and submitted the manuscript to Russian historian and ethnographer Vladimir Dmitrievich Bonch-Bruevich (1873-1955). Bonch-Bruevich had assisted Leo Tolstoy in organizing the Doukhobor emigration to Canada; he had sailed with the Doukhobors in 1899 and then spent a year with them in Canada. During his stay, he became immensely interested in their oral tradition. After returning to Russia, he wrote the Doukhobors and asked them to record their life stories and to send anything written down that they had to him. It was this request to which Androsov responded. Bonch-Bruevich subsequently published Androsov’s manuscript and other materials in Russian as Materialy k istorii i izucheniiu religiozno-obshchestvennykh dvizhenii v Rossii in 1908.

The stories comprising A Story about Our Ancestors are among the most richly detailed and historically authentic examples of Doukhobor oral tradition to be preserved to the present day. To be sure, like all oral tradition, the specific details set out in the stories must be treated with some caution, since the Doukhobors preserved no written records of their own, their memories were fallible, and the version of past events they give may be coloured by individual biases and perceptions. Nonetheless, there is little reason to doubt the main lines of the stories. Archival documentary material enables us to date within close limits many of the historical events referred to in the stories, and to accurately diagnose and interpret the events referred to therein. Furthermore, it is possible in almost all cases to authenticate the persons and places referred to in the stories with archival records. These identifications highlight the need for further research, inasmuch as the stories offer new depth and substance to our understanding of Doukhobor history, and suggest hitherto-unknown lines of investigation. 

The Mystery of Terpeniye’s Buried Treasure

by Alexander A. Chukhraenko

In 1963, a Ukrainian workman discovered a large hoard of Imperial Russian coins buried on a hillside in the former Doukhobor village of Terpeniye in Zaporozhye province, Ukraine. Remarkably, all of the evidence – the range of dates of the coins, the size of the hoard, and its location – tantalizingly suggests that the coins were buried by a member of the Doukhobor sect – someone of immense wealth – shortly before the expulsion of the Doukhobors from the Molochnaya to the Caucasus in 1841-1845 – and never retrieved.  The following article by Ukrainian local historian Alexander A. Chukhraenko recounts the amazing discovery of Terpeniye’s buried treasure, and its significance as one of the few physical traces of the Doukhobor settlement at Molochnye Vody.  Originally published in Russian in the “Melitopol’skie Vesti” (June 13-19, 2002), it is made available for the first time in English translation in this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive. Translation by Jack McIntosh.

It was June, 1963. For Viktor Nikolayevich Khomenko, aged 32, driver for Terpeniye’s Sel’khoztekhnika (the local agricultural technology supply centre), this fine day turned out to be especially lucky. In the first place, it was Saturday – not a “working Saturday”, but his day off. In the second place, that day his wife was getting out of hospital and he, along with his eight year old son Vitalik, was on his way to pick her up. In the third place…

Ah, yes, in the third place, fate had prepared one more gift for him. If Viktor had walked straight to the hospital without turning off, success would not have smiled on him. But he decided first to look in at the barbershop. So he turned off Sovetsky Street onto the footpath that bent around the east side of the cemetery in the direction of the springs.

About two days earlier, a rather heavy rain had fallen and washed out the path here and there. One of these gullies had formed on a steep slope not far from Reshetnyak’s kitchen garden (at one time the Sirotsky Dom, the main spiritual and administrative centre of the Doukhobors, was situated several tens of meters lower down). Here Viktor’s attention was attracted by a kind of regular circle seemingly imprinted in the ground. After he attempted to hook it out with his finger, it turned out to be a small circular disk of compacted clay concealing the small neck of some kind of vessel. Viktor picked out several handfuls of sand, and then extracted… large silver coins – rubles of tsarist coinage!

An 1816 silver ruble minted during the reign of Tsar Alexander, found in the hoard of coins unearthed at Terpeniye in 1963.

The lucky man at first tried to stuff them into his pockets, but there were too many coins. He decided to leave his son to guard the find and run to his workplace, the Sel’khoztekhnika – a good thing it was very close by. There Viktor grabbed the first thing he could lay his hands on – his overalls. He raked together all the coins into his overalls and carried them home. There were exactly one thousand of them. The rest of Saturday and all day Sunday the family carried on continuous consultations: what to do with the find? Finally they decided to hand it over to the state.

Monday morning, as Khomenko recalls, he carried the hoard to the rural area council. The chairman phoned the Melitopol Museum of Regional Studies. From there they dispatched a young woman staff member. She looked over the coins calmly enough, but one of them drew her special attention: “Do what you wish, but leave this one for me for research,” is how Viktor remembers her reaction. Truth to tell, nobody even objected.

And then this surprising proposal from the chairman of the rural council – a representative of state authority, mind you! – “Let’s give out some of the coins to Terpeniye folks (that is, those who at that moment were present at the rural council) as a memento of this remarkable event!” Evidently he had decided that the remaining coins, apart from that single one to which the museum staffer had taken a fancy, were not of special historical value. The distribution commenced. As a result only six hundred odd coins were documented; the rest were dispersed into people’s pockets and later supplemented private coin collections.

Viktor Khomenko was promised a reward: “Wait. We’ll call you.”

He waited patiently for a whole month, and then went to the museum himself. In the final analysis it turned out that to receive a reward for the treasure it would have been necessary to surrender it to the State Bank, whereas the impecunious museum could only accept such things as a gift. So he had to resort to the court. And only through the court did he receive the sum earned by the sweat of his brow – the ludicrous amount of… fifty-two rubles! “Twenty-five percent of the twenty-five percent I was supposed to receive,” Viktor Nikolayevich recalls bitterly.

I believe Viktor Khomenko has cause to be resentful. By no means do our laws defend the interests of a person who has found a treasure. They always appraise a discovery at minimal value and then pay out from that amount that notorious twenty-five percent. But in fact the valuation of silver coins is by no means a simple matter! If they are appraised by weight, mere kopecks will be received. If they are sold to people who buy them up, i.e. numismatic wholesalers, one thousand tsarist silver ruble coins will turn into 30,000-50,000 gryvnia [Ukrainian currency: 1 gryvnia = $0.20 US (approx. as of 2007.08)]. On the other hand, abroad they will “pull in” somewhere near $100,000! But selling the treasure into private hands is already a criminal act; engendered, by the way, by the very inadequacy of our legislation. Is this not why stories of treasures found and handed over to the state are so rare?

Viktor Nikolayevich Khomenko, discoverer of the Terpenie treasure hoard.

By the way, my conclusion is based on entirely real events. For example, relatively recently, almost as large a hoard as that found in Terpeniye was discovered in the village of Vodnoye (before the Revolution, German colonists lived there), not far from Starobogdanovka. A certain peasant, while tearing down an old German building, discovered a treasure consisting of 600 tsarist silver rubles. Among them were many coins from the period of Tsar Alexander I. The peasant immediately sold them for five to ten dollars a piece.

In lieu of a postscript:

One of the researchers into the Terpeniye treasure trove is pedagogical university lecturer A. Alexeyev, son of the famous Melitopol regional specialist N. A. Alexeyev. In his article published on a subsequent page of “Tavricheskaya Starina”  in the Melitopol’skie Vesti, January 8, 2002, he characterized the treasure as follows:

All the coins (591) were minted in a rather narrow time interval – the oldest in 1762, the most recent – in 1829. Their distribution over the years was uneven. So for example, the numbers of coins from the period of Tsar Alexander I issued in 1812, 1813, 1817, 1818 and 1819 were 25, 27, 58, 99, and 29 respectively, whereas coins of other years are represented in the treasure in much smaller quantities. Among the coins found, none proved to be especially rare. All this taken together signified that we are faced, not with some kind of collection secreted for future use, but precisely a buried treasure.

Careful analysis of the coins led to the following conclusions:

Firstly, judging by the years of issue of the bulk of the coins and the location of the treasure, one can affirm confidently enough that it was buried in the ground by some Doukhobor, a representative of the sect that founded the village of Terpeniye.

Secondly, the two hundred coins minted before the 1790s in all probability indicate that they had been accumulated by the owner back at his previous place of residence prior to resettlement in the Milky Waters area. Most likely these coins came from the sale of immovable property before their resettlement here.

Thirdly, the presence in the treasure of a large quantity of coins dated 1817-1818 (one hundred fifty-seven items) leads one to conjecture that among them are coins received from the hands, if not of the Tsar himself, then of his retinue. You see it is well known that in 1818 Tsar Alexander I made a side trip to Terpeniye. Certainly the Tsar’s retainers would have carried with them recently minted silver rubles.

Fourthly, 1000 silver rubles is a vast fortune. At that time a horse cost a little over one ruble, a cow – 60-80 kopecks, a pound of rye – one kopeck. Thus the person who buried the treasure was immensely wealthy. It cannot be ruled out that he belonged to the Doukhobor upper echelon.

Reverse of the 1816 silver ruble found in the hoard of coins unearthed at Terpeniye in 1963.

And fifthly, the “youngest” coins determine the upper limit of the treasure – the end of the 1830s to the beginning of the 1840s. This approximately coincides with the time of the expulsion of the Doukhobors from the Milky Waters (1841-1845). It is logical to assume that the owner of the treasure concealed it owing to his hasty departure. But why did he not take it with him? Perhaps he counted on returning after a certain length of time. Or sudden death prevented him. There is information about mysterious killings and disappearances of several of the Doukhobor elders. Is it possible that among them was also the owner of the treasure, found guilty of betraying the faith and executed by his own co-religionists (recall that the authorities were not persecuting anyone who converted to Russian Orthodoxy)?

Of course, if the hoard contained just one coin minted subsequent to 1845 (the final year of Doukhobor settlement in the Milky Waters area), then the theories of A.N. Alexeyev would be substantially disproved, and one would have to conclude that the treasure was buried at an entirely different time by someone other than the Doukhobors.  In this regard, one Terpeniye resident – the coin collector Vladimir T. – has in his collection an 1878 ruble minted during the reign of Alexander II, decades after the Doukhobor expulsion to the Caucasus.  According to Vladimir, he received this coin from the chairman of the rural council who reputedly received it, in turn, from Khomenko.  However, besides this hearsay, there is no further evidence linking the coin to the 1963 hoard; therefore this counter-theory must be treated with skepticism, and it can be said that the evidence tantalizingly suggests that the coin hoard is of Doukhobor origin.  

In sum, in spite of all V. N. Khomenko’s distress, his find served its purpose. And it is precisely owing to his unselfishness and law-abiding character that yet another most fascinating page in the history of our area has been opened.

About the Author

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

For More Information

For more information on Doukhobor archaeological sites on the Molochnaya, see the articles The Doukhobor Monument to Alexander I in Terpeniye and Doukhobor Memorial Stone from the Village of Bogdanovka by Alexander A. Chukhraenko, The Cossack Cross of Spasskoye by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff with Alexander A. Chukhraenko and The Doukhobor Monuments of Efremovka and Rodionovka by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The Doukhobor Monument to Alexander I in Terpeniye

by Alexander A. Chukhraenko

In 1818, Tsar Alexander I, while on a tour through Russia, visited the Doukhobor village of Terpeniye along the Molochnaya River in Tavria. He stayed overnight in the Sirotsky Dom (Orphan’s Home) and the next day attended a banquet and religious service. The Tsar was impressed by the orderliness and efficiency of the Doukhobor colony. For their part, the Doukhobors held Alexander in the highest esteem as their saviour and benefactor. To commemorate the Tsar’s historic visit, the Doukhobors erected a monument in his honour. The monument stood in the village for a century until Bolshevik agents identified it as “ideologically harmful”. In this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive, local Ukrainian historian Alexander A. Chukhraenko describes the Doukhobor monument to Alexander I, its eventual fate, and its overall significance as one of the oldest historic and cultural monuments of the Doukhobors, and indeed, the whole of the Zaporozhye region. Translated into English from the original Russian by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Portrait of Alexander I of Russia (1777-1825)

Many historians have noted that Tsar Alexander I was especially inclined towards the Doukhobors and even visited them at their place of settlement. The circumstances of the Imperial visit to the Doukhobors are widely known in the historical literature; indeed, some regional specialists even assert that there was not one, but two, such visits.

The Byelorussian academic N.M. Nikol’sky writes in his book Istoria Russkoi Tserkvi (“History of the Russian Church”) that “when Alexander I went to the Crimea near Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”) in 1818, the Doukhobor leadership invited him to their place and provided him lodging for the night (in the village of Terpeniye as it was the Doukhobor capital); there, they arranged a magnificent reception and sang to himthat he образует бытие Бога в России (“forms the being of God in Russia”). It is thought that the Tsar and the Doukhobors were mutually interested in each other: after all, Alexander I was the emperor who halted persecution against the Doukhobors and allocated lands for them to settle on the right bank of the Molochnaya River. Thus the Emperor was interested to meet the Doukhobors, of whom there had been so much discourse, and learn how the sectarians he sponsored had fared in their new place.

The Emperor’s visit to Terpeniye is described in more detail in the article Духоборы – Александру Первому (“To the Doukhobors – Alexander I”) by N.V. Krylov, Candidate of Geographical Sciences and Senior Lecturer, Melitopol Pedagogical University: “In November of 1818, Alexander I left the Crimea for Taganrog. He uses some archival records preserving a description of this visit.

“The Emperor arrived there in a carriage, which stopped at the crest of a ravine overlooking the estate. The inhabitants of the settlement – Doukhobors – were there, and after posting the horses, raised up the Sovereign’s carriage in their arms and brought it into the settlement to the porch of a two-storied house there [Sirotsky Dom]. After exiting the carriage, the Sovereign ascended to the top floor of the house, where a soft bed was prepared for him, which he ordered removed and fresh straw brought in its place.

The Doukhobor monument to Alexander I circa 1915.

“On the second day a breakfast was prepared for the Sovereign under great oak trees, of which two have survived until now [at the end of the 19th century – Krylov]; there, the Sovereign spent a long time talking with the Doukhobors and listening to their singing of psalms.

“In memory of this visit, a brick monument was erected at the site where the Emperor’s breakfast was held.

“In the 1902 archival record, Деле об охранении памятников древности в Таврической губернии (“File about the preservations of antique monuments in Tavria province”) the monument is thus described: it has the form of a quadrangular column, with a height of four arshins (a Russian imperial unit of measure equal to 71.12 centimeters) and a width at the square base of one arshin, with a vase above it.

“The date of the monument’s construction is not identified in the file. However, knowing that the Doukhobors were deported to the Caucasus in the early 1840’s, it is reasonable to presume that it was built in the 1820’s or 1830’s.”

It is possible to assert, writes Krylov, that the Doukhobor monument was the first historic monument built in the Zaporozhye region. However, this has not helped it to survive to the present…

Where is the monument and what is its fate?

According to popular belief, it stood in the central street of the village of Terpeniye near the modern offices of the “Druzhba” agricultural cooperative – a local government building before the Revolution – where there is today a monument to Lenin.

Monument to Lenin in Terpeniye, believed by some to be built from the Doukhobor monument to Alexander I.

The local historian S.K. Gulin stated that after the Revolution, the vase from the pedestal was dumped over, the pedestal was rebuilt, and on it was set up the bust of V.I. Lenin. There are other details as well.

According to the oldest inhabitant of the village, Anna Ivanovna Mezentseva (born 1912), when she was a child, she saw a monument, similar to the one described above, along the fencing of the old church (near the Sirotsky Dom site). Now it is the edge of the roadway connecting the village boarding school with the springs water park. And its far away from the central street – about 200 meters.

However, why speculate when there is a direct reference in the above-noted document that the monument was erected “at the site where the Emperor’s breakfast was held”; that is, under the great oaks. One of them has survived till today.

Therefore, this writer considers that the monument was located somewhere near the famous great Terpeniye oak – in the vicinity of the village kindergarten. Incidentally, the old church was located in the same area – a few tens of meters to the east. In general the first theory (proposed by S.K. Gulin) should be considered fanciful, dictated by the ideological motives of the time.

As we see, the monument to Alexander I is linked to very important events in the history of our village. Much to our regret, it was identified as “ideologically harmful” during the Bolshevik period and destroyed. Today, it could serve as a village ornament and an important historical and cultural tourist attraction. Hence there are valid reasons to restore the monument.

To this end, a description, dimensions and photo are available. The monument itself is not architecturally complex; structurally it resembles a simple memorial monument. It would be very simple to construct and would not require expensive experts and large financial investments. It is necessary only to have the approval of those in authority. But in my opinion, such a restoration of the monument is only viable with the assistance of the Doukhobor community abroad.

About the Author

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

For More Information

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

Doukhobor Memorial Stone from the Village of Bogdanovka

by Alexander A. Chukhraenko

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

For More Information

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

The Cossack Cross of Spasskoye

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff with Alexander A. Chukhraenko

In 2007, an ancient cross was discovered in the Spasskoye village cemetery in Zaporiz’ka oblast, Ukraine. Its location, inscribed date and style all confirmed that it marked one of the oldest graves in the cemetery. Even more remarkable, there was compelling evidence to suggest that the grave belonged to a Doukhobor – one of the original residents of the village! Read all of the details of this exciting discovery; follow the step-by-step analysis and interpretation of the research results; and learn about what may be a find of significant historical importance, offering new insights into the burial practices of early Doukhobors. 

An Exciting Discovery

It was early August 2007 when I received Alexander’s rousing e-mail. “I have some exciting news!” he wrote. “I may have located a Doukhobor cemetery at Spasskoye! I will travel next week to see it and shall write to you after and tell you everything about it.”

The larger of two ancient crosses at the Spasskoye village cemetery, Zaporiz’ka oblast, Ukraine.

Alexander Anatolyevich Chukhraenko – my friend and correspondent – is a history teacher in Zaporiz’ka oblast, Ukraine in the village of Terpeniye, founded by the Doukhobors over two centuries ago. An avid local historian, Alexander maintains the school museum and has written a book about the history of his village from earliest times to present. He has acquired a genuine interest in the Doukhobors who originally lived in Terpeniye and surrounding villages until their expulsion to the Caucasus in the 1840’s. Of late, he has documented many of the remaining physical artifacts from the Doukhobor period, and the results of his research have been translated and published on the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.

I was elated with Alexander’s news. Over the past several years, I had led a project to document the Doukhobor cemeteries in Canada, and I had long dreamt of undertaking a similar project in the areas where the Doukhobors had lived in Russia and the Former Soviet Republics. What a tremendous opportunity it would be to locate and record a cemetery dating back to the Molochnaya! Such a find might yield information of immense historical and genealogical importance to Doukhobors today.

Virtually nothing is known about the burial practices of the Molochnaya Doukhobors. Did they mark their graves with headstones and monuments as their Orthodox neighbours did? Or did they take a more ascetic approach and lay their dead to rest, without ceremony, in unmarked graves, returning them to the bosom of the earth from whence they came? Did their burial sites still exist? Where were they located? And in what condition?

According to one historical account, when Peter “Lordly” Verigin and his entourage visited the Molochnaya during a trip from Canada to Russia in 1907, they found the Doukhobor cemeteries there in an abandoned state. When asked by the local Orthodox peasants what they should do with them, the practical-minded Doukhobor leader advised them to plant orchards in those places. A century later, when I had first inquired with Alexander about Molochnaya Doukhobor cemeteries, he indicated that there was nothing left to attest to their existence in the villages he had visited. Hence, I had little reason to believe that there were any cemeteries left to find.

Now, it seemed that a Doukhobor cemetery, or a portion thereof, might have survived in at least one of the nine villages they had founded on the Molochnaya. Perhaps I would find answers to my questions after all. I hastily typed an email response to Alexander. “This is very exciting!” I wrote. “I can’t wait to hear more about it from you!” I pressed <send> and anxiously waited for his response.

Visiting the Site

In the meantime, in Zaporiz’ka, Ukraine, Alexander was busily making arrangements to investigate the cemetery. He had contacted Galina Zherely, the schoolteacher in the village of Spasskoye who first reported that there were ancient headstones in their rural cemetery that must surely be “Doukhobor”. She agreed to meet and show him the place.

(l-r) Alexander Chukhraenko, Vladimir Gritsenko and Alexander Zherely behind the small cross at the Spasskoye village cemetery.

At the end of August, he, accompanied by his relative Vladimir Gritsenko, a pediatric doctor from Melitopol and Artyom Stikhin, an eleventh-grade student from the Terpeniye collegium interested in local history, travelled by car to Spasskoye.

Today, Spasskoye is a moderately-sized agricultural village located twenty kilometres north of the regional centre of Melitopol. It consists of 842 people living in 300 households. It was founded in 1802 by Doukhobors who settled there from across the Russian Empire. They established a thriving agricultural village until their banishment under Tsar Nicholas I in 1842-1843. Thereafter, the village was reoccupied by Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox peasants. Like other villages, it had witnessed the modernization, reforms and social change of the late nineteenth century, weathered the wars, revolution and communism of the twentieth, and was now forging onward into the twenty-first.

When Alexander’s research team arrived in Spasskoye, they were disappointed to find out that their local contact, Galina Zherely, was not at home. Fortunately, her husband, Alexander Vasilyevich Zherely, good-naturedly agreed to accompany them to the cemetery located at the far edge of their backyard garden.

Ambling down the garden path to the cemetery, Alexander Vasilyevich led them to the oldest section of the cemetery, the north end, where there were many graves dating from the nineteenth century. Interestingly, this section also contained a kurgan – an ancient burial mound dating back over a thousand years to the Scythians.

Alexander Vasilyevich showed them the oldest graves in the north section – the so-called “Doukhobor” graves. Disappointingly, there were only two such headstones – a small one near the kurgan, and a second, larger one fifty meters to the south. They were ancient-looking, with badly-worn inscriptions that could scarcely be made out.

With great care for detail, Alexander Anatolyevich and his companions documented the inscriptions, measured the markers and photographed them. It was evident that the larger of the two headstones did not stand in its original place. The smaller one near the kurgan had to be partially dug out in order to be read. Once they had completed their fieldwork, the party thanked their host and prepared to return to their native village of Terpeniye.

A peculiar incident occurred just prior to their departure. Alexander Vasilyevich, learning of Alexander Anatolyevich’s interest in history, cheerfully gave him an anti-tank shell as a memento; it was a remnant of the munitions from a nearby artillery warehouse that had rocked Spasskoye in a series of powerful explosions in 2004-2006. Alexander Anatolyevich graciously, if somewhat uneasily, accepted it. It appeared to still be live and capable of exploding at any time! The true dilemma of this ‘gift’ only became apparent afterwards, as its new owner struggled to decide where to keep it. To bring it to the museum at Terpeniye was far too dangerous; on the other hand to hand it over to the Ukrainian authorities would only invite unnecessary and unwelcome questioning. To date, Alexander is still unsure what to do with it…

The anti-tank shell – a dangerous memento from Alexander’s fieldtrip to Spasskoye – at his home in Terpeniye.

Preliminary Results

Several days later, I received Alexander’s email with the results of his investigation. “Now about Spasskoye…” he wrote. “Recently I visited the village together with my relative and a pupil. I am afraid that I cannot please you with news of any sensational finds. It appears that the history teacher at Spasskoye gave me incomplete information. Really, there are only two ancient grave monuments in the cemetery; and it is not at all clear that they are Doukhobor. I’m sending photos of them to you. You can study them and draw conclusions yourself.”

My heart sank at this discouraging news. My hope of finding an intact Doukhobor cemetery on the Molochnaya, dating back two hundred years, complete with headstones inscribed with names and dates had seemed too good to be true. Still, I consoled myself, it was a historical lead that needed to be followed up on, and had been. I knew from my own historical fieldwork on the Doukhobors that not all leads yield the hoped-for results. Reconciled in this knowledge, I read on as Alexander physically described the monuments.

“Both monuments are cross-shaped,” Alexander noted. “The material that was used was evidently limestone from the vicinity of Terpeniye, where it is found in great abundance. Both monuments are inscribed on one side only.”

Large Cross Inscription

On the large cross, which measured over ninety centimeters high, it was possible to decipher the following Russian inscription: Раб Бож., Никифор Шуш, 1809-1888 (“the Christian, Nikifor Shush, 1809-1888”).

I paused to consider this inscription. The dates “1809” and “1888” were clearly the dates of birth and death, respectively. While the date of birth occurred within the Doukhobor period of settlement, the date of death occurred forty-five years after the Doukhobors had left Spasskoye. Based on these dates, Nikifor Shush was either a Doukhobor who had converted to Orthodoxy in 1842-1843 in order to remain on the Molochnaya rather than follow his brethren into Caucasian exile, or else he was an Orthodox peasant who settled in Spasskoye from elsewhere after the Doukhobors were deported. In either case, the Doukhobors had long since left Spasskoye by the time he died and was buried there.

The answer to this question lay in the name. The Ukrainian surname Shush was not one that I had come across in my study of the Molochnaya Doukhobors. It did not appear in any of the nineteenth century Russian archival records I had acquired about the Doukhobors living on the Molochnaya in the 1840’s – either those exiled to the Caucasus or those who remained as Orthodox converts.

Therefore, based on the late date of death and unfamiliar name contained in the inscription, I concluded that Nikifor Shush was an Orthodox peasant from one of the Ukrainian provinces of the Russian Empire who, as a man in his thirties, resettled in Spasskoye following the Doukhobor expulsion.

Large cross at Spasskoye village cemetery belonging to Nikifor Shush (1809-1888).

Small Cross Inscription

Having dismissed the first headstone as having no Doukhobor connection, I next turned my attention to Alexander’s description of the smaller cross, which measured about thirty centimeters high. “On the small cross – at the top is located numerous illegible markings,” observed Alexander. “Further down, however, it reads in Russian: 1816 Оля [Оая] 26 (“1816 Olya [or Oaya] 26”).” Deciphering this second inscription would prove to be considerably more challenging than the first.

Deciphering the Inscription

First, the decipherment of the term “Oaya” was problematic as this term did not exist in any modern or historic Russian or Ukrainian dictionary. The alternate decipherment, “Olya” on the other hand, was recognizable as a diminutive form of any of several Russian names, including Alexander, Olga, etc. It was also possible that “Olya” was a surname. But in either case, why was it inscribed between the numbers “1816” and “26”?

The numerical inscriptions also gave me pause for thought. Unlike the larger cross, there was only one recognizable date here – 1816. This date clearly occurred within the period of Doukhobor settlement, which was promising. But what did it mean? Was it a birth date? A date of death? Some other reference? And what did the number ’26” mean? Was it an age?

I considered these possibilities further. If 1816 was the date of death and 26 the age at death, then the person – this “Olya” – would have been born in 1790. This would have placed Olya squarely within the Doukhobor period. It would be tempting, based on this, to conclude that Olya was a Doukhobor who lived and died in Spasskoye, as it was prohibited for Orthodox Russians to live among the Doukhobors settled there.

On the other hand, I also had to consider the possibility that 1816 was the date of birth and 26 the age at death, in which case, “Olya” would have died in 1842. This created an interesting issue, as archival records reveal that the Doukhobors were banished from Spasskoye in precisely the years 1842-1843. Therefore, if “Olya” died in 1842, he or she might have been a Doukhobor, but could just as easily have been an Orthodox peasant who, like Nikifor Shush above, resettled the village even as the Doukhobors were departing.

As I considered these two possible interpretations of the decipherment, I wondered why someone, in 1816 or 1842, as the case may be, would have undertaken the considerable time and expense to have a headstone cut and inscribed with a first name – but no last name, or vice-versa. And what was the relationship between the number 26 and the date 1816? Was there a further inscription on the cross that might explain this?

I re-examined the digital photo of the cross that Alexander had sent me. Sure enough, there were signs of an upper inscription which was badly worn. It was this portion of the cross which had remained exposed to the elements all these many years. This had taken its toll on the upper inscription, rendering it largely indecipherable aside from a few letters. In contrast, the lower inscription (“1816 Olya [or Oaya] 26”) had been buried for some time, leaving it much better preserved. Lower still, the face of the cross was blank with no evidence of an inscription. Despite my efforts to digitally magnify and enhance the photo, I could not make out anything else besides the lower inscription, as Alexander had prior.

Negative image of the small cross at Spasskoye village cemetery. Note the upper inscription (letters) followed by the lower date inscription below.

In a last-ditch effort, I digitally created a negative image of the photo, reversing the colour spectrum to reveal details not visible to the naked eye under ordinary viewing. As I studied the inscription from this perspective, I caught something which Alexander and I hadn’t previously. What we had previously deciphered as “Oaya” or “Olya” was in fact Юля (“Iyulya”) meaning “July” in Russian. Suddenly the oddly-structured inscription made complete sense! It was not a year, followed by a first or last name, and then an age. Rather, it was a full date – 1816 July 26. One piece of the puzzle had fallen into place!

I re-examined the badly-worn upper inscription, hoping that the negative imaging might reveal its secrets to me, but to no avail; it was simply too badly deteriorated. What I was able to reasonably conclude was that this upper inscription – based on its placement and size – did not contain a full date like the lower inscription. Indeed, it did not appear to contain numbers at all – only letters. Their arrangement suggested that they formed no more than two words; likely a name.

Interpreting the Inscription

What, then, could I conclude from the inscriptions on the small cross? For one thing, there were only two inscription lines. The upper inscription, while largely indecipherable, contained letters and was probably a name. The lower inscription contained a full date – the only one on the cross. But was it the date of birth or the date of death? Most historians and genealogists presume that when a single date appears on a headstone, it is the latter. I had no reason to dispute this presumption.

Practically speaking, it would have made little sense for someone to undertake the significant time and expense to have a headstone cut and inscribed with a date of birth only. After all, there would be no point of reference as to the date of death. It would be impossible to know from the headstone whether the person died at age 2 in 1818, age 22 in 1834, or, indeed, age 102 in 1918! A date of death, on the other hand, provided a definite reference point. It was a date that would have been known at the time the headstone was made, even if the deceased’s age or date of birth were not.

This interpretation of the inscriptions was enormously significant, as it led me to deduce that while we did not know the name of the person to whom the cross belonged, that person most probably died during the Doukhobor period of settlement. And since Spasskoye and surrounding villages were occupied exclusively by the Doukhobors – it was prohibited for Orthodox peasants to live among them – then this person was, in all probability, a Doukhobor!

I anxiously emailed Alexander my interpretation of the inscriptions on the two crosses. A day or two later, I received his reply. Alexander wholly agreed with my analysis, namely that the larger cross could not be Doukhobor while the smaller cross could be placed squarely within the Doukhobor period. He also pondered whether the smaller cross might have belonged to an infant who died at birth, as this would also explain why there was only one date.

A Cossack Cross

At this point, Alexander made another remarkable observation in his email. “Today we were on an excursion to the island of Khortitsa in Zaporozhye where there is a museum of Ukrainian Cossack history.” he wrote. “In the museum there were several examples of Cossack grave crosses. Many were of the Maltese type, similar to the small cross from Spasskoye. I would guess, therefore, that the person to whom the cross belonged was a Cossack who arrived in Spasskoye during the Doukhobor period.”

The small Cossack cross at Spasskoye village cemetery.

I pondered Alexander’s latest news. Until now, I hadn’t made the connection between the small cross from Spasskoye and the Maltese style of cross, known in Imperial Russia as the Cossack cross. Upon further study, I learned that headstones of this type were predominantly used by Cossacks in the service of the Russian Empire. They were not typically found among the graves of ordinary Russian and Ukrainian peasants. But if the small cross at Spasskoye had belonged to a Cossack, how did this mesh with my theory that the person was a Doukhobor?

Once again, the answer lay in the nineteenth century Russian archival records I had. The Molochnaya-era records revealed that the village of Spasskoye was founded in 1802 primarily by Doukhobors from Sloboda-Ukraine (Kharkov) and Ekaterinoslav (Dnepropetrovsk) provinces. Many of these settlers had belonged to the peasant class; however a significant number were Ukrainian Cossacks. As well, between 1810 and 1821, additional groups of Don Cossack and Kuban Cossack Doukhobors had settled in the village. Thus, there were a considerable number of Cossack Doukhobors living in Spasskoye at the time the cross was presumably made in 1816.

Rather than disprove the theory that the small cross belonged to a Doukhobor, the news that it was a Cossack cross lent further support to it. Given the demographic makeup of Spasskoye in the Doukhobor period, it could easily have belonged to a Doukhobor of Cossack origin. The Cossack tradition also served to explain why a Doukhobor would have had a cross-shaped headstone, since religious imagery was rare among them.

It should be noted that the cross belonging to Nikifor Shush was of a broadly similar style, however, it was much larger and longer, and had finer and more intricately detailed features. The small cross, in contrast, was more crudely made. That, and its more weathered appearance, suggested it was considerably older than the large cross.

Cross Location

Having studied the cross dimensions, style and inscriptions, I next turned my attention to its location. According to Alexander, the graves in the Spasskoye cemetery were arranged with the oldest located in the north section, and progressively newer graves located to the south. The most modern graves did not follow any pattern and were interspersed throughout. The Cossack cross, in particular, was located at the north edge of the cemetery near the kurgan. There was fifty meters of empty space between it and the next-oldest headstones to the south, such as that of Nikifor Shush, which dated from the later nineteenth century.

Based on its location at the north edge, it was clear that the Cossack cross marked one of the oldest graves in the cemetery. Moreover, Alexander was confident that he had found it in its original place. This, and the considerable distance between it and the later nineteenth century headstones, definitely supported the Doukhobor theory. Had the cross been found among those graves, the theory would be cast into doubt.

It also suggested that the area around the Cossack cross formed part of the original Doukhobor cemetery. Its original size and boundaries were unknown. However, it appeared that the Orthodox cemetery was subsequently established on land adjacent to the south of it. The empty space between the Cossack cross and the later nineteenth century headstones, then, may have been the dividing line between the Doukhobor and Orthodox sections of the cemetery. It might also contain unmarked Doukhobor burials.

Other Doukhobor Headstones

By now, only one question remained in my mind about the Cossack cross. If all the evidence pointed to it belonging to a Doukhobor – and there was no evidence to the contrary – then why was it the only one? The complete absence of other Doukhobor headstones was puzzling. I considered several explanations for this apparent paradox.

It was possible that other Doukhobor graves originally had headstones but that they had not survived the past two centuries. Perhaps they were destroyed during the wars and revolution that ravaged the region in the twentieth century. It is known, for instance, that many cemeteries were devastated by German troops during the Second World War. Others were destroyed by Soviet authorities for political reasons. Or perhaps the headstones were removed over the years and reused as building materials. This is also known to have occurred in some Tsarist-era cemeteries. If the headstones were made of limestone, then perhaps they simply weathered and disintegrated over time, as was common. And if they were made of wood, they would have rotted and disappeared after only a few decades.

It was also possible that other Doukhobor headstones had survived, but had fallen over and now lay buried under several inches of soil. The Cossack cross, after all, had been partially buried. If this were the case, then some Doukhobor headstones might still await discovery just below the surface of the Spasskoye cemetery.

Another distinct possibility was that the Doukhobors on the Molochnaya did not typically use headstones to mark their graves. It would have been in keeping with their simple, egalitarian faith to reject vain and superfluous memorials to the dead. If this was the case, then the Cossack cross was atypical of Molochnaya Doukhobor burial practices. Why then was it made? Perhaps it marked the grave of a Doukhobor of great status and wealth. Or perhaps it belonged to a Doukhobor, a recent arrival to the Molochnaya, who had adhered to the traditional Orthodox custom of marking graves.

Whatever the explanation, the fact remained that no other Doukhobor headstones or markers have been discovered on the Molochnaya. For this reason, the Cossack cross of Spasskoye might well be unique.


Did the Cossack cross of Spasskoye belong to a Doukhobor? It was impossible to prove conclusively. However, there was compelling evidence to suggest that it did, based on its relative location, single inscribed date, style and appearance. Had there been an inscription bearing a name or second date, its provenance might have been established with some certainty. However, in the absence of any contrary evidence, it was tempting to consider a Doukhobor connection, and to speculate on what other Doukhobor archeological artifacts might still await discovery at Spasskoye.

For More Information

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